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Ranchers May Go for Federal Permit Buyout

by Associated Press
Capital Press - April 26, 2002

SALMON, Idaho (AP) -- Some Idaho ranchers think environmentalist efforts to buy out their grazing permits are an effort to move people out of the country to make room for predators.

But others facing the wear and tear of ranching are intrigued by the potential money offered.

"They'll probably have some takers," Tendoy rancher R.J. Smith said of efforts to persuade Congress to allow the government to buy and retire grazing permits from ranchers who want to sell them.

"But you have to look at what it's going to do. It's going to put cattle down on private property. They'll be on the riverbanks year-round where there are endangered fish," he said.

Andy Kerr of the National Public Lands Campaign, which mailed letters mid-April to 26,000 federal grazing permittees informing them of the voluntary buyout proposal, sees the idea as positive for all sides.

Ranchers are increasingly saddled with environmental regulations, high operating costs and low cattle prices.

If enacted, the buyout would pay them $175 per animal unit month.

That means a rancher who runs 300 cow-calf pairs on public lands for five months could sell his permit for more than $200,000.

Smith, however, believes it is just one more step engineered by the Wildlands Project, an effort to create networks of wildlands from Central America to Alaska, which would help return predators such as grizzlies from areas where they have disappeared.

Kerr denies any ties to the Wildlands Project and said public land grazing has degraded the ecosystem and is costing taxpayers $500 million a year.

Salmon banker Tom Nelson believes buyouts could be a good thing for some ranchers.

"In some cases, they ought to take it and run," he said. "There are some allotments that are very difficult and expensive to operate. And in a number of cases, it would allow ranchers to retire."

Nelson said the emergence of wolves decreases the viability of running cattle on open range.

Salmon rancher Jay Wiley, one of several stockmen who run their cattle near the Jureano Pack's summer dens, said the voluntary buyout sounds all right to him.

"I just think it's a good option to have for the guys that are tired of fighting it," he said.

by Associated Press
Ranchers May Go for Federal Permit Buyout
Capital Press - April 26, 2002

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