Where would the money come from?

Is There a Role for Private Conservation Dollars?

The success--and failure--of private (third-party) grazing permit retirement was the impetus for the current buyout legislation in Congress. Third-party buyouts are three-way agreements between (1) a permittee who is willing to end his/her grazing in exchange for compensation; (2) a land management agency that will retire the allotment from further livestock grazing; and (3) a conservation organization/funder willing and able to pay the permittee to relinquish his/her permit or lease back to the government. In a few situations, a second government agency has funded permit buyout.

Perhaps two or three third-party buyouts occur each year, usually in specially designated areas such as national parks and wilderness areas. 1 While third-party buyouts have been useful in removing livestock from specific areas, the current rate of species extirpation and watershed destruction caused by inappropriate livestock grazing--and permittee demand for buyout--far outpaces permit retirement by this method.

Third-party buyouts are limited by the finite amount of private funding available for permit acquisition and the inescapable fact that they are not permanent. Permit buyout is generally prohibited under current law, which advises agency managers to transfer grazing permits to new graziers upon the resignation or retirement of the previous permittee. Agencies willing to participate in third-party buyouts typically "retire" permits for 10-15 years, and sometimes for lesser periods, by amending the current allotment or resource management plan to reallocate 100 percent of the available forage to wildlife and watersheds. However, these plans are regularly reviewed by the same managing agencies pursuant to federal law, at which point they can choose to reopen allotments for grazing. No law prohibits an agency from reinstating livestock grazing on allotments retired by third-party buyout, and livestock grazing could be reintroduced in several ways, including by a local district manager via another planning amendment or by order of a new administration in Washington, DC.

There may always be a role for third-parties to buyout selected grazing permits. However, if enacted, the Multiple-Use Conflict Resolution Act would permanently retire many more permits than private conservation groups could hope to obtain, while--depending on the level of permittee participation--potentially save taxpayers billions of dollars.

What else would cowboys and ranchers do?

1. For a summary of selected examples of federal grazing permit buyout, see Permits for Cash: a Fair and Equitable Resolution to the Public Land Range War, originally published as M. Salvo and A. Kerr. 2001. Permits for cash: a fair and equitable resolution to the public land range war. Rangelands 23 (1): 22-24.