Grazing Provisions in Bishop’s Utah Public Lands Bill Are Poison Pills

By Jonathan Ratner, Wyoming Director, Western Watersheds Project

Representative Rob Bishop’s Utah Public Lands bill isn’t just a bad deal for Utahns who want to see Bears Ears protected as a national monument, but it’s also a terrible bill for public lands in general. Included in the sweeping language is binding provisions that would require the federal land management agencies to maintain in perpetuity the existing levels of livestock grazing on public grazing allotments, regardless of the adverse ecological or cultural impacts the land use is causing. It’s essentially a free pass to abuse and overuse our public trust resources, and it limits the government’s ability to manage in accordance with recent science.

It isn’t just designed to tie the government’s hands on grazing management in Utah, but across all federal lands. Section 1303 of the bill guts all laws and regulations designed to protect our public lands from abuse. The bill would require the agencies to maintain the same level of grazing on all federal public lands at the time of enactment, “except for cases of extreme range conditions where water and forage is not available.” In areas on public land where grazing has been previously been reduced or eliminated due to conflicts with wildlife or other important conservation values, grazing will be “reviewed and managed to support grazing at an economically viable level.” In other words, the conservation management of the past will be undone and profit will take precedence over all other values.

For example, in areas where there are potential conflicts between disease carrying domestic sheep and bighorn sheep, the agencies would be required to maintain the same levels of domestic sheep and cattle grazing even if there is a high risk of disease transmission to vulnerable bighorn sheep populations. This means that bighorn sheep would not be protected from private industrial uses even in the wildest parts of our national forests and deserts.

This is a hostile takeover of our precious public lands by the rich and powerful, defining management in accordance with extractive interests instead of the multiple uses by the majority of Americans that include wildlife viewing, watershed health, and recreation. Though the bill doesn’t directly affect public access to public lands, entrenching unsustainable livestock levels will diminish the opportunities for other lands users to enjoy the open spaces.

Unfortunately, this hijacking of our public lands by extremists in Utah is not an anomaly. These kinds of corrupt processes that destroy our public lands are happening all around the west. The same people who organized this Utah debacle have set up similarly corrupt processes in Wyoming and other states.


  1. Nancy Avatar

    “In other words, the conservation management of the past will be undone and profit will take precedence over all other values”

    Thanks Ken, for continuing to remind folks of these important issues regarding “our” public lands.

    Haying time in my area, a bumper crop again this year. What to do, what to do, with this year’s crop (hay) when a good portion of last year’s crop (rows & rows of round bales stacked in fields) was never used this past winter?

    I have an idea! How bout keeping the cows at home next summer and give public lands a break 🙂