The West For Itself-Perhaps At Last
It is possible to naturally restore wildlife habitat while financially benefiting rural communities and public lands ranchers. In fact, that’s exactly what the Rural Economic Vitalization Act would achieve.
Known as REVA, the legislation would accomplish all this by simply transferring a certain authority from the U.S. government to ranchers who hold federal grazing permits—specifically, the authority to direct the government to both retire one’s permit, and to permanently close the associated grazing allotment. This authority is needed because the government is usually too intimidated by the grazing lobby to permanently close a grazing allotment even under the most dire environmental conditions.
Why might a rancher choose to retire his permit? In most cases the rancher has been offered money, and has concluded that for him it makes sense to receive value for his grazing permit without the need to sell his base property. There are many reasons why a rancher might accept money for his grazing permit, and they are as varied as the people involved. Most frequently he’ll want to retire or restructure his business, or perhaps prolonged drought has greatly reduced the income producing value of his grazing permit.
Since the late 1990s, private financial donors have teamed up with ranchers to retire grazing permits at several locations—Great Basin National Park, the Mojave Preserve, the Greater Yellowstone region, and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. At this time, several million dollars are available to ranchers in the Great Basin for permit retirement. REVA’s enactment would surely bring even more private funding to the table, especially in regions where there are high-profile conflicts between ranchers and wildlife. These conflicts negatively impact birds, fish, wolves and other "problem" animals in the area.
Once the ranchers begin to cash in their permits, the numerous advantages of the legislation will start to become apparent. For the taxpayer, overruns of the federal grazing program would decrease. By the government’s own admission, this program is a perennial money loser that spends six dollars for every dollar brought in through grazing fees. These fees are just for the direct costs of managing grazing on federal lands. When indirect costs are included, the ratio of expenditures to income is more like twenty to one.
There are many economic benefits for rural communities. In fact, the legislation is titled the “Rural Economic Vitalization Act” specifically because of its potential, not just to inject capital into a community through funding received by a rancher for his grazing permit, but to vitalize a variety of rural businesses. Studies have shown that habitats recovered by the removal of ranches yield greater economic benefits for the community through hunting, fishing, and birding when compared to ranching.
As newly livestock-free public lands recover their productivity, such opportunities will arise throughout the West. Today’s public lands ranchers can be among the beneficiaries, if only they have the courage to move beyond the limitations of their current profession.
Some public lands ranchers already have such a vision. A study from 2006 found that about 50 percent of Nevada’s public lands ranchers would cash in their grazing permits for the right price. If this is true, why aren’t we seeing a groundswell of ranchers in support of legislation that would facilitate permit retirement? In large part, we need look no further than the ranching organizations that oppose this legislation. Their position most likely reflects the preference of large ranchers; which in this regard is at odds with the best interest of small ranchers. Large ranchers prefer to acquire small ranches at a low cost rather than to cash in their own permits at this time. And what better way to improve one’s chance of acquiring a small ranch at low cost than to curtail the options of the person selling one?
Although neglectful of the greedy, the Rural Economic Vitalization Act holds the promise of boosting the West’s broad economy through immediate payments to ranchers and by initiating the restoration of that region’s natural heritage.
For those people who enjoy the sight of our western landscapes populated by cattle, you need not fear that even the most enthusiastic application of this legislation would lead to their disappearance. More than 75 percent of western ranchers only run cattle on private land. Perhaps a little less competition from highly-subsidized public lands ranchers would improve their bottom line as well.
Please express your views to your congressional representative about REVA and help us spread awareness of the legislation by “liking” its page on Facebook.
-By Mike Hudak