Grazing Buyout News

Online Messenger #50

The Arizona Republic Supports The National Public Lands Grazing Campaign Buy Out Plan

Arizona Republic editorial
Feb. 2, 2003

Grazing rights buyout is fair proposal for ranchers

To many, the very suggestion that cattle be barred permanently from running the Arizona range is heresy. Cattle ranching is to Arizona what auto manufacturing is to Detroit or wine to Napa Valley. The products define who we are and the perspectives we value.

To many, the very suggestion that cattle be barred permanently from running the Arizona range is heresy. Cattle ranching is to Arizona what auto manufacturing is to Detroit or wine to Napa Valley. The products define who we are and the perspectives we value.

But is it heresy if the cattle ranchers themselves support the idea? Is it heresy if ranchers, rocked by four years of drought, by endless and growing environmental pressures and by competition with other uses for the public land they lease, seek an honorable end to their tradition?

A group of ranchers is seeking congressional approval of a voluntary plan to buy out the grazing leases of ranchers. They are supported, not surprisingly, by a raft of environmental and conservation groups. As proposed, Arizona ranchers would be offered a brief window of opportunity, perhaps a year, to accept a one-time buyout of their federal permits. By one estimate, perhaps a quarter of Arizona's 925 ranchers would accept the offer, which would pay them about $93 million from the federal Treasury.

In theory, of course, Congress simply could pass a law ending grazing rights on federal land, a resolution to the debate that would cost taxpayers nothing. Environmentalists have sought just such a resolution for years.

But for ranchers who have plied their trade for generations, that would constitute an extraordinary punishment. Although the law does not recognize any market value of a grazing permit, banks and other lending institutions long have figured those permits into their decisions to finance ranching operations. The ranchers backing this proposal want to see it pass because many of them are going broke. It would be a terrible cruelty to punish them more.

Current grazing-rights retirement practices simply try to fool existing law. Conservation groups now are allowed to acquire leases themselves, a convoluted method of grazing-land retirement that often requires them to run a minimum number of livestock. It's a haphazard resolution to a complex land-use issue, and it doesn't guarantee that the permits will not eventually end up back in the hands of a full-time rancher.

No, if we are to conclude that cattle ranching in parts of Arizona has run its course, fairness dictates the ranchers who have invested generations to the industry be compensated. This proposal would do that fairly.

It offers ranchers $175 for each "animal unit month" they control, averaged over the past 10 years. A typical rancher who had run 100 head of cattle yearlong would receive an estimated $210,000 to permanently retire his federal grazing rights. It's a fair deal. Not a king's ransom, but enough to help redirect the rancher to some other line of work.

As a group, ranchers vociferously oppose the proposal. They see in it the sunset of a noble enterprise. But if a quarter of their own already are in thrall to the plan, that strongly suggests the plan has merit.

Led by longtime Arizona rancher John Whitney IV, the coalition of ranchers and Greens is planning a trip to Washington, D.C., to present the idea to the House Natural Resources Committee. It's a good, reasonable and fair proposal that they bring.

National Public Lands Grazing Campaign Announces Spring Stampede on Capitol Hill

March 16 - 20, 2003
Washington, DC

Please join public lands advocates from around the country for an action-packed, rewarding and fun week of informing, persuading, cajoling, and enlightening members of Congress, the Administration, and the media on abusive public lands livestock grazing. This lobby week will provide grazing activists with an excellent opportunity to:

* educate lawmakers, Administration officials, and other decision-makers and opinion-leaders on complex issues surrounding the federal grazing program and the urgent need to reform it;

*advocate for legislative and administrative reforms, such as, but not limited to, the proposed voluntary federal grazing permit buy-out program;

*devour tofudebeest flank steaks, sides of textured vegetable protein, and other forms of cow-free (including fish and fowl) calories at a Beefless Barbecue; and

*cavort with old friends and make the acquaintance of new ones at these and other events throughout the week.

Here's the catch: NPLGC is comprised of six scrappy grassroots organizations, which means we don't have much moooolah. Much to our chagrin, we are unable to cover travel costs for most Spring Stampede participants. However, NPLGC can provide a couple of travel stipends to aid those folks who don't have an organizational travel budget, a rich relative, or frequent-flyer miles to fall back on (contact Gilly Lyons at the coordinates below if you need further assistance). Also, we can definitely help you find a free place to lay your head while you're here in Washington, and we promise to ply you with the best beer we can find (or another beverage of your choice) at each of the daily debriefing sessions.

If you'd like to partake of this cattle-confounding confab, we'd love to have you join us. Please contact NPLGC Washington, DC Advocate Gilly Lyons:
Via e-mail:
Via fax: (202) 547-9213
Via regular mail: 726 7th Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003

You may want to arrange your travel to fly in on Saturday, March 15, in order to take advantage of many airlines' Saturday-night stay-over discounts. Also, consider flying into Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI), rather than National Airport (DCA) or Dulles International Airport (IAD). BWI tends to be the least pricey of the DC-area airports, and ground transportation from there to Washington, DC, is relatively inexpensive and getting more convenient all the time.

We look forward to seeing you in March!

If you have any questions at all, please feel free to contact Gilly at the above-mentioned e-mail address or (202) 547-9267. Thanks!

NPLGC Steering Committee
-Randi Spivak, American Lands Alliance
-Martin Taylor, Center for Biological Diversity
-Katie Fite, Committee for Idaho's High Desert
-John Horning, Forest Guardians
-Bill Marlett, Oregon Natural Desert Association
-Jon Marvel, Western Watersheds Project

-Andy Kerr, Director
-Gilly Lyons, Washington, DC Advocate*
-Mark Salvo, Counsel*
-Keith Raether, Public Information Coordinator*
-George Wuerthner, Ecological Advisor

*on loan from Oregon Natural Desert Association, American Lands, and Western Watersheds Project respectively.