New grazing theory draws rebuke from cattle groups

A new theory regarding grazing rights has drawn a rebuke from a leading cattle advocacy group.
(File photo)

By Pat Caldwell

The Enterprise

Jordan Valley — A new concept regarding grazing permits will be on stage in Jordan Valley Tuesday, but a national association is urging caution on ranchers who might be tempted.

The theory pushed by Angus McIntosh, the executive director of the Range Allotment Owners Association, suggests ranchers actually own their grazing allotments and can independently determine how they are managed.

McIntosh, a range specialist, will present his case at the Lions Hall from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Jordan Valley is the last of his whistle stop tour of rural Oregon towns in recent days.

McIntosh’s ideas resonate locally as the multi-million dollar cattle industry is one of the county’s biggest economic engines.

Now, grazing permits are issued and managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

McIntosh’s theory, however, generated a strong response from one of the biggest cattlemen’s advocacy groups in the nation and a rebuke from pro-grazing rangeland attorneys.

At its core, McIntosh’s theory revolves around the assertion that ranchers who utilize federal public lands for grazing have a property right to their allotment. Under McIntosh’s grazing allocation model, ranchers who utilize grazing allotments have the final say on what occurs within it.

His assertions are based on differences in language, perception and the true meaning of legal terms.

“The legal definition of the term ‘public land’ and a legal definition of the term ‘allotment’ are not the same,” said McIntosh, who is not an attorney.

Yet Ethan Lane, the executive director of the Public Lands Council, a national cattlemen’s group, said McIntosh’s theories don’t hold up to legal scrutiny.

“As an industry group spending all of its time to protect their (ranchers) rights we feel it is our responsibility to weigh in when a theory like this is sold to ranchers as fact,” Lane said.

In a recent letter, the Public Lands Council labeled McIntosh’s theory as “compelling but dangerous.”

Lane said a major fear of his organization is individual grazing permit holders will take McIntosh’s theories to heart and cease to abide by federal grazing regulations.

“I’ve listened to Angus’s presentation, talked to Angus and I thought it was a recipe for ranchers to lose their permits. He is a perfectly nice guy. We just disagree with him on this particular theory,” Lane said.

Eight attorneys from the West who support rancher’s public land rights disagree with McIntosh as well.

In a recent public letter, the attorneys said independent action by ranchers regarding their permits creates a risk of “adverse action upon the grazing permit/leases and that it will be difficult or very expensive to remediate the consequence of those actions.”

“We share the frustration that he (McIntosh) has and that our clients have with the management of public lands to keep the range healthy. We are passionate about having a fair shake for the ranching community,” said Scott Horngren, a Portland attorney who represents the cattle and timber industry and a signator on the letter

“Having said all of that, the question then becomes what rights, if any, do you have as a grazing permitee? And I think that is where we part company. I am very concerned that permitees may take action regarding the administration of their permit,” Horngren said.

Independent action with a permit, Horngren said, would open a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences.

“One of the purposes of the letter was to caution permittees to think very carefully when they talk about taking unilateral action in response to whatever suggestions McIntosh may have,” he said.

McIntosh said until now, ranchers have been misled about their rights.

“They’ve been deceived into believing that their allotments are public lands. It is an actual property right,” he said.

McIntosh said federal officials deliberately confuse ranchers.

“They use terminology designed to keep them from understanding what their property rights are. There are too many people, including attorneys, that don’t know the difference between an allotment and public land,” he said.

McIntosh said his only desire is to give interested individuals information.

He wants “to educate and raise the level of awareness of allotment owners so that they can stand up for their property rights when they are confronted by a bureaucrat who is just following orders,” he said.

Lane said McIntosh’s theory sounds good but it doesn’t work in practice.

“He is selling a simple answer to complex problems. There are no simple answers to the problems we are working on in the West. They are not black and white,” he said.

The price, