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Home on the Range –What Type of Livestock Graze on National Forests and Grasslands?

Cow herd is tended on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona.  The Ranch was a recent winner of the Forest Service’s Outstanding Rangeland Management External Partner Award. (Photo Credit:  Photo taken by Wink Crigler for X Diamond Ranch)

Cow herd is tended on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. The Ranch was a recent winner of the Forest Service’s Outstanding Rangeland Management External Partner Award. (Photo Credit: Photo taken by Wink Crigler for X Diamond Ranch)

When thinking about national forests and grasslands, your thoughts may at first focus on the incredible abundance of recreation opportunities, wilderness and solitude or perhaps the precious water resources that flow from forest to faucet.  But did you know that livestock grazing is also permitted?

Since the agency’s creation in 1906, Congress has authorized regulated grazing through permits.  In fact, you’ll find many types of livestock – bison, burros, cattle, donkeys, goats, horse, mules and sheep – grazing on individual national forests or grasslands across the country as part of the Forest Service multiple-use mission. Within U.S. borders, 36 percent of land is considered to be rangelands with 53 percent of western lands considered rangelands. The U.S. Forest Service manages approximately 75 million acres of rangelands, mostly in the West.

Grazing permits allow individuals or organizations the privilege to graze their livestock on a particular forest or grassland based on meeting certain requirements. Individual forests determine what uses are feasible and appropriate for different areas through land management plans.

“I’ve worked with many permit holders who are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to graze their animals on public lands to support their livestock operations,” said Annette Joseph, the Forest Service National Program Manager for Rangelands Management.  “Livestock grazing at an appropriate level is part of our mission to support the economic vitality and quality of life in rural America while at the same time ensuring other sustainable and compatible uses.”

Grazing management on rangelands today is a collaborative effort involving landowners, land managers, permit holders, universities, other agencies and the public. More information is available here on cooperative use projects and success stories and managing rangelands together.

7 Responses to “Home on the Range –What Type of Livestock Graze on National Forests and Grasslands?”

  1. Ellen Goodman says:

    I strenuously oppose grazing by private ranchers on public lands. Scientists and environmentalists agree that this wrong-headed and politically motivated practice ignores science and ecology. Grazing animals, particularly cattle, destroy wildlife and bird habitat, pollute streams and rivers, and deplete the soil. Of course, ranchers are grateful for the free handouts to support their fortunes. Responsible and reputable environmental, wildlife, and conservation organizations all oppose this practice. That the USDA is smugly congratulating itself in this announcement merely indicates how corrupt it is. Shame on you!

  2. Richard Kanak says:

    In the past it has been stated that the cost of range restoration exceeds the income from fees charged. Is this still true? What are the charges for animal pastured?

  3. Passion for AG says:

    Ellen Goodman: You’re kidding right? are you not aware of the benefits that animals have for land? Without animal grazing Forest fires would increase dramatically. You’re worried about the wildlife and bird habitats? Think about what would be left if they all burnt to the ground because it was dry. Think about that the next time you decide to put something negative about animal grazing.

  4. Roy Liedtke says:

    Grazing on public lands is critical for the health of the land. No grazing would result in excessive buildup of fuels that would create extreme fire hazards (most forests without logging are a prime example!). Proper grazing along with proper rest is beneficial for the grass and the soil. Complete rest (or excessive grazing) is detrimental. And it is not a free handout to ranchers. The ranchers pay for the grazing and spend their own money to maintain fences, water developments, and other improvements that all belong to the national government. Thanks especially to the water developments, wildlife habitat has been improved in many areas. The cost of managing the land by the gov’t agencies has been driven up drastically in past years due to lawsuits from radical environmental organizations focused on log-jamming the system with paperwork.

