Several organizations are discussing opportunities to purchase the grazing interest in public lands currently held by livestock operators, as a mechanism to protect public lands resources from the damage caused by livestock grazing. The approaches identified below differ, but all result in the transfer of interest in the grazing lease away from a livestock permittee and into the hands of another lease holder, either private or government. The merits of this approach are discussed in detail in an issue paper prepared by Andy Kerr with the Larch Company, and numerous papers by Karl Hess, now with the Thoreau Institute. No one approach has been tested on a large scale, although there has been one successful attempt to purchase a grazing interest and retire a lease in southern Utah (see below).
At a meeting in Washington D.C. in November 1997 to discuss marketable permits, concerns were expressed generally about the scope of the proposal, who would be eligible to purchase grazing leases, and what the disposition of the leases would be. At this point, there is significant interest in this approach, but no consensus on how to proceed.
Purchasing Lease Interests in Utah
At least one grazing lease has been purchased, and retired, in southern Utah to benefit the public lands resources through arrangements worked out between the BLM and The Conservation Fund. In this circumstance, the rancher was a willing seller, who sold the permit interest in a grazing lease to The Conservation Fund. The Conservation Fund transferred the lease to the BLM, who in turn amended the land use plan and retired the grazing lease from further grazing use in the plan.
Several other livestock permittees have indicated to Grand Canyon Trust, SUWA, and other organizations in Southern Utah their interest in selling out their grazing interest, particularly since the establishment of the new BLM Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument. Grand Canyon Trust has amassed funding to purchase grazing leases in the Pariah River area of southern Utah, and are discussing options for purchasing the grazing leases from ranchers near the Escalante River.
Oregon - Discussions with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) - Marketable Permits
Members of the Oregon conservation community have discussed with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) the possibility of introducing legislation that would allow interested persons to purchase federal grazing leases from willing sellers (ranchers). The concept is to offer new legislation to purchase and retire permits in areas where livestock operators are causing resource damage and/or significant natural resource values exist that could be protected by eliminating grazing in the area.
New Mexico - Discussions with Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) - Government Retirement of Permits
Litigation in New Mexico and Arizona over grazing impacts on endangered species highlights the need to revise grazing practices on many southwestern streams. Ranchers within these areas with endangered species conflicts are facing uncertainty about the future use of their grazing allotments, and potentially cuts in grazing use to accommodate the resources at risk in these riparian habitats. Forest Guardians has discussed with Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) possible legislation that would authorize the government to purchase the grazing lease from willing sellers and retire the lease through some administrative process. NWF staff also raised this issue with Senator Domenici (R-NM) and Senator Bingaman (D-NM) without any commitment to consider such an approach.
Cowboy - Enviro Discussion of Marketing Permits
For over a year, members of the environmental community have been meeting with members of the livestock industry and others to discuss a new system for grazing management on public lands. The discussion began as an effort to define an approach to bring "market solutions" to the policy of public lands grazing. Under the proposed approach, the current grazing permit holders would have the option of selling a grazing lease to another private party - either in whole or in part. The purchaser of the grazing lease could do whatever he/she wanted with the lease, including grazing, not grazing, other alternative uses (butterfly ranching is one of my favorite options). The holder of the lease who meets minimum requirements of public land health would be eligible to hold the lease for a long period (up to 30 years) provided the leaseholder complies with applicable standards for public lands health. The lease holder also could opt to retire the lease from further use by the public - taking it out of the market.
The participants in the meeting include: Brent Atkin (vice-chair of the Public Lands Council), Cathy Carlson (National Wildlife Federation), Frank Gregg (former Director of the BLM under Carter), Karl Hess (now affiliated with the Thoreau Institute), Fran Hunt (The Wilderness Society), Truman Julian (past chair of the Public Lands Council), Brad Little (past chair of the American Sheep Industry Association), Jeff Minges (current chair of the Public lands Committee of the National Cattleman's Beef Association), Bob Nelson (a friend of Karl's), Fred Obermiller (OSU economist invited by industry), Rose Strickland (Sierra Club), and Johanna Wald (Natural Resources Defense Council).
This group is still trying to work out the details of how lands will be managed by ranchers and non-ranchers under an expanded market for grazing leases, and what the minimum requirements will be for lessees to be eligible to obtain a long-term lease (for either conservation or grazing use). No agreement among the parties has been reached to date.