Rural Economic Vitalization Act reintroduced-

The Rural Economic Vitalization Act (REVA) would allow private parties to pay willing ranchers to relinquish their grazing permits on public lands, and then the grazing allotment would then be permanently closed to livestock grazing.  U.S. Representative Adam Smith of Washington State has just reintroduced this legislation.

Conservationists and economists have long criticized livestock grazing on the public lands of the West as both an inefficient activity on lands largely unsuitable for profitable livestock grazing and the source of massive damage to water quality, fish and wildlife, and outdoor recreation.  Many conservationists see livestock grazing as the activity that more than anything else holds back the abundance of wildlife, including the politically important sport fishing and big game.

Contrary to the narrative told by the livestock associations, a considerable number of ranchers on these economically sub-marginal lands say they would like to get out of business or make a go of it on more productive land, but their grazing permit is owned by the government. The permit can be relinquished but it cannot be sold. If a permit holder gives up their permit, then the BLM or Forest Service usually just takes it and reissues it to another livestock operator.

This bill is promoted as creating a “win, win situation.”  A willing rancher gets paid money they would never get otherwise. The payment comes from a private party. Taxpayers no longer have to support an inefficient government activity, and the condition of the land and water usually improves tremendously.  It is likely that the private parties paying to end the grazing would concentrate their efforts on grazing allotments where they expect to see the greatest return in restoration for their monetary payment.

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Below is a news release from Congressman Adam Smith. It includes the text of the legislation.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Contact: Ben Halle, (202) 570-2771
Congressman Smith Reintroduces the Rural Economic Vitalization Act
Legislation Would Reform Federal Grazing Program to Protect Environment, Save Taxpayer Dollars

Congressman Adam Smith has reintroduced legislation that would address the wasteful, environmentally damaging, and economically inefficient federal grazing policy on our public lands.  H.R. 2201, the Rural Economic Vitalization Act, would change federal law to allow ranchers with grazing permits to voluntarily relinquish their permits to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service in exchange for private market compensation.  It would further allow the BLM and U.S. Forest Service to permanently retire the grazing permit.

“The current federal grazing program is among the most economically inefficient uses of our public lands,” said Congressman Smith.  “This legislation opens the door for private solutions to a long-standing problem that costs taxpayers millions and has prevented public land ranchers from efficiently utilizing resources available to them.”

Current law does not allow for the retirement of grazing permits.  This not only is to the detriment of wildlife, watersheds, and the surrounding ecosystem, which continue to be harmed by domestic livestock grazing, but also to federal taxpayer dollars wastefully spent to continue an antiquated grazing policy  on public lands.

“Grazing is an important use of our public lands, but it’s a very impactful use”, said Rep. Raul Grijalva, who joined Congressman Smith in introducing the legislation. “Excessive grazing impacts wildlife habitat, soil composition, local hydrology, and even heightens the impacts of climate change. Retiring some permits will help save taxpayer money and benefit federal conservation efforts. Right now, when we are looking for ways to save taxpayer money, REVA is a win-win. Ranchers that want to retire their permits should have that opportunity.”

“Many permit holders would choose to retire their grazing permit if they could recoup their investment from private funds,” Smith said.  “By providing federal grazing permit holders the freedom to exchange permits for market value compensation, this legislation would spur private investment, provide ranchers with the opportunity to pursue new business ventures or retire with more security, and protect public lands from the damaging environmental effects of livestock grazing.”

In addition to the environmental damage, the federal grazing program is heavily subsidized and costs American taxpayers over $115 million a year.  The Government Accountability Office reported that the BLM and Forest Service spend over $132 million a year on managing the grazing lands, yet they only collect $17 million a year in fees.

“At a time when the federal government is looking for ways to cut outdated programs and become more efficient, this bill eliminates wasteful spending and saves taxpayer dollars,” continued Smith.  “This legislation is a win for all involved.  The American taxpayer saves money, ranchers have a choice to retire their permits for market compensation, and public lands are given the opportunity to rebuild their natural habitats, native plants, and wildlife.”

For more information, view the Rural Economic Vitalization Act fact sheet.