  5. Mike Sauber says:

    Re: Roy Liedtke.
    I assume this is the Roy Liedtke of the Jacobs Ranch Coal company?
    I’ve heard the “Grazing is necessary for the health of the land” mantra before, stating that the grass gets “decadent” without being consumed by cattle. That very Bovi-centric view doesn’t hold up if one honestly considers the VALUE of decadent grass in preventing erosion, maintaining moisture levels in the soil, slowing the flow of rainwater which allows more percolation into the soil, recharging the aquifer. That “decadent” grass also is a refuge and nesting place for birds and other small species.
    If spending six times more of taxpayers money than what we get back in grazing fees is not a handout, what euphemism would you like to use?
    The lawsuits against public land grazing are always an unfortunate last resort. True public input is most often ignored by the agencies, trying to protect the banks unsecured loans on the base properties, so lawsuits are the only option left. GAO reports from the past have clearly said these lawsuit have merit and it is due to the federal agencies not abiding by the laws on the books.

  6. Rosemary Lowe says:

    Livestock grazing is incompatible with the ecological integrity (health)of western lands. It is the greatest ecologically destructive hoax to come upon our public lands. Our western lands our arid, and increasingly so, due to Climate Change & destructive human activities such as livestock grazing and logging. We are witnessing massive ecological changes in our western mountains: in Colorado, spruce forests are dying. In New Mexico, we have experienced record-setting temperatures, constant, stronger winds and never-ending drought overall. The Gila Wilderness is now the largest wildfire ever in N.M. history. The livestock industry has been raping western lands since the late 1880′s, and it continues today, with government handouts to keep it going–all at taxpayer expense. Exotic, water-hogging, ill-adapted livestock on western lands has altered what once were diverse, healthy native plant communities into monocultures of weeds. This boondoggle industry has turned what once were perennial streams into dry creek beds, with eroded cut banks. Wolves, grizzly bears, prairiedogs,& millions of other native wild animals are now almost extinct, and the remaining wildlife are relegated to the most remote areas. Ranchers get federal assistance by the USDA agency “Wildlife Services” (no service to wildlife) to continue to exterminate wild animals they deem as “competition” to their exotics livestock. By the way the going Animal Unit per month (AUM) rate for pulblic lands ranchers is only $1.35 monthly per animal, a mere fraction of what is truly costs in the free market. In other words, public lands grazing is a real nice handout to the grazing industry by us taxpayers–and they get to destroy our wildlife and wildlands to boot. If ranchers can’t make it on their private lands, tough. No one is guaranteed a living these days. Until all public lands ranching is abolished, there will be no protection for wildlife or any remaining wild lands. It is up to the majority of the public (who do not ranch) to stop this madness and destruction.

  7. Phil Crabtree says:

    None of this:
    “We are witnessing massive ecological changes in our western mountains: in Colorado, spruce forests are dying. In New Mexico, we have experienced record-setting temperatures, constant, stronger winds and never-ending drought overall”
    is related to ranching. Tree ring data indicates that severe droughts have occurred repeatedly over geological time. Unfortunately these natural cycles are substantially longer than human life spans. I have lived in the desert southwest my entire 51 years; have always been and I am still an active backpacker, camper, fisherman and hunter. I have watched the changes you speak of happen first hand.
    While it is true that ranchers and the NFS make mistakes relative to the amount, location and timing of grazing permits the vast majority of what I have witnessed during my time in the Arizona backcountry indicates that ranching makes the land better for wildlife and people. The primary contribution of the rancher is water.
    In Arizona natural perennial water sources have always been few and far in-between. The 19 year long drought we are in now has made this worse. Fortunately, a century of ranching funded improvements in the form of taped springs, water catchments and stock tanks make land that would otherwise be uninhabitable for large wildlife habitable. As evidence of the impact I offer Arizona’s elk herd. Elk were considered extinct in Arizona in 1900. Now a hundred years later elk are thriving in Arizona. Since elk compete directly with cattle for graze and water one might expect that the introduction of cattle would hurt elk populations, but the reality is quite the opposite. The water resources that ranchers developed (and continue to maintain) at their own expense on our public lands expanded the useable habitat for elk. I can take you to places in the national forest where the only permanent water sources in 20 square miles are stock tanks. Go out and sit by one for a day. You will be amazed at how much wildlife you will see.

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