Voluntary Grazing Permit Retirement Legislation Introduced

Livestock grazing in the arid West has a disproportionate impact on ecosystems. but especially on public lands which are to be managed for other values.
Photo George Wuerthner 

Representatives Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) introduced the Voluntary Grazing Permit Retirement Act of 2022. The Act would give federal grazing permit holders the chance to relinquish their grazing privileges for an agreed upon payment of funds. Both representatives should be applauded for their support of this legislation.

Grazing permit retirement has been used in a case by case basis to eliminate livestock impacts from public lands.

Grazing allotments were retired on some parts of Steens Mountain as part of the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act. Photo George Wuerthner 

For instance, livestock permits in Idaho were retired as part of the legislation passed to establish the Boulder-White Cloud Wilderness. Similar retirement of grazing privileges was successful in closing a number of allotments on Steens Mountain in Oregon with the passage of the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act.

Cow bombed lands in Grand Staircase Escalante Monument, Utah.
If this isn’t legalized vandalism, I don’t know what is. Photo George Wuerthner 

The beauty of this legislation is that it would allow the same retirement of grazing privileges used in these individual pieces of legislation on any federal lands.

While permit retirement has occurred outside of federal legislation, there are not guarantees that agency personnel will maintain allotment closures. The advantage of legislatively approved permit retirement is that it eliminates the opportunity for agency officials from restocking vacated allotments and permanently closes them, precluding future restoration of livestock grazing.

Retirement of grazing privileges is voluntary and upon mutually agreed upon compensation. Funding for permit retirement will be from private sources.

Ranchers who volunteer to retire their grazing privileges can use the funds to acquire other private lands or simply to retire. Photo George Wuerthner 

Permanently closing grazing allotments has many advantages to all involved. Ranchers will get a “golden saddle” as Andy Kerr, one of the original advocates of permit retirement legislation, has suggested. A rancher who wants to avoid the headaches of federal grazing, can use the money to buy other land or just retire to Arizona or wherever old cowboys go while they fade away.

There are also individuals who would willingly retire their grazing privileges if they could be assured that no one else would obtain the permit. Voluntary Permit Retirement solves this issue.

The public ends the expense of management of grazing allotments. Since the grazing fee is only $1.35 an AUM (animal unit month or the amount of forage consumed by a cow and calf in a month) which doesn’t come close to paying for the expense of administrating and managing livestock grazing.  Permit retirement will save taxpayers millions of dollars annually.

Abusive livestock grazing has all but eliminated cover and forage for native wildlife on this allotment in Oregon’s Trout Creek Mountains. Photo George Wuerthner 

Third, and most importantly, permit retirement will reduce conflicts on public lands.

Livestock grazing is one of the biggest factors in species endangerment in the West.

It is the reason we are killing wolves, coyotes and other native predators on public lands.

Cattle destruction of riparian area, which are critical to 70-80% of western wildlife. Photo George Wuerthner 

Grazing is also the number one factor in the destruction of riparian areas, the thin green lines of vegetation along waterways that are crucial to 70-80% of the wildlife in the West.

Livestock grazing also spreads weed by trampling and consuming native grasses, giving exotic species like cheatgrass a competitive advantage.


Livestock manure is also one of the major sources of water pollution on much of the federal lands.

Studies have documented that the mere presence of cattle can socially displace elk and other native herbivores. Photo George Wuerthner 

The mere presence of livestock can socially displace native herbivores like elk and consumption of forage by cattle and sheep means there is less food for native species.

Some livestock like sheep can transmit disease to bighorn sheep.

Domestic sheep can transmit disease to wild bighorns, and cause the decline of wild sheep. Photo George Wuerthner

Even the fencing used to control and manage cattle poses a threat to native wildlife, creating barriers for migration and even mortality—up to 30% of sage grouse deaths comes from collisions with fences.

Fences all over public lands are there for only purpose–to control livestock–and they pose a significant threat to native wildlife, including barriers to migration and movement. Photo George Wuerthner

Not the least, fewer cows means less Greenhouse Gas Admissions from ruminate digestion.

For these and other ecological reasons, retirement of grazing privileges is a big win for our ecosystems.

