Green Mountain grazing decision doesn’t satisfy ranchers, critics

Conservationists have been putting in a lot of hours for a lot of years on the Green Mountain Common Allotment – and rightfully so;  At 522,000 acres it’s the largest unfenced public land grazing allotment in the country, and it’s a landscape that’s been brutalized by livestock for far too long.

Green Mountain grazing decision doesn’t satisfy ranchers, criticsCasper Star-Tribune

Grazed/Ungrazed Green Mountain Common Allotment photo: © Jonathan Ratner, WWP 2010

The plan reduces the number of potential livestock allowed to graze in the area by 45 percent, and also reduces the amount of time each year cattle can graze on the allotment by about 10 percent. The plan also calls for more than 40 miles of new fencing, for which the cost will be split between ranchers and the BLM, to better control where livestock wanders.

Reducing “potential” numbers sounds a lot like BLM is looking to cut paper cows.

Frequently, land managers cut “Permitted Use” numbers in response to resource degradation.  It makes it look like they’re doing something to reduce livestock impact – on paper.

Unfortunately, the number of livestock public land ranchers are “permitted” (or could potentially) to graze is almost always a significantly higher number than the “Actual Use”, or the number of cows that actually graze on an allotment and that are actually responsible for the associated impact.

“Paper cows” are the difference between “Permitted Use” and “Actual Use”.  Paper cows don’t damage the landscape – they’re imaginary – existing only on paper as a potentiality.

If a BLM manager reduces the number of cows permitted to graze, but that reduction is not greater than the surplus over what a rancher actually grazes –  then the same number of cattle responsible for the damage in the first place will continue to graze.

The reason ranchers (and land managers) like to keep “Permitted Use” numbers high is because permittees are allowed to take bank loans out using their permits as collateral.   Higher “Permitted Use” numbers on a permit makes for more collateral and bigger loans.

Hard-to-explain cooked books like these keep your public lands and wildlife populations denuded across the west – while government bureaucrats claim victory for the environment.


  1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    And when activists point out to the judge that the BLM has cooked the books, U.S. Representatives like Idaho’s Mike Simpson call the lawsuits “frivolous,” even though they activists often win the suit.

    How can you win a frivolous suit? You can’t.

    All politicians mean is that they didn’t like your lawsuit.

  2. mikarooni Avatar

    Just to get a general idea of the situation, does anyone know the “actual use” numbers, the actual number of AUMs racked up, last year, 2010, on this specific allotment and how that number compares to the “Permitted Use” numbers in AUMs. I know 1) that even these numbers can be and are “gamed” and 2) that there are a host of other variables, including type of cattle/livestock and timing of usage in different pasture types; but, the numbers, in AUMs, are a handy general indicator.

    1. Brian Ertz Avatar

      BLM doesn’t count cows anymore, let alone monitor proportionate impact. usually “actual use” is a line on a form that permittees are required to fill out themselves at the end of the year so there’s really no independently verifiable way to determine relative impact. They just know when it’s too many for too long – and often managers are extremely forgiving as it is. One could say that an allotment is ‘overstocked’ when the landscape and water is trashed at the end of the year (or for decades). It’s hard enough to get’em to even ratchet down paper cows – things have to be really bad.

  3. mikarooni Avatar

    I reviewed the Star-Tribune article. It talks about “16 permittees” sharing “19 permits” with one permittee allowed to run “about 1,200 head for six months” and all of that really doesn’t tell you much; but, it implies that one permittee is running the equivalent of 600 “head” yearlong and the article does say his herd runs to “700” head. The problem is, of course, that you can’t tell what each “head” is eating because each “head’ could be anything from a bull at the high end to just weaned calves at the other and it makes a difference.

    Another way to look at it is to consider that this one permittee, out of 16 permittees in total, is apparently running the equivalent of 600 to 700 head yearlong. If the other permittees are stocking at similar levels, you get maybe eight to ten thousand “head” yearlong on this half million acres? Yellowstone is over four times the size of this combined allotment; yet, the MT DOL, in agreement with the local ranchers in the area of the Park, says the Park can only support less than half that many “head” of bison yearlong. One grazing unit of bison is sure not eight times as big as a cattle unit (4 times the pasture acreage divided by half the “head” equals 8 times the grazing per “head”). Seems like an interesting comparison to make to me.

  4. Elk275 Avatar


    A cow equals 1 animal unit

    a bison equal 1.8 animal units

    a elk .70 animal units

    a mule deer .15 animal units

    a domestic sheep .20 animal units

    Not all of the land mass of Yellowstone is bison range, one would have to figure out exactly how many total acres are bison range and then figure out how many acres of the green mountain grazing district are cattle range. Not every acre in either place will be grazed.

    An idea, if one is trying to figure out what’s what and whose cattle are whose, then look at the brand, make a note and check the brand registration, which is public record.

    1. Jay Avatar

      An AUM is actually a cow/calf pair, not just the cow.

    2. Brian Ertz Avatar

      not all of a given allotment is “suitable” for livestock either. on so many allotments in the west that have yet to have had the lawful NEPA – & its suitability & capability analysis – it’s just assumed certain landscapes can hold X number of cattle because that’s the way it’s always been done. slope, soils, proximity to water, timber, leaving some forage for big-game & wildlife – so many of these things just haven’t been considered.

  5. mikarooni Avatar

    Thanks for the clarifying information. I knew that a bison counted as more than one AU; but, thanks for the 1.8 clarification.

    I guess Brian sees the direction I was heading… I’ve been bothered for a long time by the fact that ranchers and their minions in the state land, USFS, and BLM systems tend to play both ends against the middle. They want the best deal they can swing for themselves (low relative AU values for their livestock and inflated carrying capacities on their leases and allotments); but, they play the opposite game when it comes to calculating the impact and depredation responses for elk and bison. They think running 500 cattle down in a riparian area is fine; but, six elk in the same area and they want depredation hunt privileges.

    The truth is that not all of the Park is bison range; not all of this allotment is cattle range; and I sure don’t believe that bison actually carry 1.8 times the grazing impact as their cattle counterparts. I’m not against beef; but, most of the ag community has pretty much degenerated into codependent trash and I’d sure like to find a way to get a level playing field instead of the current rampant corruption.

    1. mike post Avatar
      mike post

      The difference in average body weight alone justifies the 1.8 AU for bison along with the fact that they are naturally more efficient grazers of the southwest than the european cows.

    2. Elk275 Avatar


      After I posted that information, I realized that I should have included the calf, then Jay reminded me. One animal unit is one thousand pound cow and her calf, for those who calve in January by June when they leave for the lease some of the calves our 300 pounds and by sumnmers end will be 600 pounds.

      If a thousand pound cow and her calf is one animal unit, lets forget the calf for easier thinking, lets kept it simple, then one pound should equal .001 animal units. If a buffalo is 1.8 animal units then that buffalo should weigh 1800 pounds, only big bulls weigh 1800 pounds. What would the average weight of bison be, the total weight of the herd should be weigh and every one thousand pounds should count as an amimal unit. Buffalo herds are a family group and cattle are generally a cow/calf pair or yealing being fatten up for fall.

      Just an idea.

  6. mike post Avatar
    mike post

    The AU list is correct but keep in mind that most grazing docs speak to “AUM” which is one cow/calf unit for a month. So for instance a permit might say 3000 AMU’s but that is almost never 3000 cows and calfs on the land at one time. In reality you might have 600 AU’s on the land for 5 months, equalling the permitted 3000 AMU’s.