Ranching on America's 260 million acres of western federal public lands is devastating to wildlife. Wolves, coyotes, and mountain lions are routinely killed by state and federal agents on behalf of ranchers who claim (often without good evidence) that these animals prey on their livestock.
Bison and wild horses are harassed, rounded up, and sometimes killed as part of a "turf war" waged by the ranching industry against conservationists.
And more than 150 wildlife species are federally listed as threatened/endangered, or are petitioned or are candidates for listing, at least in part, because ranching has eroded the soil, degraded the vegetation, or fouled the water.
While contributing less than 3 percent of the nation's beef supply, the federal grazing program extracts a taxpayer subsidy in excess of $124 million annually.
One approach to resolving these conflicts to the mutual benefit of wildlife, ranchers, and taxpayers would be to empower any permit-holding rancher to compel the government to retire his permit and permanently close the associated grazing allotment. Any compensation received by a rancher taking such action would come from private parties. In this way, a rancher would, for the first time, be able to realize a market value in his grazing permit without the need to sell his private property to which the grazing permit is attached.
With enactment of legislation that facilitates the voluntary retirement of grazing permits, taxpayers would see a reduction in the grazing program's deficit as allotments would be closed. And wildlife would benefit from the absence of livestock and the natural recovery of landscapes and waterways.
Legislation that would accomplish these objectives has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Adam Smith (WA-9) as the Rural Economic Vitalization Act (H.R. 3432 in the 112th Congress). We urge Senator Cantwell to sponsor companion legislation in the U.S. Senate.
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