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Proposed Law Would Make It Easier To Remove Livestock From Public Lands

Photo of a cow grazing.
Courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management
A congressman from Washington state has introduced a bill that would allow conservation groups to buy ranchers' grazing permits on public lands and retire them.

New legislation introduced in the U.S. House Thursday would make it easier for conservation groups to remove cattle and sheep from federal lands. 

The proposed law, sponsored by Rep. Adam Smith, D-WA, would allow environmentalists to buy grazing permits from ranchers who are willing sellers and then retire them — essentially ending grazing on the public lands the rancher was using. 

“This is a common-sense solution to provide for smarter management of our public lands to the benefit of the environment, wildlife, and ranchers,” Smith said in a statement.

The “Voluntary Grazing Permit Retirement Act” is supported by more than a dozen conservation groups, including the Property and Environment Research Center, a free-market, non-profit think tank.

“I think this is a great alternative to conflicts over public lands grazing,” said PERC research fellow Shawn Regan. 

Regan argues the law would address problematic grazing allotments — such as areas where there is a risk of disease transmission from livestock to wild animals, or increased chances of depredation by wolves or federally protected grizzly bears — without devolving into costly litigation from environmental groups. 

“It gives ranchers an ability to relinquish those permits and get compensated for them instead of getting endlessly litigated,” he said. 

But the proposed law is opposed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Public Lands Council, both industry groups, which contend that it would fly in the face of two previous acts of Congress enshrining grazing as part of a multi-pronged approach to public lands use. 

“I don’t think that federal land management policy should be taken away from those line officers and range conservationists at the BLM and Forest Service in favor of third-party entities with their own agenda,” Tanner Beymer, associate director of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said.

Currently, environmental groups are allowed to purchase grazing permits from ranchers, but they cannot retire them without congressional authorization. 

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center For the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. Follow Nate Hegyi on Twitter @natehegyi.

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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