Ranchers Harassed Off Their Land

The solution to federal grazing disputes offered by Shawn Regan of the Property and Environment Research Center ("A Peaceable Solution for the Range War Over Grazing Rights," op-ed, April 23) ignores the realities on the ground. The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service have worked closely with environmental pressure groups for decades to drive ranchers off federal lands throughout the West. Environmental groups file legal challenges to federal grazing permits in a BLM District or National Forest on the grounds that livestock are harming the environment, most typically by degrading the habitat of an endangered species. The federal agency responds by changing the conditions of the permits in ways that raise costs and reduce production. For example, a permit for grazing 400 head of cattle for four months will be reduced to 200 head for three months. Then a few weeks before grazing season is scheduled to begin the agency will announce that it must be delayed this year by a month.

These are only the most obvious of the numerous techniques that have been developed to harass and eventually bankrupt federal land ranchers. Banks start calling in loans when they see that their collateral is becoming worthless. Nor will another rancher buy a ranch that will soon be worthless. The only alternative left for a grazing permittee is to sell his permit (and usually his private ranch property as well) to a land trust or other environmental pressure group for a fraction of its worth before the antigrazing campaign begins in that area. The new nonprofit owner of the ranch typically doesn't pay property taxes to the county and removes all or most of the cattle from the federal range. Results include depopulation of the rural West, reduced economic activity and major revenue shortfalls in sparsely populated counties.

Mr. Regan writes that allowing the sale of grazing permits to land trusts and environmental pressure groups is an example of free-market environmentalism. It is not; rather, it is rural cleansing accomplished through market socialist means.