Livestock grazing occurs in designated wilderness such as the Red Rock Lakes NWR Wilderness in Montana.  Voluntary Grazing Permit Retirement will allow removal of livestock from our wild areas. Photo George Wuerthner 

Fourth, removal of livestock will enhance wilderness values. Livestock grazing was permitted to continue where it existed in designated wilderness as a compromise to enact the 1964 Wilderness Act, however, allowing exotic animals to roam wild places is a domestication of the landscape.

Closure of livestock grazing allotments can go a long ways towards reducing conflicts with predators and the slaugher of public wildlife like wolves. Photo George Wuerthner 

I have to admit that when Andy Kerr first discussed permit retirement with me, I objected. Afterall, grazing on public lands is a privilege like any other commercial use. The federal government can close any allotment at any time for any reason, but especially if the livestock operations are compromising public resource values. However, as any activist knows, the times when federal agencies have closed grazing allotments, are few and far between. As Andy suggested to me, it’s only money. And there are foundations and wealthy individuals willing to pay for permit retirement.

The beauty of a livestock free riparian area in Therodore Roosevelt National Park. Photo George Wuerthner 

Permit retirement will allow the land to heal from abusive livestock grazing, and the restoration of ecological beauty to our public lands. And that is worth far more than any amount of money.


  1. Ed Loosli Avatar
    Ed Loosli

    Thank you George once again for keeping us informed… and this information of a “voluntary grazing buyout bill” is huge news.

    I am assuming from what you write, that there is no Federal funding built into the proposed Act for grazing permit buyouts. However, certainly there is nothing preventing this Congress or future Congresses to appropriate funding for the costs of these voluntrary grazing permit buyouts. Jon Marvel estimates that it would take something like 3 Billion Dollars to buy out all the federal western lands grazing permits – and as Jon reminds us, that is just pocket change as far as the Federal Budget goes.

  2. Maggie Frazier Avatar
    Maggie Frazier

    About darn time! Surprised that Rep.Huffman is a co-sponsor (thinking of Pt Reyes) but if he can do some good with this bill – more power to him.

    1. Louise C Brannon Avatar
      Louise C Brannon

      I know that the Point Reyes permittees were already “bought out” many years ago (yet they remain, largely thanks to Mr. Huffman), yet I can’t help thinking that part of the reason for this bill is that some at least are feeling the heat and are looking for one final payout. Well, whatever it takes.

  3. Robert Goldman Avatar
    Robert Goldman

    This can’t happen soon enough, everywhere.

  4. Michael Sauber Avatar
    Michael Sauber

    Great news. I too was hesitant to pay the bastards after wrecking our public lands, but it’s a very long fight no matter how we do it.Getting the public educated about public lands issues and therefore making permittees more nervous and likely to take a buyout is crucial to not only help to make legislation possible and happen, but to get the job done. WWP has put some ads in local paper which will help get our locals to understand better and therefore help legislation pass. Id like to see Federal payments that start high and then diminish over time with forced retirement in the end.

  5. Robert Goldman Avatar
    Robert Goldman

    Great suggestions, Michael. I agree with the bastards part, too.

  6. Pamela W Avatar
    Pamela W

    I’m very excited to hear about this. What can individuals do to make this happen? I don’t want this legislation to get buried or lost.

    1. Louise C Brannon Avatar
      Louise C Brannon

      Write to your Senators and Representatives and tell them you support this and that they should, too.

    2. Michael Sauber Avatar
      Michael Sauber

      Take a hike. Take pictures and do an article in your paper. Do ads in the paper. Write letters to the editor. Get friends to write letters. Do a mass email to friends with telephone numbers of your US “representatives”. Make it easy for others to follow suit.

  7. Rosemary Lowe Avatar

    As a long-time activist against all public lands ranching, it is gratifying to see that some legislation, even if voluntary, is now in the works.

    The ecological damage to riparian areas, loss of native grasses, pollution to streams, rivers, ponds, can no longer be tolerated, especially as Climate Change is now upon us. We have witnessed the slaughter of millions of native wildlife by government agencies, to appease the destructive livestock industry–frankly everyone of those grazing permits on public lands should be cancelled immediately, but this is a good start.

