Ask a Rancher: Federal Grazing Permits
Have you ever heard of federal grazing permits? Here in Arizona, these are an integral part of most ranching operations. Jeremy D. Krones of the Diablo Trust sat down with two ranchers to gain a better understanding for federal grazing permits and shared the findings with us on the Diablo Trust blog. We are resharing it here as it contains valuable content and learnings. Enjoy!
ASK A RANCHER: HOW ARE GRAZING PERMIT NUMBERS ON FEDERAL LAND CALCULATED?
Bob Prosser from the Bar T Bar and Gary Hase, District Rangeland Management Staff for the Flagstaff Ranger District (and longtime Diablo Trust friend), both helped answer the question, “How are grazing permit numbers on federal land calculated and monitored?”
Of the roughly 500,000 acres that comprise the Bar T Bar and Flying M ranches, nearly half are public lands held in trust for the American public by the US Forest Service.
A BRIEF HISTORY
The USFS was founded in 1905, under President Theodore Roosevelt. Coconino National Forest, our local forest, was created not long after by consolidating other, smaller forests.
Both ranches existed in one way or another before Coconino National Forest, but the Prossers and the Metzgers must now follow Forest Service rules and regulations to continue grazing their cattle on the public land.
“Grazing has occurred on the DT lands since the mid-1800s,” said Bob. The Hash Knife Cattle Company grazed much of the Diablo Trust land area in the late 1870s, alongside homesteaders and pioneers who had claims under the Homestead Act of 1862.
However, due to the lack of water and the small size of homesteads (the Stock-Raising Homestead Act of 1916 allowed new ranching homesteads to be enlarged to 640 acres), most settlers reneged on their title loans to the government.
Bob explained, “It was very common for them to run livestock on non-homesteaded lands (government land) to earn a meager existence. During this time homesteads were failing and bootlegging was the common means of revenue.”
Grazing permits were developed in our region around 1919, to bring structure to the use of the open, public lands of northern Arizona.
Maintaining “commensurate private land” and control of the waters are prerequisites to obtaining a grazing permit. The rights to graze, fence, and manage the waters on a defined area of land can be sold and transferred, as long as the Terms and Conditions of the permit are met by the owner. Permits are renewed every ten years.
“Many of the homesteads applied for and got grazing permits. Some homesteaders sold out to neighboring ranchers when they gave up trying to make a living or were caught bootlegging. These small early permits from Mormon Lake to Red Hill were the start of Flying M and Bar T Bar Ranches today,” Bob said.
WHAT A PERMIT DOES
“There are two important categories when it comes to discussing livestock numbers: permitted numbers and authorized numbers,” explained Gary.
Permitted numbers are the maximum number of AUMs (animal units per month) the grazing permit allows on the established allotment.
Permitted livestock numbers on an allotment are usually established during the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act of 1969) process and are based on an analysis of historical livestock use, forage production and utilization data, and vegetation condition and trend information. The forage and habitat needs of wildlife and the necessary vegetative cover to protect and enhance soil and watershed properties are also key considerations when establishing permitted livestock numbers.
Authorized numbers are the AUMs the Forest Service authorities actually allow to graze on the allotment each year.
“We meet with permittees each year to determine what livestock numbers will be authorized on the allotment that year given the current and predicted resource conditions. [The number] cannot exceed permitted numbers,” wrote Gary. “We also develop the Annual Operating Instructions (AOI) for the upcoming grazing season during this meeting. The AOI contains instructions for the grazing permittee with regards to authorized livestock numbers and period of use, pasture use dates, forage utilization levels, structural range improvement constructions and maintenance, etc.”
After the meeting, permittees apply for the livestock numbers. The Forest Service reviews, modifies (if necessary), and then approves the application, and sends a bill to the ranch based on the current year’s grazing fee. Once the bill has been paid, the livestock numbers and the grazing period are authorized. The Forest Service allotments of both the Flying M and Bar T Bar are on their “summer country,” so the grazing period is usually June 01 to October 31.
The actual number of livestock on the allotment is largely based on trust between the ranchers and the Forest Service officials. Gary says that, “in the ‘old’ days, FS range folks used to count livestock on and off the allotments; [that’s] simply not the case anymore.”
The Forest Service does have the authority to require the permittee to gather their cattle to double-check numbers, or to require numbered ear tags, but Gary has only had to do that once in his entire career.
Gary said that it’s pretty easy to tell if the herd is significantly larger – or smaller – than it should be.
“It’s not just about livestock numbers,” Gary also said. The grazing period includes the season of use, and individual pastures use periods. Anyone can easily monitor when the herd is on or off a pasture or allotment.
Bob agreed with Gary, saying that the ranches are accountable for the numbers and density they have on their permit. He explained that if either ranch sees a problem one year through their monitoring, they will take that issue into account when deciding on a plan in the next year.
Both ranches monitor their lands regularly. Most Diablo Trusters know about the Forage Resource Study Group (FRSG), which monitors over two dozen sites on the ranches triannually, but FRSG is currently limited to just state and private land.
Much like FRSG and IMfoS (Integrated Monitoring for Sustainability, Diablo Trust’s long-term community and landscape-scale survey project with Northern Arizona University), the monitoring that the Bar T Bar and Flying M do on their Forest permits is collaborative.
The Bar T Bar and Flying M survey their Forest permits using a NEPA’ed monitoring protocol (“to NEPA” is the action of putting a program, like a monitoring study, through the process of review outlined in the 1969 Act).
The utilization surveys performed throughout the grazing period by the ranches and the USFS work to ensure permit and AOI compliance, and monitor resource conditions and forage utilization levels.
Allotment and leases can get more complicated, but at the basic level, this is what happens behind the scenes when you see cattle, sheep, goats, or any other livestock on Federal Land.