Redefining Range/Grassland Management on the Public Lands

This document sets forth a new concept for managing the range and grassland resources of our public lands, administered by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. It is the result of a two year effort by representatives from the livestock industry and environmental community, meeting with public land policy experts, to discuss challenges to effective management and long-term stewardship of public lands resources.

The new concept for managing range/grassland resources on our public lands will ensure the long-term ecological health of the lands, while providing stability for the users of these resources. The strategy creates a series of incentives for holders of a new kind of lease to improve and maintain a high quality resource, including:

  1. opportunities for investing in, or receiving financial benefits from, conserving land resources through creation of a new market for authorizing uses of our range/grassland resources;
  2. long-term tenure on the land; and
  3. increased flexibility in how the lands are, or are not, used and managed.
Equally important, the new strategy takes poor quality range/grassland areas out of circulation and redirects the efforts of the federal land management agencies towards assessing and maintaining resource condition.

Here Is How It Works

Under the new concept, a new kind of lease would be available for the public lands range/grassland resource. This new lease would extend for 30 years and provide for flexibility in management activities. It could be used for a variety of activities, including livestock grazing, wildlife management, endangered species conservation. There would no longer be a "grazing only" permit. The new lease would grant the holder an exclusive interest in the range/grassland resource subject to the lease, but will not convey a property interest in the public lands, and will not restrict other "multiple uses" on those lands. The lease holder's use of the public resource would be reviewed by the federal land management agency at 5 year intervals to determine if the lands are improving or being maintained in such a manner that meets public lands standards.

Holders of a new lease do not have to be in the livestock industry. They could be wildlife agencies, private individuals, or conservation organizations. All lease holders will have long-term tenure, and will be responsible for ensuring that the public lands resource is improving or being maintained in an appropriate condition. After acquiring a lease, the lease holder will have the option of returning the lands under lease to the land management agency to achieve a conservation objective. The lease holder will be accountable for the leased area, and changes in land use would have to be achieved through amendments in the land use plan.

Under the new system, holders of these new leases could purchase and sell them to a variety of users. The value of the lease would be established by what a buyer was willing to pay to acquire the lease. Typically, grazing permits are sold today for $50/"Animal Unit Month," although there is regional variability in what the market will bear in permit sales.

Existing livestock permittees who are working to improve resource conditions on public lands will be eligible to participate in the new lease program, and receive long-term tenure. Eligible grazing permit holders could obtain the new kind of lease by turning in their existing permits, and willing sellers would then be eligible to sell that lease to anyone.

Some lands would not be available for lease, and some lease holders would be ineligible to participate in the new lease system. Allotments that are vacant under the existing grazing program would be reviewed by the land management agency to determine whether the land can support management actions under a lease, and may be made available (through competitive bidding) for the acquisition of the lease. Once leased, the lease fee for these vacant lands would be the same as for other leased lands (and not subject to competitive bidding). Additionally, lease holders who fail to meet the terms of the lease, or who make false statements about the condition of the land, would lose a lease and not be eligible for a new lease.

Over the term of the lease, resource conditions would be reviewed in 5-year increments to ensure that the condition of the land is improving, and the lease holder is either meeting or making progress towards meeting the goals for land management on the lands subject to the lease. The lease holder will be responsible for monitoring resource condition. However, the determination of the condition and trend of the lands are the responsibility of the land management agency.

The Role of the Government

While the new concepts builds on the established rangeland management programs at the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, it represents a radical shift in philosophy from these programs. Instead of the work of the agencies being directed towards the development of management plans and grazing practices, their resources would be devoted to ensuring that the desired resource conditions on the ground are being met. This is sometimes referred to as "outcome based management."

The land management agencies would be responsible for working with the lease holders and the public to set the standards for public lands health (many of which are identified in the land use plans) and to determine the resource conditions expected to meet those standards for different leases. The land management agencies will also provide opportunities for general public input in setting standards for the public lands and setting goals for the leases, as well as in review of conditions during lease terms.

Want to Know More?

If you are interested in additional information about this new strategy for range/grassland management, please contact Cathy Carlson at the National Wildlife Federation (303-786-8001 x16) or Jason Campbell at the Public Lands Council (202-347-5355). We would be happy to give you additional reading material, or come discuss this new strategy with you or your organization. Just give us a call or send a message.

Summary of the New Strategy's Benefits

Benefits to the Lease Holder

Benefits to the Public

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