Rural Economic Vitalization Act (REVA) Introduced in Congress

REVA (H.R. 3432) Would Provide Cash Option for Grazing Permittees

Conservationists hailed the introduction of the Rural Economic Vitalization Act (H.R. 3432) in Congress, a bill that would allow federal grazing permittees to voluntarily relinquish their grazing permits back to the managing federal agency in exchange for compensation paid by a third party. The bill was introduced by Representative Adam Smith (D-WA-9th) and six original cosponsors.

“When enacted, this legislation will help resolve endless conflict on public lands, while providing ranchers with opportunities to restructure their operations, start new businesses, or retire with security,” said Mike Hudak, author of Western Turf Wars: The Politics of Public Lands Ranching and leader of the Sierra Club Grazing Team.

Domestic livestock grazing is the most pervasive and damaging use of federal public lands. On public land across the West, millions of non-native livestock remove and trample vegetation, damage soil, spread invasive weeds, despoil water, deprive native wildlife of forage and shelter, accelerate desertification and even contribute to global warming.

Unfortunately, antiquated federal law generally prohibits closing grazing allotments to benefit fish, wildlife and watersheds. The Rural Economic Vitalization Act would authorize federal agencies to permanently retire grazing permits if requested by ranchers.

“Grazing permit retirement has been implemented in a few places around the West with marked success, but there is much greater need—and demand from ranchers—to retire grazing permits,” said Mark Salvo of WildEarth Guardians.

One landscape that has benefited from grazing permit retirement is the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem where grazing allotments have been closed to reduce conflicts with wolves, grizzly bears and bighorn sheep, and to expand winter range for bison outside Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone bison, the last remaining genetically pure wild herd in the U.S., are subject to intensive management and control based on the irrational fear that they will transmit disease to domestic livestock.

“Bison are hazed, captured, shot and slaughtered to protect grazing interests on public land in Yellowstone country,” said Josh Osher of the Buffalo Field Campaign. “REVA is the tool we need to finally, permanently address these conflicts.”

Whether it be bison, sage-grouse, big game, wolves, fish, wild horses, clean water, or any number of additional environmental values which prompt conflict in the west, REVA opens up a new opportunity for stakeholders to come together and utilize an innovative, free-market tool to resolve natural resource conflicts.

In addition to being the source of immeasurable environmental harm, the federal grazing program is a fiscal boondoggle for federal taxpayers. The Government Accountability Office reported that the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service annually spend $132.5 million on grazing management, but collect only $17.5 million in grazing fees for a net loss to taxpayers of $115 million.

“The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest service run an annual deficit administering grazing permits and managing private cattle grazing operations. My bill eliminates wasteful spending, gives ranchers the choice to retire permits, allows public lands to recover natural habitats and fosters the return of native plants and wildlife,”  said U.S. Representative Adam Smith (WA-09).

“We want to save public lands and do our part to solve the deficit,” said Brian Ertz of Western Watersheds Project. “We just need Congressional approval to buy out willing ranchers and retire their grazing permits.”

Grazing permit retirement is a voluntary, non-regulatory, market-based solution to public lands grazing conflicts. Permittees determine if and when they want to retire their grazing permits. Permittees and third parties separately agree how much a permittee will be paid for relinquishing their permit. And federal agencies facilitate the transaction by immediately retiring grazing permits received from a permittee. The Rural Economic Vitalization Act caps the total number of grazing permits that may be retired each year at 100.

“This is a win-win-win for ranchers, the environment, and taxpayers,” said Rose Chilcoat of Great Old Broads for Wilderness. “Let’s pass this bill so that we can finally take some common sense steps to ensure healthy public lands.”

Rural Economic Vitalization Act (H.R. 3432)

Bill Summary & Status  ~ 112th Congress (2011 – 2012) ~ H.R.3432

Read Congressman Adam Smith’s Press Release


  1. Jon Way Avatar

    this is potentially really good news. While it is clearly more welfare for ranchers, it is definitely money wisely spent and more of a one time thing with great potential benefits.

    I can only imagine coming down I-89 toward Yellowstone and rounding the bend in the Yankee Jim Canyon area and seeing bison grazing nearby.

  2. Ken Cole Avatar

    As it stands now, there are only a few limited places where grazing buyouts can occur. However, there have been a few places where allotments have been “bought out” but there is no guarantee that the BLM or Forest Service won’t reopen them if someone else comes along and wants to use them.

    If there is any resistance to this it will come from entities like the Public Lands Council or the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association because they tend to represent the big players who benefit from the current system.

    Small ranchers will likely support this and want to sell out but the big players would rather that the system stay the same so that small ranchers only have one option to sell their ranches and attached allotment privileges to them. They don’t want competition from conservation groups, they want a closed market. This opens the market to anyone willing to pay a rancher to close their allotment, you know, the “free-market” that Republicans always like to talk about.

    If I value a natural, ungrazed landscape I would now have the ability to compete in the open market to get an area closed to grazing.

