Federal Grazing Permits/Leases Do Not Convey “Grazing Rights” on Federal Public Lands
by Mark Salvo and Andy Kerr
Grazing permits/leases issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service allow the permit/lease holder the privilege to use publicly owned forage on federal public lands. The permits do not confer a right to permittees/lessees to graze public lands. This distinction was intended by Congress in the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934[i] (BLM) and the Granger-Thye Act of 1950[ii] (Forest Service), articulated in agency regulations,[iii] restated in federal grazing studies,[iv] affirmed by scholars,[v] and upheld by the Supreme Court as recently as 2000.[vi] Federal grazing permits and leases are revocable, amendable, non-assignable ten-year licenses to graze federal public lands that do not convey property rights to grazing permittees/lessees.
The misnomer of “grazing rights” can leave one with the impression that livestock grazing on federal public lands has a superior position to other uses of those lands, which is untrue. Our public lands are habitat for wildlife, sources of drinking water, and valued by Americans for myriad recreation opportunities.
More accurate terms would be “grazing permit” (Forest Service and most Bureau of Land Management) or “grazing lease” (remainder of Bureau of Land Management) or the generic and always correct “grazing license.”
[i] 43 U.S.C. § 315b.
[ii] 16 U.S.C. 580(l).
[iii] 43 C.F.R. § 4130.2(c) (BLM regulation); 36 C.F.R. § 222.3(b) (Forest Service regulation).
[iv] E.g., USDI-BLM, USDA-Forest Service. 1995. Rangeland Reform ’94 Final Environmental Impact Statement. USDI-BLM. Washington, D.C.: 125.
[v] E.g., D. Donahue. 1999. The Western Range Revisited: Removing Livestock from Public Lands to Conserve Native Biodiversity. Univ. Oklahoma Press. Norman, OK: 38.
[vi] Public Lands Council v. Babbitt, 529 U.S. 728, 741 (2000). See also U.S. v. Fuller, 409 U.S. 488 (1973) (holding that the federal government is not required by the Fifth Amendment to compensate a property owner in a condemnation action for the extra value of his private property attributed to his federal grazing permit).