Livestock Grazing on the Public Lands: Lessons From the Failure of Official Conservation

My contribution to an understanding of agricultural land law and policy will be minimal because my subject, livestock grazing on the public lands, is minimal. As the title of my speech implies, the story of the law of public rangeland management is dismal.

In 1979, I was invited to serve on a National Academy of Sciences committee that was set up to study and recommend reform of public rangeland management. I thought this would be an excellent experience, but the study was a disaster. It started back-asswards, and, after two years, just when the committee was getting ready to make detailed recommendations, the Bureau of Land Management refused to continue the study. Perhaps coincidentally, the BLM Director knew the recommendations would be unfavorable to the agency’s way of doing things. But I do not learn quickly, so I wrote five law review articles on this strange form of cow law. That makes me an authority on public rangeland management law, but only by default, because no other legal writer has ever written more than one essay about it. A final note about the study by the National Academy; the papers compiled for the study were finally published as a book a few months ago.  The book is a sham insofar as it purports to be the committee’s report, because it is not. Also, mirroring the study itself, the publisher put the book cover on upside down.

Let me start by reciting some pertinent facts about present public rangeland use, excluding the national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges.

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George Cameron Coggins, Livestock Grazing on the Public Lands: Lessons From the Failure of Official Conservation, 20 Gonz. L. Rev. 749 (1985).

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