Agri View: Lost Land

Dan Agri View, Cattle

group of cows grazing on the meadow landEverett Griner talks about federal grazing land being neglected in today’s Agri View.

Lost Land

From: The New York Times

Federal Policies Protect the Land

by: Debra Donahue, a professor of public land, environment, natural resource and Native American law at the University of Wyoming, is the author of “The Western Range Revisited: Removing Livestock from Public Lands to Conserve Native Biodiversity.”

By the late 1800s, forests and grazing lands in the American West had been denuded, watersheds rendered dysfunctional, wildlife populations decimated. If not for federal policies for public land management, America would lack a world-class system of national parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas; its old-growth forests would long ago have been liquidated; and roads would have devoured an even greater portion of western landscapes.

Pacific Northwest Grazing LandState involvement in conservation was not an option at the time: The 1872 establishment of Yellowstone National Park preceded Wyoming’s statehood by nearly 20 years, and many forests in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona were set aside before those states were created.

Conservation, though, was necessary, as evidenced by the 1930s desertification of many lands that weren’t managed at all. Though the federal government decided in 1899 to require permits to graze in national forests, the remaining public lands (what is now managed by the Bureau of Land Management) were open to unrestricted grazing. These were the lands nobody wanted — lands so arid and unproductive that the government was unable to dispose of them to homesteaders, stockowners, states or even squatters. Ranchers still wanted to use them, but they eschewed the expense (even at 5 cents an acre) or liability of ownership.

The overgrazing stripped the land, and, in part, brought about the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Congress enacted the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act, which finally established grazing districts and required permits for public lands. The government also funded land revitalization and access to financial relief as many farmers became destitute during the era.

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