The continuing legislative and administrative battles over western public lands
livestock grazing have done little to address taxpayer subsidies and
environmental harm. Neither Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's grazing
regulations or Senator Pete Domenici's Livestock Grazing Act address the
fundamental problem of cowboy monopolies, perverse incentives, and continued
subsidies. We believe a different approach could more effectively resolve the
long-stanciing contention surrounding public lands livestock grazing. The
following three proposed reforms, if implemented, would go a long way toward
depolarizing the grazing issue while ensuring environmental protection and
The current grazing regime requires ranchers to graze public land or risk civil
penalties and the loss of their permit. This perverse incentive serves neither
the ranching or environmental communities. Congress must give ranchers the
option of using the grazing permit for conservation purposes. Terminating the
"use it or lose it" philosophy will enable ranchers to rest land that needs to
Because many ranchers may not want to pursue conservative managernent of
ecologically fragile or otherwise significant public lands, non-ranchers must
be granted the opportunity to bid on and acquire federal grazing permits.
Congress must end the current cowboy monopoly of federal grazing permits and
enable all Americans to acquire permits to federal grass, water and streams and
to use the lands to enhance wildlife, stabilize soils, protect endangered
species, improve riparian areas or, if they prefer, raise red meat.
By artificially restricting who can participate in the market place for federal
grazing permits, the current system penalizes people who want to engage in a
market transaction and, in so doing, serves neither thn ranching nor
environmental Communities. Only by severing the tie between base property and
grazing permits, thereby making grazing permits fully transferable to
interested parties, can Congress level the playing field.
Market transactions, unlike the Babbitt regulations or the protectionist
legislation pushed by Senator Pete Domenici, will help resolve grazing
conflicts in ways that protect and serve the interests of the American public
and the ranching community.
Taxpayers, conservationists, and ranchers would all benefit by making the
federal grazing program stand on its own two feet. There are a number of
programs that are both environmentally damaging and taxpayer subsidized. One
simple initial remedy is to end the practice of returning half of all grazing
fees--over $10 million annually--to finance environmentally damaging "range
The Range Betterment Fund, which is where half of the grazing fee receipts are
directed, should be abolished and grazing fee receipts should be returned to
the general treasury. This simple reform should be a first step in moving
grazing toward fiscal soundness. Other subsidized federal grazing
programs--which amount to another $100-$200 million annually--such as emergency
feed and animal damage control--should also be targets to help Congress cut
down costs to taxpayers. By trimming a wide variety of taxpayer subsidized
programs we can ensure taxpayer satisfaction with how federal lands are being
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