From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 3 - April 18, 2002
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Grazing permit buyout proposed to ranchers

by Cat Urbigkit

Grazing permit buyout proposed to ranchers

Last week, the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign mailed its grazing permit buyout proposal to 26,000 federal grazing permittees across the West, according to a press release from the organization.

NPLGC is a new group with the single-minded purpose of removing livestock from public lands, claiming grazing is "ecologically damaging, economically irrational and fiscally imprudent." Its steering committee consists of Jon Marvel of Western Watersheds Project; Bill Marlett of Oregon Natural Desert Association; John Harding of Forest Guardians; Katie Fite of Committee for Idaho’s High Desert; and Randi Spivak of American Lands. NPLGC’s director is Andy Kerr of spotted owl fame.

The letter begins: "We are writing to inform you of a legislative proposal that – if enacted by Congress – would allow any federal grazing permittees (or lessee) to voluntarily relinquish their interest in public lands grazing to the government in exchange for compensation of $175/animal unit month (AUM). To offer an example - if this proposal became law - a permittee with 300 cow/calf pairs that graze public lands for five months every year could receive $262,500."

The letter said NPLFC is "eager to find common ground with federal grazing permittees, who, for whatever reason, are willing to voluntarily relinquish their interest in federal livestock grazing in exchange for compensation. Permit retirement would resolve conflicts between public policies of conservation and restoration of species, ecosystems and watersheds, and the practice of livestock grazing on public lands."

The letter continues: "Convincing Congress to enact a permit buyout program will require political pressure from conservation organizations and taxpayer watchdog groups, and also support from public lands grazing permittees interested in relinquishing their permits for cash (either now or in the future). Such expressions of political support from individual permittees will be crucial to the political debate."

The letter urges permittees to contact their elected representatives, agency officials and livestock industry leaders to notify them of their interest in the program, while touting: " A voluntary federal grazing permit and lease buyout program is a win-win-win proposal. It’s good for the environment, public lands grazing permittees and taxpayers."

The letter closed with: "Depending on the amount of political support and opposition, it may take some time to persuade Congress to enact a comprehensive voluntary permit buyout program. If you are interested in proceeding now, it may be possible, with the assistance of local conservation groups, to draft legislation for a site-specific buyout that could be jointly proposed to your state’s congressional delegation."

Permittees were encouraged to contact a local organization to begin the buyout process. Jon Marvel of Hailey, Idaho, was listed as the contact for Wyoming.

The Examiner found one local connection to NPLGC. The "Sublette Riders Association," with Jonathan Ratner of Boulder as its director, endorses the buyout proposal. Ratner is also listed as a member of RangeNet. Two other Wyoming organizations have endorsed the proposal: Biodiversity Association and the Jackson Hole Alliance.

The NPLGC website includes an article that appeared in the March 9 print edition of The Economist called, "Subsidized cow chow" with a "Sheridan, Wyo." dateline credit. Here’s a taste of what the article had to offer: "In the endless battles over enforcing the 1973 Endangered Species Act, it has become clear that riparian zones in the West need protection from livestock. ... Even stockmen, who hate the act, have grudgingly come to realize that retiring grazing leases is preferable to waging costly environmental battles in court - all the more so as green groups are prepared to buy them out of those leases."

The Economist endorsed the buyout proposal, concluding: "Grazing, along with hard-rock mining, represents the last bastion of government-subsidized extraction of commodities from public lands. The American taxpayer deserves a viable alternative."

For more information on the buyout program, check out the website

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