November 22, 2003


    Andy Kerr, NPLGC director (503-701-6298 or

    A Letter to Federal Grazing Permittees & Lessees, November 2003  

Ranchers Receive News of Voluntary Grazing Permit Buyout Legislation

More than 25,000 public lands ranchers received news last week from the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign of a bill that would give permittees a generous solution to the dire economics of ranching on public lands.

In a letter to all public lands permittees, NPLGC director Andy Kerr confirmed a promise made in April 2002. Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) have introduced legislation to enact a voluntary federal grazing permit buyout program that would compensate public lands ranchers who voluntarily relinquish their federal grazing permits or leases.

The Voluntary Grazing Permit Buyout Act (H.R. 3324, “Shays-Grijalva”) would pay federal public lands ranchers who waive their interest in grazing permits or leases $175 per animal unit month (or AUM, the amount of forage to sustain one cow and calf for one month). The associated allotment would then be retired from commercial livestock grazing and the forage reallocated to wildlife and watersheds. The bill authorizes $100 million for the program.

The Arizona Voluntary Grazing Permit Buyout Act (H.R. 3337, “Grijalva-Shays”) is a similar bill that applies specifically to Arizona.

“Congressman Shays and I have introduced a bill that will give much-needed relief to ranching families suffering the results of drought and other economic factors,” said Grijalva.

“It’s a relief that Congress is finally seeing past all the theories and paying attention to the reality on the ground,” said John Whitney III, a fourth-generation rancher who holds the largest U.S. Forest Service grazing permit in Arizona. Whitney’s 158,000-acre Sunflower allotment in Tonto National Forest northeast of Phoenix has been closed for three years because of drought.

The buyout program was conceived by the NPLGC as a financial alternative for cash-strapped public lands ranchers with investments stranded in grazing permits.

The economic picture for grazing permittees on public lands is not rosy. A recent study cited in the Journal of Range Management concludes that ranching operations “had a return rate that ranged from negative to 1 or 2 percent . . . .” Only 2 percent of total feed for livestock (cattle and sheep) in the United States is supplied by federal lands, and imported beef is putting a financial squeeze on federal permittees across the country.

The Bureau of Land Management’s report “Rangeland Reform” notes that only 3 percent of livestock producers in the United States hold federal grazing permits. As recently as 1999, public lands ranching accounted for a scant .04 percent of all income and .06 percent of all employment in the West. This amounts to only few months of typical growth of income and employment.

In a recent poll conducted by the Arizona Grazing Permit Buyout Campaign, 154 permittees (68 percent of all respondents) of the state’s 870 federal public lands ranchers supported the buyout bill. Eleven others have since added their support.

“We know this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said John Whitney IV, steering committee chairman of the Arizona buyout campaign. “A lot of permittees have told us they support a buyout, but they just couldn’t believe it would ever happen. Well, now it is happening.”