    This would also provide an opportunity for groups to close allotments where there are frequent conflicts with predators like wolves. It would be different than paying ranchers to do what they should be doing in the first place (watching over their livestock properly) because it would permanently remove the livestock from the landscape and remove the real source of conflict. It would mean the end of handouts to ranchers for lost livestock.

    1. Maska Avatar

      This could, if passed an implemented, be of enormous value in certain parts of the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction area where multiple packs have been removed for depredations. Passing it, however, will be an uphill battle.

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      I think your average livestock operator with a federal grazing allotment should like this legislation because, economically speaking, it is all upside for him or her. The grazing permit owner suffers no restrictions, but only gains the opportunity to sell which is legally speaking not even a property right.

      In addition, taxpayers bear no burden because we are talking about third party money.

      The opposition will come from the livestock associations and county commissioners who like to think of themselves as keepers of the traditions of the West, though they are very often not folks who do any of the hard work.

      If ranchers happily sell the public grazing permits to third party conservationists who then retire the cattle and sheep to let nature restore wildlife, these folks, I will call them “livestock politicians,”will find their social status in decline. This would be especially true if they continue to embrace tired old patterns of thought.

    3. Tom Page Avatar
      Tom Page

      Ken –

      It’s my impression that the USFS buyouts around Yellowstone (to reduce wildlife conflicts) do not allow for discretionary reinstatement…they are as permanent as one is likely to get, from what I’ve been told. The BLM is a different story, of course. I believe the recent Owyhee legislation provides for the first BLM permit buyout in Idaho, and that took an Act of Congress.

      Your comment on the big players desire for a closed market is something I haven’t heard before. Personally, I think it’s a more a case of one very big political leap for any western official to suggest that maybe some BLM allotments would provide a greater good for a greater number of people if they weren’t used by livestock.

      I’d be interested to see if any congressperson from the Interior west signs on as a cosponsor…when that happens it might get exciting. I wonder how many permits are in Smith’s district (he lives in Tacoma). I fear that without a sponsor from a district with a good number of permittees, such a bill won’t even get a hearing.

      All that said, this will come to pass eventually, I believe. As more ranches change ownership, or fall to development, it’s inevitable.

      1. Mike Hudak Avatar

        Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ-7) is an original cosponsor.

  3. Ken Cole Avatar

    Tom, there are large players who are buying out those small family operators who want out. They get cheaper prices because there is no market for those ranches unless some hobby rancher wants in. With legislation like this they would face some competition and prices might go up so I think PLC and NCBA will oppose this even if a fair proportion of their membership supports it. That’s because the big players rule the day.

    This legislation will give those ranchers, many of which don’t have any retirement savings, a way to retire without having to sell their homes. I don’t think ranching is a money making proposition in many places unless you are able to operate on a large scale like Simplot or a mining corporation who only buys out ranchers to avoid the complaints of ranchers who they’ve stolen water from.

    The younger generations of ranchers aren’t following in their parent’s footsteps because other professions are easier and make more money. Why do you think there are so many who have second jobs or go into politics?

    1. Tom Page Avatar
      Tom Page

      Ken –

      I’m not saying I disagree with your comment on the influence of large players – I just haven’t seen or heard it happen here in Southcentral Idaho, and I’m paying pretty close attention to what’s selling and to whom. There’s nothing to stop a conservation group from buying a base property with attached allotments – you all did it with Greenfire. Anyone can buy a permit and attach it to their own base property as well, provided you follow the rules. So, I don’t see it as a lack of competition, as much as a lack of interest and funding from conservationists. For example, I can take you to a property that’s currently for sale with permits, water rights and private lands that have significant value for sage grouse, wolves, bull trout, elk winter range, bighorn sheep…a change in ownership on this place would make a significant difference on the landscape. Alas, no buyers with enough $$ floating around to make it happen.

      In my opinion, conservation groups have long undervalued permit ownership and water rights as a way to exert influence on land management. This is starting to change – Michael Soule championed such an approach (in combination with the necessary private landbase) at a conference I attended last year, saying he had recently lost faith in the federal agencies’ ability to manage public lands for ecological health.

      I agree that the younger generation is not taking over (or not many of them anyhow). That’s partly why I believe that a general shift in policy is inevitable as many of these ranches change hands over the next fifteen years. I’d also venture that some of the younger generation ranchers (who are staying in the game) that I meet are considerably easier to work with on conservation issues than the guys in their 60’s and 70’s.

  4. Joe Avatar

    What happens to the home places of these ranches when they sell their allotments to conservation groups? Are these groups going to buy that land, too?

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      The base property of a ranch would not be sold. Purchase of the public grazing lease would not affect ownership of any private property.

      Conservation groups would not end up owning anything. The public land with the grazing lease purchased would remain public but would be closed to further grazing for livestock.

      The idea is to permanently free up forage for elk, deer, etc.

