February 4, 2003


Andy Kerr, NPLGC director (503-701-6298 or
Wayne Hoskisson, Sierra Club national grazing committee chairman (435-259-0328)
Keith Raether, NPLGC public information coordinator (406-239-2287)

Sierra Club Endorses Program to Compensate Ranchers, Protect Public Lands

The Sierra Club today endorsed a proposal to compensate public lands ranchers who voluntarily yield their federal grazing permits, a plan that benefits America's ranchers, taxpayers and public lands.

Created by the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign, the proposal calls for Congress to pass legislation creating a buyout program that would provide financial compensation to ranchers who choose to relinquish their federal grazing leases.

"Voluntary retirement of federal grazing permits is a great opportunity for ranchers and conservationists to work together," said Jennifer Ferenstein, president of the Sierra Club. "This plan helps ranchers, saves taxpayer money and diminishes decades of environmental degradation wrought by livestock grazing on America's public lands."

The NPLGC plan is already endorsed by more than 120 conservation groups across the country.

American taxpayers spend about $500 million annually to administer cattle grazing on public lands. The voluntary buyout program would save a significant portion of that money while restoring natural landscapes harmed by grazing.

"This is a simple step which allows struggling ranchers a chance to get out of public lands grazing without serious economic consequences," said Wayne Hoskisson, chairman of the Sierra Club's national grazing committee. "At the same time, natural processes can be restored on some of the nation's most marginally productive rangelands."

The buyout program would pay federal permittees about four times the average market value to relinquish their grazing permits. Under the plan, a permittee with 300 cow/calf pairs that graze on federal public lands for five months of the year would receive $262,000.

"The Sierra Club applauds this voluntary program for ranchers to give up public land grazing privileges for reasonable compensation," said Hoskisson. "Congress should act on this unique opportunity to create such balanced legislation."

Some congressional leaders already have mulled the proposal and voiced their support. At a conservation conference organized last fall by the Idaho Conservation League, U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) called the voluntary buyout a "win-win" proposal for conservationists and ranchers.

"If we get together and collaborate, we can get results that are higher for the environment and higher for the economy . . . and everybody wins," Crapo said. "(The voluntary federal grazing permit buyout program) is an example of a win-win idea."

In its Global 2000 report, the Council on Environmental Quality noted that "improvident grazing . . . has been the most potent desertification force, in terms of total acreage (351,562 square miles), within the United States."

"To protect endangered species and ensure water quality on public lands, the federal government encourages citizens to sue violators, even the government itself," said NPLGC director Andy Kerr. "The 'stick' approach is important, but environmentalists also want the government to implement the 'carrot' approach."

"This voluntary approach will do more to benefit struggling ranchers and America's natural resources than the recently announced plans of the Bush Administration to weaken endangered species and other environmental protections in order to promote excessive grazing on our nation's public lands," Hoskisson said. "The President's misguided plans will only harm the health of these lands in the long run."

The Sierra Club, which boasts more than 700,000 members, was founded in 1892. It is the oldest, largest and most influential grassroots conservation organization in America.

The NPLGC comprises six progressive conservation groups in the West: the American Lands Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Committee for the High Desert, Forest Guardians, Oregon Natural Desert Association and Western Watersheds Project.