The current system for grazing on Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands was established by the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934. In most areas, qualifying ranches ("base properties") were assigned an exclusive number of "animal unit months" (AUMs) (theoretically based on the land's carrying capacity) to graze nearby ("attached") federal grazing allotments.
The Extent of Public Lands Grazing
Of the 383,332,069 acres of federal public lands managed by the four major land management agencies 1, approximately 257,277,550 acres are subject to livestock grazing. In some areas, grazing continues year-round; in other areas, it is seasonal. Livestock use is measured in "animal unit months" or AUMs, which is generally the amount of forage necessary to feed a cow and calf for one month.
The State of Public Lands Grazing
For a variety of reasons, grazing on public lands is unstable. Public lands grazing permittees can see few, if any, bright spots in their future.
Why Ranchers Should and Do Support Voluntary Grazing Permit Buyout
- Beef has been losing market share to chicken, pork, seafood, cheese and vegetables. (The tumble since 1980 has only been reversed due to a $50 million marketing campaign in 2000.)
- Beef from foreign sources (Brazil, Mexico, Canada, and even Japan) is undercutting the profitability of the cattle industry as a whole, and public lands grazing permittees are generally the least profitable portions of the industry.
- Concerns about human health and food safety (e.g., obesity, heart disease, E. coli, mad cow disease) are affecting the industry.
- The average age of public lands grazing permittees is rising.
- Conservation organizations, Native American tribes, hunting and fishing organizations and other citizen groups are focusing more attention on the environmental impacts of livestock grazing.
- Livestock-recreationist conflicts are more noticeable and frequent; irresponsible recreationists leave gates open, damage fences, and shoot at pipelines and water tanks, leaving ranchers with costly repairs.
- Enforcement of water quality standards is increasing.
- More endangered species listings are inevitable, followed by more litigation.
- New planning and management processes by federal land management agencies could reduce livestock numbers and place further restrictions on grazing season and location. (And more-involved grazing schemes require more federal funding which is more difficult to secure.)
- Grazing fees could rise as bidding by conservation groups for state grazing leases will increase pressure to reform both federal and state grazing fees.
1. Total federal acreage managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service in 48 contiguous states as of September 30, 1994. Government Accounting Office. 1996. Land ownership: information on acreage, management and use of federal and other lands. Washington, DC: 24-25.