West's Grazing Act Is Not a `Subsidy'

The article ``Old Ranch Traditions Blend With New Values,'' Oct. 25, was a welcome balance to the generally bad press that ranchers get in the East. But it still left the false impression that responsible range management is the exception among Western ranchers; and it referred to ``subsidized'' federal land as if that's the only kind there could be.

Kansas belongs to Kansans because the Homestead Act gave settlers in the Great Plains clear title to their farms. By 1875, the director of the General Land Office was reporting that the Homestead Act worked for crop lands, but not for arid range lands. In 1934, after a half century of attempts to accomplish in the West what the Homestead Act had done in the Midwest, Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act, creating the present grazing permits. President Roosevelt's director of grazing told the stockmen that the policy was ``to give [your lands] the adjunctive pasture rights which naturally belong to them.''

Grazing rights acquired under the Taylor Act are no more a subsidy than are land titles acquired under the Homestead Act. The rural population of basin-and-range America are not sharecroppers; permit fees are not rents; and the rest of us are not absentee landlords.

Ranchers could devise conservation plans with their neighbors, but before the Taylor Act, drovers who had no investment in any land would buy herds and move them around on the public domain with no regard to local plans. To stop this practice, the Grazing Service attached ``the permit to the land.''

In 1946 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was born. Grazing schedules on public land are now set not by the rancher, but by the BLM apparatus that has perpetuated the simplistic and ruinous ``graze half, leave half'' policy that ranchers, county agents, and range scientists have been trying for years to replace with intelligently structured practices like the ones the article describes. If grazing fees do not cover all of the costs of that apparatus, who is being subsidized? Malcolm Whatley, Burlington, Vt.

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