Statement of Range Principles

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 taxpayer fairness.

1. Allow Ranchers to Rest the Land for Extended Periods

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 heal.

2. Enable Non-ranchers to Acquire Grazing Permits

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.

3. Trim Taxpayer Costs of Federal Grazing Programs

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 improvements."

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 used.

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