LIVESTOCK GRAZING ON THE PUBLIC LANDS: LESSONS FROM THE FAILURE OF OFFICIAL CONSERVATION

by George Cameron Coggins

A MUST read: http://www.law.gonzaga.edu/law-review/files/2013/11/Coggins.pdf

Welfare Cattle herded into Antelope Complex as wild horses are being rounded up ~ photo by Terry Fitch

Welfare Cattle herded into Antelope Complex as wild horses are being rounded up ~ photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

Article reviewed by Grandma Gregg with favorite quotes listed below:

“As the title of my speech implies, the story of the law of public rangeland management is dismal. In 1979, I was invited to serve on a National Academy of Sciences committee that was set up to study and recommend reform of public rangeland management. I thought this would be an excellent experience, but the study was a disaster. It started back-asswards, and, after two years, just when the committee was getting ready to make detailed recommendations, the Bureau of Land Management refused to continue the study. Perhaps coincidentally, the BLM Director knew the recommendations would be unfavorable to the agency’s way of doing things.”

“Those who hold grazing permits are a far more diverse group than the simple description of “rancher” would suggest. Only one in every twenty-two livestock raisers enjoys this peculiar status,” a fact that occasionally prompts some resentment from non-western ranchers. Public land grazing is dominated by big operations. Approximately fifteen percent of the 22,000 permittees control more than 80 percent of the grazing lands, while at the other end of the spectrum, more than 4,000 permittees each have fewer than 28 AUM’s under permit.”

“The range wars and other politics of those bad old days only served to foster the belief among the ranchers that they had some sort of right to denude the land if they so desired. Cowboy movies would have us believe that the nineteenth century West was a lawless place. Whether or not generally accurate, that impression is certainly true in the case of public land grazing. The United States Congress refused to take any effective action to protect this federal property, and the states were only interested in keeping the peace and discriminating against sheepherders.35 The cattlemen had their own primitive legal code, sometimes enforced at gunpoint.” SOUND FAMILIAR???

“…the ranching beneficiaries have usually controlled the weak agency responsible for regulating the public land grazing. 0 The results of allowing the western livestock industry to police itself have been about what one would expect.”

“…any real improvement program must start by reducing the permitted levels of grazing. Some range scientists argue that grazing reductions alone will not repair the damage of a century, but nearly all concede that physical changes alone, whether by chaining, reseeding, brush eradication, water developments, or rest-rotation grazing schemes,” cannot restore productivity if heavy grazing pressures continues. All these expensive measures have as a common denominator the forlorn hope that somehow the grass can be brought back without antagonizing or discommoding the permittees.”

“Again, a relevant question is why the ranchers would oppose improvement even if it means temporary loss of what may merely be paper privileges? The answer is that the subsidy of the reduced grazing fee has been capitalized, falsely, into the sale or mortgage value of the private base ranches. Any loss in the number of permit AUM’s thus means proportionate loss in the rancher’s private property values. The courts, including the United States Supreme Court in 1973, have firmly rejected the notion that the permittees have any legally recognized property interests in the public lands. However, the ranchers, their ranch purchasers, and their bankers have persisted in treating these permits as legitimate, vested property interests.”

“The Bureau of Land Management was formed out of an inappropriate merger of two other agencies in 1946 and was almost destroyed by Senator McCarren in the process. The agency did make some good faith efforts in the 1950’s and 1960’s to control the worst grazing abuses, but most of these efforts came to very little, and many of the reform advocates within the agency found themselves prematurely retired or contemplating the view in Nome, Alaska. The latter technique remains popular with the present Administration.”

Read the entire article: http://www.law.gonzaga.edu/law-review/files/2013/11/Coggins.pdf