  5. Bear Avatar

    Has anyone here given thought to what this would do to Beef PRICES? With less grazing acreage and higher demands for beef, they will undoubtedly go higher.
    To quote Ralph “The idea is to permanently free up forage for elk, deer, etc.”
    Hate to burst that bubble Ralph, but Deer and Elk are “Browsers” not Grazers! They do NOT feed on grassy plains, so that is misinformation on your part. If you are talking Bighorn Sheep, they graze right down to the dirt, usually taking the roots as well, leaving the ground unprotected from water and wind erosion…

    1. Nancy Avatar

      Not sure where you’re from Bear but around here, elk are definately GRAZERS and FYI – there are lots of other forms of protein out there BESIDES beef…..

    2. Ken Cole Avatar

      Frankly, I don’t care what it does to beef prices, but, because only 2% of beef comes from forage on public lands, I doubt that it will do anything. Only 5% of cattle ever touch public lands but their impacts are devastating. Keep in mind the distinction between beef and cattle i.e. the distinction between pounds of meat produced on public lands and numbers of animals that actually graze on public lands.

      You’re crazy if you think that cattle and sheep don’t compete for forage on public lands. In so many places cattle don’t just impact grass, they devastate vegetation that they don’t even eat and they eat vegetation that they normally wouldn’t eat because there isn’t any grass. They effect the whole ecology of the landscape.

      They also spread disease and cause conflict with native predators.

      1. mikarooni Avatar

        Ken, you’re correct. Ending western public lands grazing won’t even be noticed at the supermarket meat counter, despite the damage it does to the land; but, this bill will still be fought no matter how beneficial it might be to the individual permit owners in this tough economy. As I posted in another thread, the use of the term “livestock industry” in referring to western public lands grazers is a misnomer. On most of the western public lands, it takes as much as 80 to 100 acres to support a single AU year-round. On most pastures in places like Georgia or Alabama, it can take one or two acres and the meat is less stressed thus preferred by the consumer. The true “livestock industry” includes a few minor pockets west of the cascades; but, the real production comes from the South, east TX up across the Carolinas, and from the subsidized corn and grain belt of the Midwest. These are the areas that support the big feedlot industries and that’s where most of the country’s meat actually comes from. The kind of western ranching championed by groups like the PLC don’t produce enough meat to truly be a significant part of the “livestock industry” overall. What they actually produce is local political mob clout in states where people have little education, little sophistication, are easily swayed, and where doesn’t take many votes to control a Senate seat. In this sense, the PLC isn’t really defending any “livestock industry” at all. It’s a farm program alright; the PLC is the mouthpiece for a farm program that raises political machinery and not much more.

    3. Savebears Avatar

      I will have to inform the elk and deer here that they are doing it wrong when they are feeding on large grassy plains type environments, we must have allot of dumb animals up my way! As far as reducing public lands cattle grazing, it would have little or no effect on beef prices, most of the US beef does not come from cattle grazed on public lands.

    4. Alan Avatar

      “Hate to burst that bubble Ralph, but Deer and Elk are “Browsers” not Grazers!” WOW! Somebody should tell the elk munching on my lawn right now, and the deer that do so all summer! To be fair, they do a lot of browsing too, but I almost never have to mow thank you very much!
      As for beef prices; maybe if beef was a little higher (though I don’t think this would have any effect at all), maybe Americans would break their addiction. Americans eat way too much red meat. Both for the environment AND their health. Ask any cardiologist.

      1. Savebears Avatar


        I will continue to eat “Way to much red meat” I don’t need anyone telling me it is bad for me. I ain’t going to push the nanny state telling people not to eat red meat, it is up to the individual to make those choices for themselves.

        1. Alan Avatar

          Oh give me a break SB! You have every right to eat as much red meat as you wish. I was just expressing a personal opinion about the price of beef, which I don’t care about; and I know you don’t either since you hunt your own. The federal government has been making recommendations regarding healthy eating and living ever since I can remember. I seem to recall the food pyramid
          way back when I was in school, and the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. No ever called it the “nanny state”. No one is making anyone eat, or not eat, anything. Just suggesting. You can suggest that I chill and have an elk steak; I won’t mind. Probably won’t have one, but I won’t mind the suggestion.

          1. Savebears Avatar


            Chill and have an Elk Steak!


    5. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      According to an article I read by Jack Ward Thomas about competition between deer and elk and cattle, the following is true. On the same range elk eat about 80% of the same plants as cows. That is very strong competition between the two. Deer and cattle eat 40% the same, much less, but still substantial.

      In addition competition between domestic sheep and bighorn sheep total because of disease. If the two get together essentially all of the bighorn die of disease and quite quickly.

  6. Bob Avatar

    While they eat the same forage its not always competition. The different eating styles can benefit wildlife if done right. I sure I’ll be told that’s never happened before.
    Anyway it’s a novel idea, be interesting to see how much money can be raised after all the talk about who responsible for saving land for wildlife.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar


      There have been a number of cases where third parties had paid a lot of money to permit holders to buy and retire a permit.

      Unfortunately, the federal government does not need to recognize this. So what has happened is someone else comes along and applies for the “thought-to-be-retired” permit and is awarded it.

      This legislation would make the purchase and transfer a legally binding transaction, putting a bit of market into what is now basically a socialist system of permits.

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Brian Ertz