It wasn't just the gray clouds overhead at the Point Rock pasture last Friday that made the day dark and gloomy as members of the Morton County Grazing Association rounded up their cattle off government land, for the 60th time in as many years.
A lot of the gloom on the day had to do with the Voluntary Grazing Permit Buyout Act (H.R. 3324 "Shays-Grijalva) currently before Congress.
The act will allow federal public lands ranchers to waive their interest in grazing permits for exchange in the amounts of $175/animal unit per month. The bill authorizes $100 million for the program, enough money to retire an estimated 7.8 million acres of federal lands grazed by domestic livestock. The ground would be re-allocated to wildlife and watersheds.
The buyout program was conceived by the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign, which seeks to end livestock grazing on America's public lands.
The 83 member grazing association in Morton County grazes 5200 head of cattle on the 108,000 acres of Cimarron National Grassland, and has done so successfully for 60 years.
According to Nancy Brewer, Range Manager of the Cimarron National Grasslands, "The livestock are used as a tool for managing the vegetation. The grazing produces better vegetation for wildlife, such as the lesser prairie chicken." Brewer also commented that a lot of the management is about timing, when the cattle go on the ground, where they graze, and how long they graze an area. Following last year's drought, it was Brewer who had to tell the ranchers the cattle would have to be pulled off in early June. Her decision resulted in many ranchers having to sell off a large number of their herd, because they had no other ground to put them on. "It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do," she said. But the ranchers understood, the ground had to have time to recover, and to rebuild so much of what the drought had taken.
This year, the ground was in good shape, and the cattle that came into the pens to be sorted were big and healthy. The calves born this spring also looked good.
For 60 years, those who have a grazing permit have known the importance of good stewardship to the land. Many of the associations members helped replant the 108,000 acres of land after the devastation of the dirty 30's.
Working closely with the Forest Service is what has kept the Cimarron National Grassland a successful multi use area. Apparently this arrangement is not so in other regions.
Bill Barnes, Manager for the Morton County Grazing Association stated in a letter to Representative Jerry Moran, "Existing laws govern the proper balance for the multi use of the Grasslands in the form of grazing, oil and gas, hunting, bird watching, hiking, fishing and camping, to name a few. We strictly follow the laws through our grazing agreement with the U.S. Forest Service. Grazing on federal lands helps economically support all 83 families. Without the use of the federal land, a severe loss of income would impact each family as well as this rural community.
In the past 60 years the Cimarron National Grassland has grown and seen much improvement. Some 350 different birds migrate through this region and stop at the Grasslands. Bird watching has gained popularity and brings numerous watchers to the Grassland. The Sante Fe Trail is gaining notoriety and many tourists every season tour the area. And with all of this activity, cattle have grazed, and the lesser prairie chicken has thrived, birds have been watched, hunting has taken place and fish have been caught. All is right with our little 108,000 acres of federal land, and has been for 60 years.It's a shame, Christopher Shays and Raúl Grijalva have never visited a fall roundup or walked in teh ruts of the Sante Fe Trail, perhaps then, they could experience,"all that is right on the Cimarron National Grassland".