  8. Scott M. Smith Avatar
    Scott M. Smith

    U.S. public lands ranching shares with the energy industry sector the distinction of being two of the most highly subsidized industries contributing to environmental degradation and climate disruption, largely because of the industries’ lobbyists and pressure groups, along with public being unaware of the direct, long-term damage to ecosystems. Now, more that ever before, we must stand up for environmental protection of bird habitat, riparian health and water quality, and challenge the political threats coming from the cowboy culture. Global survival is depending on activists compromising no longer.

  9. Michael Sauber Avatar
    Michael Sauber

    After reading through the language of the Bill itself, It limits the number of retired allotments to 100/year for all western states, and no more than 25 /year for any one state. I don’t see any reason for this language. Most permits do more harm to the local community than support it. I think this language should be removed. It’ll take forever at this rate.

  10. Ralph Pope Avatar
    Ralph Pope

    Again, another radical attempt to resolve a long-recognized issue by throwing money at it. Fix a problem with your watch with a sledgehammer approach. If this legislation is made law the Federal agencies are relegating their responsibility to manage the federal land to people who will use the law to make money without any regard towards the need to manage federal lands for desired outcomes. Doing away with grazing is not necessarily going to achieve long term stability of Federal lands, but often leads to long term devastating impacts such as catastrophic wildfires. Grazing when appropriately managed is a powerful tool that can result in healthy ecosystem and watersheds. We need to let the land management decisions be made by well-educated and experienced land managers not by emotion driven environmental zealots.

    1. Michael Sauber Avatar
      Michael Sauber

      Ralph, Sorry to bring it up, but we HAVE had the agencies creating the management decisions since day one, and where has that gotten us? Wilderness where 80% of the forage is allocated to cattle; where the public has to spend a few bucks a day to walk on a trail as opposed to cattle which can go wherever they please, stomping and eating everything in sight, fouling waters, etc, for a few pennies a day which WE taxpayers subsidize. Appropriate management does not and can not exist, since if cattle numbers were lowered to what the land could honestly support, we would be throwing the same subsidized amount at them and getting less money in return. Management is a fantasy. There never has been a balance of MUSY. Cattle get pretty much what they want (as you recall, 80% of forage utilization allocated for cattle on the Diamond Bar in the wilderness according to the 1986 Forest Plan) and hunting, fishing, birdwatching, watershed protection, backpacking all get what’s left after the cows get their share. That’s not an honest balance of uses. A big sledge hammer is exactly what we need now. Our little tack hammers get a very very small win here and there, but other than that, there appears to be very little oversight or control over the industries use.

  11. Beeline Avatar

    I think this one started out as HR 5737 in the 116th congress in 2020. It died there and I don’t think it even made it to committee hearings. The bill itself could have have been written more carefully in that its language appears inconsistent with the Taylor Grazing Act. It will likely suffer the same fate in the current congressional session.

    Not that it’s such a bad short term idea but the authors should have done their homework and amended the Taylor Grazing Act instead. That would have shown that they were serious about it.

    The real tragedy is that the the land has not and is not given the respect of the real ecological management that it deserves. Real ecological management is not allowed. It is considered to be anti-capitalistic. Agencies and the new genera of NGO’s like to talk about “ecology” a lot but in reality economics is first in their thinking.

    It is Grand Mother earth that needs the help-not somebodies bank account.

    1. Rosemary Lowe Avatar

      There are too many humans doing too many destructive things to Nature & her animals– and this seems to be increasing, not decreasing.
      “Management” of Nature is not the answer to ecological problems we have created. Whenever a “new” natural “resource” is found, what do we humans want to do? We “open it up” to “make it available to humans for more “recreational & management opportunities.” We just cannot leave Nature alone, to do what she needs to do.
      Climate Change is upon us, and now we have what may amount to a New World War. Nothing substantial will happen to curb human activity in time. Can we humans face the reality of just how stupid and myopic we are?

      ‎”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 behavior”
      ~ Edward Abbey

      I would add to Ed’s quote: “thus far & no further to public lands ranchers.”


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner