Arizona Daily Sun

Grazing buyout winning support from ranchers

Associated Press
January 25, 2003

TUCSON -- Environmentalists are pushing a proposal to have the federal government buy out grazing permits in Arizona -- a plan that apparently has the backing of at least some ranchers.

The campaign seeks to permanently remove cattle from federal land while giving strapped ranchers much-needed financial relief if they voluntarily give up grazing permits.

An unscientific survey of Arizona ranchers found many support the concept, though the Arizona Cattle Growers Association opposes it, saying it could end ranching in Arizona.

The plans comes as the ranching industry faces massive drought losses.

Environmentalists have long sought to remove cattle from public lands, saying they damage the natural landscape.

"Public-lands ranchers really aren't making it," said Martin Taylor of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, which is backing the proposal with the Maricopa Audubon Society, the Sky Island Alliance and Prescott Forest Friends. "This is a chance for them to actually get something and not suffer the shock" of losing their permits due to litigation.

The proposal calls for paying ranchers $175 per animal-unit month -- the government's measure of how much forage is needed to support a cow and her suckling calf.

The government charges less than $2 for each animal-unit month, but the market value of permits is generally much higher.

A survey conducted by John Whitney III of Circle Bar Ranch and his son, John Whitney IV, found that many ranchers support the idea. Of the 800 permit holders they contacted, 228 responded and 152 said they favored of the plan.

"It's voluntary, so how could you argue with it?" said John Whitney IV, a Scottsdale firefighter. "Ranching is still going to survive in Arizona because a lot of the guys are in favor of it, but don't necessarily want to utilize it."

The Arizona Cattle Growers' Association, which opposes the permanent retirement of grazing permits, contends the survey question was poorly worded.

"This proposal would be very damaging to our industry, and to the environment," said John Scammon, executive director of the group. "Fifty years from now, there won't be any ranching, which is exactly what the environmentalists want."