Benjamin Halle
Press Secretary
Congressman Adam Smith (WA-09)
Office: 202.225.8901 | Cell: 202.570.2771
2264 Rayburn House Office Building
Twitter: @Rep_Adam_Smith

Facebook: Rep. Adam Smith

 

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

44 Responses to Bill would allow ranchers to voluntarily end their grazing allotments in exchange for private compensation

  1. avatar Richie G. says:

    I hope this passes, it would help more than I can say great article Ralph, will spread it around.

  2. avatar Rancher Bob says:

    Nice short and to the point bill, paid for by private money sounds like a win-win.

  3. avatar Lyn McCormick says:

    Finally !! What are the chances of it passing ? How will it address the Grazing Association allotments. The Assoc.members get shares of stock to throw their allotments into the pie. I think they get so many AUM’s per share (no range science there) if I’m wrong, please advise.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Good points Lyn. The sponsors of the legislation should be asked. They are probably open to suggestions.

      As for the prospects . . . we have a uniquely awful Congress. They have pretty much stopped passing bills altogether. I don’t think this has happened in America’s history.

      But if the partisan logjam is broken, a favorable word from some ranchers would move the bill a lot faster than conservation groups alone singing its praises.

      • avatar Tom Page says:

        Yep, the messenger coming from the traditional ranching community in support of permit buyouts will be critical. Until there’s a champion of this bill coming from the Intermountain West, I think it doesn’t have much chance, unfortunately. I’m hopeful that it will come to pass in the next twenty years.

        Our ranch operation has a 15,000 acre permit for which I’d be most excited to see this become possible. We can take “non-use” for awhile, because we have other permits that are more efficient, but most permittees don’t have that option, due to economic constraints (and likely fewer permits).

        I think it would be difficult to get all the permittees within a grazing association to agree on anything…let alone a buyout. If it did occur, I’d bet the agency records would show the AUM’s at time of purchase/creation of the assn.

    • The language of the bill includes a section on dealing with multiple permittees: “If a grazing allotment covered by a grazing permit or lease that is waived under subsection (a) is also covered by another grazing permit or lease that is not waived, the Secretary shall reduce the level of commercial livestock grazing of the grazing allotment to reflect the waiver.”

  4. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    The only question I would ask is wouldn’t it depend upon who the ‘private party’ is? If it is a group like the Nature Conservancy it would be great or someone who wants to protect and restore the land. But what if it is a land developer or energy company (green or otherwise)? Sometimes I think I’d rather see ranching than that.

    • avatar Ken Cole says:

      Oftentimes it is the mining company who owns the base property now. They buy the property to mollify the rancher who is complaining about the lower water tables caused by the mining operations. The biggest public lands ranchers in Nevada are mining companies and Southern Nevada Water Authority who is mining water to send to Las Vegas. They still graze livestock on their permitted allotments on top of what they are doing to dry and dig up the landscape.

    • avatar BobMc says:

      Hello Ida, I appreciate your question’s thrust, but the exchange is for the grazing permit, not the underlying Federal land.

      The bill appears good to me, but I find it ironic that citizens have to buy back ‘leases’ that somehow never expire, and never come up for competitive bid. That stockmen are okay with a system that gives 3% of their competitors a financial edge is a further mystery. Let’s push this bill, and let’s get cattle off our home on the range, so the deer and the buffalo can play.

      Cattle considered trailer-trash by wild ungulates

      • avatar Ida Lupine says:

        Okay, I wasn’t sure. Thanks! I have mixed feelings – if we all, ranchers and wildlife, could just get along!

    • Ida,

      REVA would apply to federal lands, so the issue of land development is moot without a major overhaul of federal public land law. As for energy companies, they can apply for permits on federal lands now where grazing exists. It is usually demand (and proximity to transmission lines) that drives that kind of development. Grazing permits aren’t holding it back. Allowing these energy companies to offset their footprints by buying out grazing leases as mitigation for impacts would put us ahead of where we are now, which is getting energy plus grazing.

  5. avatar rork says:

    Just buy them out.
    It’s been a good solution for land protection near me by both taxpayers and private groups, and has worked in protecting fish in the great lakes too (bought out some tribal fisheries). I’m wildly enthusiastic at first reading.

  6. avatar mikepost says:

    Unfortunately, this does not allow for managed grazing for sound ecological reasons on the retired leases. While it might be great to retire a high use annual lease for cow-calf operations, there are many eco-systems and wildlife species that would benefit from short-term managed grazing like stocker operations could provide. Loving the land does not always mean cursing the cows…

    • avatar JB says:

      True, but presumably the “task” of grazing would be taken up by native ungulates. :)

      • avatar mikepost says:

        ever tried to fence them into a prescribed grazing area….?

        My comment relates to critters like burrowing owls for instance that need less than 4″ of cover. Yes, perhaps the 30 million dead bison could have done that for them in the past but who now?

  7. If the grazing fees only bring in $17 million and it costs $132 million to administer, it looks like grazing fees need to be raised by a factor of 8 just to break even. I think the public deserves a little profit from the use of public lands, so why not consider raising fees by a factor of 10. If ranchers had to pay $13.50 per AUM, they would be far more likely to consider selling their grazing leases.
    The $1.35 per AUM they pay now is such a nice welfare handout, that the ranchers and sheepmen hate to let it go.

    • avatar Elk275 says:

      How would this bill deal with checker boarder lands or a 50,000 acre ranch with 6,240 acres of federal land in which only 1280 acres that have public access.

      There are thousands 160 and 320 acre parcels in large ranches which are impossible to access.

      • avatar alf says:

        Elk275 asks, “How would this bill deal with checker boarder lands or a 50,000 acre ranch with 6,240 acres of federal land in which only 1280 acres that have public access.

        “There are thousands 160 and 320 acre parcels in large ranches which are impossible to access.”

        The logical way to deal with those situations, it seems to me, would be through land exchanges, so ownership could be blocked up.

        But this bill permits — doesn’t mandate — buyouts, so I doubt very much that those ranchers who control public tracts w/o public access would want to change the status quo, where they pay ridiculously low rent and have no incentives to practice good stewardship or to do anything other than overexploit the land.

        • avatar Elk275 says:

          “The logical way to deal with those situations, it seems to me, would be through land exchanges, so ownership could be blocked up. ”

          Would that be the best for wildlife? Think about it. If large ranches were able to divest federal and state lands though land trades what would be next? The ranch then would want to own the wildlife. That thinking is coming very soon to large land owners.

          • avatar alf says:

            If the goal is to get privately owned domestic livestock off the public land and to allow public access to the public’s lands, I really don’t see any practical alternative other than land exchanges aggregating those small tracts into bigger, more easily managed blocks, with public access.

            You say, “The ranch then would want to own the wildlife. That thinking is coming very soon to large land owners.”

            Unfortunately, I believe that thinking has already come, and some on the extreme right are already pushing the idea — unsuccessfully, so far, I believe.

            But really, how much difference is there in the landowner owning outright the wildlife and in charging outrageous fees to hunt publicly owned wildlife on his private land — as is common practice in many areas even now ?

            • avatar JB says:

              We’ve come a very long way from the notions of private property rights 200 years ago:

              ” As long as they did not interfere with the owner’s actual use, the public could freely enter private land to hunt, fish in navigable waters, trap, and forage for lumber, berries, fruit, flowers, nuts, and herbs.

              As the South Carolina Supreme Court explained in 1818, even if privately owned, “[t]he forest was regarded as a common” that hunters were privileged to enter at their pleasure and need not depart even if asked to do so by the owner.”

              http://www.vjel.org/journal/pdf/VJEL10068.pdf

              • avatar Elk275 says:

                “and forage for lumber”

                Maybe we have progressed. I would hate to have a large parcel of forested property and have a multi national lumber company come in and forage all of my trees.

              • avatar JB says:

                Elk:

                In this context, I believe “forage” refers to collecting dead or downed wood.

      • avatar Brian Ertz says:

        With respect to checker-board ownership, and most – if not all – of the novel particular land ownership situations we frequently see on public lands:

        The beauty of this legislation is that it does not rely on often beurocratic and cumbersome regulatory restrictions that could limit/relegate its implementation to the desks of various agencies for meetings, consultations, phone conference after phone conference, etc. etc. etc. until finally passing the government bowel with approval conditioned on a regime of procedural and practical amendments rendering the original agreement unrecognizable.

        When private parties find a solution and the permit is kicked to agency, agency is directed by Congress to retire – that’s it. It utilizes the free market – resolution of concerns can be negotiated by the parties.

        For checkerboard situations this means that the terms of any agreement could be anything, and a buy-out might be a part of a larger private easement which best sets about mechanisms in a ‘big picture’ land initiative if that were to fit the fancy of those involved.

        If management of a checkerboard ownership situation were to be an ominous problem for conservation objectives (or whatever objectives) – the value of the buy-out might be significantly depreciated given the impracticability, and it would be up to the parties to negotiate contractual mechanisms to address those concerns. The buy-out mechanism likewise liberates parties to negotiate any fathomable ‘problems’ that may arise with the free market, with government serving the simple function of effectuating retirement of the allotment when all the other details are worked out by the parties.

    • avatar alf says:

      Last time I checked, several years ago, private land grazing here in the Lemhi valley of eastern Idaho was going for over $20 an AUM (a cow-calf pair per month). It’s probably a few dollars more than that now. So even raising fees by a factor of ten is still giving them a massive subsidy.

    • avatar Rancher Bob says:

      Larry
      I think you’ll be disappointed if you think the end of federal grazing will save 132 million.

      • avatar JEFF E says:

        why wouldn’t it

        • avatar Rancher Bob says:

          Jeff E
          The land is still there the agency still has to manage the land, livestock or not. When has a government agency ever reduced it’s budget on it’s own. Be honest you know how it will work.

          • avatar JEFF E says:

            RB,
            you be honest. the question at hand is the cost of public welfare grazing, not managing the “land”.

            So riddle me this; without public grazing, how does the(public) “land” need to be managed, and how did that happen 200+ yrs ago?

            • avatar Rancher Bob says:

              Jeff E
              Well first we can bet the 132 million is inflated because that’s what people do when trying to make a point like this.
              Second 100 leases may be retired a year, so someone still has a job until all the leases in that district retire. Will that district spend any less money? NO
              Third western Montana has a small percentage of federal land grazed we still have offices full of land managers. It’s what they do, develop management plans deal with lawsuits, deal with public use and misuse, fires ect.. If you want land managed like it was 200 years ago join the tea party. It’s how our government works get a budget create work and ask for a bigger budget. What do we do today like we did 200 years ago.

              • avatar JEFF E says:

                http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-05-869

                Apparently this is the latest report available,
                Note that the AUM is even less today than when this was written.I believe that it is now only $1.35 an AUM, where as private grazing costs upwards of $12.00+ an AUM.

                No doubt about it. public lands grazing is just one massive welfare program which also gives those producers an unfair govt. sponsored competitive advantage over those producers not able to belly up to the trough.

              • avatar Nancy says:

                RB – a summary of costs, over 10 years ago, for the federal grazing program:

                http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/publications/papers/assessing_the_full_cost.pdf

                I’m thinking the $132 mil is spot on…. if not abit modest :)

              • avatar Rancher Bob says:

                Well time will tell us just how much the tax payer will save. I’ll let you two keep track.
                Good to see your still around Nancy.

              • avatar JEFF E says:

                why not provide the material too refute it.
                not urban, or in this case rural legends, but solid mathematical facts.

              • avatar Nancy says:

                Thanks RB.

                Hard to sit still when it’s springtime. The days are longer, everything is so green and lush, wildlife everywhere.

                You know what I’m talking about :)

              • avatar Rancher Bob says:

                Jeff E
                First of all I think the bill is a great start.
                Some numbers for you, from various sources, there are around 23600 permit holders so at 100 permits a year in say 200 years you’ll see your 132 million in savings.
                With 239 million plus tax returns filed in 2011 if you paid a tax average you would save around 55 cents a year in 200 years.
                The issue no one has brought up is 50% of the money the Forest Service took in from grazing went to state and county coffers I have no number for BLM so 3.2 million in revenue will be lost to states and counties, I would guess local western tax payers will be asked to make up that loss. Unless the buyout contact has a clause where that money is paid by the buyer, food for thought if a buyout occurs in your county. Then the thought is the state and county will make up that loss in wildlife viewers, right. Like I said you keep track how much we’re all saving and report back from time to time.

              • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

                Rancher Bob and all,

                While public land ranching is certainly a drag on the U.S. treasury, those groups who would offer to buy out a grazing allotment would not be motivated by saving the U.S. Treasury money. I imagine it would be solely to remove the cows and so, in their minds at least, improve the fishing, the scenery, increase the diversity of wildlife, make outdoor recreation more pleasant and so on.

                The loss of money to the Treasury argument is a reply to those who insist that public land grazing is some kind of economic activity so important they we cannot allow ranchers to willingly sell their grazing allotment to those who seek its retirement and take this money so they can retire or make a go of it at a better location.

              • avatar Rancher Bob says:

                Ralph
                All points I understand, the issue is a small part of the US budget. Answer one question have the people pushing this thought about the money lost on the local level?
                I’ve been a part of some land deals where payment was made to the county to offset those looses. Other than that been bouncing it off the local powers that be about some support.

  8. avatar Mal Adapted says:

    Mikepost: For the most part part, ecosystems that are adapted to heavy grazing are already in privately hands. In the intermountain West, much of the public land leased for grazing never had large herds of bison or other grazing animals (see for example this USFS symposium proceedings and references cited therein. Native ungulates like elk and bighorn sheep occupied the grazing niche nicely. The lands in question have not just been waiting through the millenia for domestic livestock to come along.

  9. avatar WM says:

    It is interesting that WA Rep. Adam Smith is the sponsor of this legislation. He is an urbanite from the WA 9th District, south of Seattle.

    I hope those who propose the legislation have truly thought through what such a law might or might not accomplish.

    First, one has to wonder what kind of money it will take to retire (privately purchases) some of these leases, and whether it will be easy to raise. For example, some leases it is my understanding are linked to the ownership of private lands, because they are on adjacent acreages. If the private land is to retain its value the grazing lease is a very valuable asset for profitable ranching. Sell off/retire the lease and the private land loses value in the market place. So, it would seem there would be a premium paid for the lease to offset this.

    Second, does passage of this legislation preclude other offense tactics to get rid of public lands grazing, which might be more effective and cost less, and result in stopping grazing on THE MOST SENSITIVE lands that should be removed from public grazing?

    Third, what wildlife species will fill in to graze the biomass not used by cows or sheep? And, if it means maybe more elk, will there be commensurate amounts of winter range at lower elevations to support these animals during winter? Those lands are often in private ownership, and it puts more pressure for starving wildlife to encroach on these lands if in larger numbers.

    I hope the sponsors and those who would vote in favor of passage have some of this, and alot of other stuff, in mind and well thought through before jumping in to support it.

    Personally, I think it is a great idea, but will it work to retire large tracts and the most sensitive lands, and accomplish one goal while creating other problems?

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      WM,

      Money is always a question, but the National Wildlife Federation under the guidance of Hank Fischer has retired several hundred thousand acres of Forest Service land in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem over the last ten years by means of payouts where the Forest Service basically winked and then changed the Forest Plan to retire the bought allotment (something that the FS can do, but are often reluctant to do. The BLM is very bad on this).

      The Sagebrush Habitat Fund just retired 150,000 acres of BLM land in the Owyhee canyonlands (SW Idaho) with a buyout. The bill that created the Owyhee Canyonlands allowed for buyouts, and it is in fact based on the idea behind REVA. So some legislative progress has been made (Owyhee) and some retirements in critical areas have been done using the high risk method of paying the permittee and hoping the agency will retire the land.

      Some Grand Canyon area buyouts did not go so well.

      I am almost sure there have been others of which I am not aware.

      • avatar WM says:

        Ralph,

        Thanks for the information. I was aware of the NWF program, but had no idea they had retired so many acres in the GYE. It looks like, from their website, their efforts were most heavily focused in past years (money an issue now?), with little in process at present. Are they mostly done in the GYE, or has the low hanging/cheap fruit been harvested, or are they awaiting a cash infusion for the next round?

        http://www.nwf-wcr.org/SpecificAllotments.htm#CA

        NWF has always, IMHO, been one of the “good guys” in trying to balance wildlife conflicts and seek workable environmental programs for conservation that doesn’t piss people off. They have had a string of good leaders for several decades. And their steadfast integrity has been a cornerstone of their work. I drink my morning coffee from a “wolf” mug purchased from NWF in the 1990′s.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey