For our overview of Grazing Issues, please read the section on our Home Page

The Wilderness Act of 1964, Section 4 (b), lists the only allowed uses for designated Wilderness areas as "recreation, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation, and historical use."  Section 4 (d) addresses Special Provisions, which has the following language:

"The grazing of livestock, where established prior to September 3, 1964, shall be permitted to continue, subject to such reasonable regulations as are deemed necessary by the Secretary of Agriculture."

Clearly, grazing is allowed, or more accurately "tolerated", only as a special concession.  History has proven that this "special provision" doesn't offer much protection to the rancher.  Both the BLM and the Forest Service acknowledge that federal Wilderness designation does impact grazing.  

Section 4 (c) of the Wilderness Act clearly prohibits permanent and temporary roads and motorized vehicles, among other uses.  Many areas in Dona Ana County contain numerous roads which are used regularly by the ranchers, sportsmen, recreationalists and others.  The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance assures everyone they will get those roads "cherry stemmed", a mapping technique which carves the roads out of the designated wilderness area on paper.  However, since federal Wilderness designation is a legislative act of Congress, NMWA does not have the ability or the authority to create cherry stems.

The prohibition on motorized vehicles is significant, since there is daily need for the use of motorized vehicles on ranches in our county to maintain viable ranching operations.

Dr. John Fowler is coordinator of the Range Improvement Task Force (RITF), housed at New Mexico State University, which is a group of scientists with impeccable credentials who conduct peer reviewed scientific studies.  In June of 2000, Dr. Fowler presented the results of a scientific study of grazing trends in New Mexico's Gila National Forest.  The Gila National Forest was set aside in 1924 at the urging of Aldo Leopold.  In 1964, 588,014 acres of the 3.3 million acre total became designated as the Gila Wilderness.  This area is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

The Range Improvement Task Force studied grazing trends in the Gila from 1906 through 1998.  The study showed an 86.7% decrease in cattle grazing in the Gila National Forest, including the designated Wilderness areas.  The study concluded that precipitation and cattle prices seemed to have no relationship to the drastic lowering of livestock stocking rates, so other factors had to be considered. 

The only viable answer was that U.S. Forest Service policy was the single greatest factor in the decrease of livestock numbers in the wilderness areas, even though the Wilderness Act states that grazing would continue in the same manner and degree as it did prior to wilderness designation. 

A website for the "Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics", in their "FSEEE Appeals" section, has an article under the heading "Stop Destructive Grazing and Preserve Species on National Forests".  The article opens with "Cattle grazing accounts for the most widespread abuse of public land in the American West..." 

Another valuable resource is the transcript of the testimony given by Mike Webster to the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests regarding H.R. 3606 and S. 3794 on September 27, 2006.  Mr. Webster is a 4th generation cattle rancher and provides a rancher's perspective on wilderness issues.

The issues that arose with ranching in designated Wilderness areas caused the 96th Congress to create "Congressional Grazing Guidelines".  These guidelines were intended to prevent the abuse of administrative powers and no doubt did in certain areas where grazing is only seasonal and livestock water comes from natural (undeveloped) sources.  These grazing guidelines do not adequately address year-round grazing with developed water sources.

The reality is that grazing is "allowed" in designated Wilderness areas, but only if the rancher is content with and able to operate using the methods of the 19th century.

The federal agencies that manage wilderness areas are under tremendous pressure from many environmental organizations.  Doug Scott in his book "The Enduring Wilderness", published by the Wilderness Society, states that grazing of livestock is a "non-conforming use", and grazing is one of the issues for the Wilderness Society to "deal with".

We feel it is very important to understand the background and positions of the organizations and individuals involved in the environmental movements, especially those that hold extreme anti-grazing, anti-cattle and anti-rancher views.  Bumper stickers for "No Moo in '92" and "Cow Free in '93" were seen in the early 90's.  These positions are clearly incompatible with maintaining the existing property rights held by ranchers who own grazing allotments.

Read the Arizona Cattlegrowers position statement on federal wilderness.

  Sierra Club Position on Grazing
SOURCE: www.sierraclub.org/grazing/

Under the title "Help Remove the Adverse Impacts of Livestock Production on Our Public Lands", the Sierra Club website demonstrates a clear intent to eliminate grazing on public lands.  Following are quotes from the website link above:

"No other human activity in the West is as responsible for the decline or loss of species as is livestock production. The Sierra Club has placed a high priority on protecting and restoring native wildlife and habitat to our public lands by seeking management changes that will correct livestock impacts. In some locations, this may require an end to commercial livestock production."

"The goal of the Sierra Club's grazing campaign is to promote the health of our federal public lands by eliminating the adverse effects of livestock production on native species and their habitats on all federal public lands."

"Local Sierra Club entities are urged to advocate whatever incremental improvements seem most appropriate for specific sites within their jurisdiction up to and including an end to commercial grazing."

"In addition to local site-specific efforts, the Club may seek federal legislation and regulations to curtail grazing and accomplish the other goals of this policy."

For a more complete background on the Sierra club, see Wikipedia.

Board members of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance are affiliated with the Sierra Club.

  Center for Biological Diversity
SOURCE: www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/programs/grazing/index.html

The Center for Biological Diversity describes their purpose as follows:  "Combining conservation biology with litigation, policy advocacy, and an innovative strategic vision, the Center for Biological Diversity is working to secure a future for animals and plants hovering on the brink of extinction, for the wilderness they need to survive, and by extension for the spiritual welfare of generations to come."

Todd Schulke is on the Board of Directors for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.  The NMWA website states "Mr. Schulke is a founder and staff member of the Center for Biological Diversity."

Their website also states: "Reforming public-land livestock grazing in the West is one of the Center for Biological Diversity's top priorities.". 

Under the title of "Achievements In Grazing Reform Include:" they list:

  • "In 1997, actions compelling the Bureau of Land Management to remove cattle from all or part of 32 allotments along the middle Gila River:"
  • "In April 1998, along with Forest Guardians, actions compelling forced the Forest Service to remove cattle from 250 miles of streams on 52 allotments in the upper Gila Basin.". 

While they claim to not have an "anti-grazing" position, an employment advertisement for the Center for Biodiversity makes their position on grazing quite clear.

Arizona rancher Jim Chilton, and Chilton Ranch & Cattle filed suit against the Center for Biological Diversity for false statements in their News Advisory, inaccurate descriptions of the Montana Allotment, and misleading photographs.  After a lengthy trial in January, 2005, the jury returned a verdict and awarded judgment in favor of Mr. Chilton and Chilton Ranch, $100,000 in actual damages and $500,000 in punitive damages.  On June 30, 2005, the Center filed a Notice of Appeal asking the Arizona Court of Appeals to review the jury's verdict.  On December 6, 2006, the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division 2, issued an opinion upholding the jury’s verdict and award.  The opinion fully upheld not only the monetary award, but also the arguments that were presented by the Chilton Ranch and Jim Chilton.  The CBD is attempting to appeal again.

The CBD is involved in numerous lawsuits and threats of lawsuits, but this one is unique in that it is against a private property owner.  The article "Showdown at Tejon Ranch" involves private property in California that the owner plans to develop.  "If all the center ever did was save telegenic polar bears, penguins, and sea turtles, it would cause no offense. But there's collateral damage to consider: fishing crews who lose their livelihoods; off-roaders and hunters who are barred from their favorite haunts; cattle ranchers who can't get grazing permits on federal lands; and local communities that see jobs vanish."  

A Capital Research Center paper titled "Deep Ecology, Depthless Thinking" has information on the Chilton Ranch case.

For a more complete background on the Center for Biological Diversity, see Wikipedia.  To research this organization, see some of the links in our Reference & Resources section.

  Anti-Grazing Advocate Andy Kerr
SOURCE: www.andykerr.net/Grazing/GrazingPT.htm

Andy Kerr has written commentaries on many issues related to management of Wilderness areas.  In his website section on Grazing, here are few sample titles of articles and books: "Domestic Livestock: Scourge of the West", "Removing Hooved Locusts From the Public", "The Western Range Revisited: Removing Livestock from Public Lands to Conserve Biological Diversity", "Pillaged Preserves: Livestock in National Parks and Wilderness Areas" and "Don't Try to Improve Grazing; Abolish It!". 

His titles could stand alone to make his position clearly evident.  Some of his statements from the above website articles include:

"livestock are inappropriate on the public lands"

"Livestock (acting on behalf of cattle and sheep barons) were (ab)using the public lands for 50–150 years before any such lands were designated as parks or Wilderness Areas. Our political system usually grants great advantage to prior appropriation and grazing is no exception."

"Advocating better grazing of the arid West is like seeking better beating of little children. It is not the right goal."

"We must pick our battles and our battlegrounds. Their battle is "better" grazing. Our battle must be no grazing. Our best battlefield is the courts, not Congress and not the administration, either in the White House or the agencies."

And yet he does concede this fact:

"When Aldo Leopold, the nation's greatest ecological thinker and cofounder of The Wilderness Society, wrote his management proposal to establish the nation's first formally protected wilderness area in the Gila country of New Mexico, he grandfathered in livestock grazing."

Perhaps this concluding statement from one of his articles best captures and reflects his beliefs:

"To conserve and restore the Earth, sometimes one has to rise above pure principle. An excessive adherence to principled opposition to an injustice can often interfere with ending the injustice."

  Testimony by Mike Webster
SOURCE: http://energy.senate.gov/public/_files/Webster.doc

This document is a transcript of testimony given by Mike Webster to the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests regarding H.R. 3606 and S. 3794 on September 27, 2006.  Mr. Webster is a 4th generation cattle rancher and provides a rancher's perspective on wilderness issues.

  Gila National Forest Hearing History of Livestock Grazing Testimony

This testimony by NMSU professor Dr. John Fowler to the "Public Land Grazing Task Force" is dated June 15, 2000.  This writing documents how grazing cuts have been more severe in Wilderness than on comparable multiple use allotments.  Even allotments under multiple use that were located adjacent to Wilderness areas had more cuts than allotments located further away from Wilderness areas.

  Range Magazine Article on rancher Kit Laney

Range magazine did an article about Kit Laney, a rancher in the Gila Wilderness who ultimately lost his ranch due to pressure from the government agencies related to Wilderness designations.

Additional Reference Material and Research Resources