Thursday, July 30, 2009

An Old but Interesting "Grazing Permit" Article from the Cato Folk

Going back to 1995 / Bruce Babbit days; Proof of Over Grazing by Cattle Dating Back from Turn of Century to Modern Day....from the CATO Institute. These are the figures we been looking for. Read carefully...4th paragraph, in BOLD text

Article Excerpt:

Roots of Degradation of Public Grazing Land

Public grazing lands have a long history of abuse and overgrazing. From the end of the Civil War until the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act, open range prevailed on federal lands. Stockmen built fences, controlled water for livestock, and formed policing associations to protect the unowned grass resource from overuse. Homestead laws and federal enforcement of open range, however, frustrated stockmen's efforts and made the resulting "tragedy of the western commons" the official land-use policy of the U.S. government.(17) By 1936, 90 percent of western public lands were estimated to be severely depleted.(18)

Rather than change the policies that promoted overgrazing, Congress established the Forest Service and the BLM to regulate use of public land. Later, Congress rounded out its response with a quarter century of environmental statutes, beginning with the Multiple Use, Sustained Yield Act of 1960. Federal efforts to protect public rangelands succeeded to the extent that they contained the "tragedy of the western commons." They failed, however, to fully curb the deterioration of rangeland soils, plants, wildlife, and wetlands. Ironically, the institutions created by federal efforts and the policies they spawned to stop resource depletion simply perpetuated and deepened the environmental crisis of public grazing lands.

Institutionalized Land Degradation

Public-land grazing permits are the legal devices that join public and private lands into ranching units called grazing allotments. They are the tools that effectively enclosed the open range, granted security of tenure to ranchers, and gave federal land agencies authority to mitigate resource depletion. They forged a semblance of order out of the chaos of the open range, but they also institutionalized overgrazing on public rangelands.

Formalized Overstocking. The original grazing permits issued by the Forest Service and the BLM authorized numbers of livestock that exceeded the sustainable carrying capacity of western rangelands. Despite a half century of corrective measures, federal grazing privileges still exceed what the land can bear. Grazing nonuse mitigates, in part, the historic overobligation of federal grazing privileges. However, even with grazing nonuse running as high as 15 to 22 percent, overall stocking on federal lands is still 10 to 25 percent above the land's long-term ability to sustain soil health, grass production, and wildlife populations.(19)

Perverse Incentives. Grazing permits provide strong incentives to ranchers to resist ecologically justified stocking reductions. That is because grazing permits, or more accurately the numbers of livestock (preferences) they authorize, are the only assets that ranchers can hold in public lands. Because grazing permits are marketable to other ranchers, because low grazing fees are capitalized into their value, and because they enhance the worth of associated, privately owned lands, ranchers see and treat them as private property. As a result, the incentive of public-land ranchers is to steward and conserve the one thing they own--not the land, but the grazing preferences that go with their permits. Since stewarding and conserving authorized numbers is best done by lobbying, the political carrying capacity of public lands almost always takes precedence over their biological carrying capacity.

Overdeveloped Ranges. Forest Service and BLM staff have used historic overstocking and ranchers' permit interests as rationales for overdeveloping public grazing lands. They have made grazing privileges contingent on higher levels of private and public investment in range improvements. Although overcapitalization has benefited agency budgets, it has not proven beneficial to ranchers and rangelands.(20) It has made stockmen trade Model-T grazing for Cadillac grazing and incur debts that diminish, rather than enhance, profits. Through subsidies it has fostered stocking rates and management practices that are detrimental to soils, plants, and wildlife. It has expanded and intensified physical effects on wild lands. It has eliminated the forage reserves that are needed to withstand periodic drought. And it has set environmentalists against ranchers.(21)

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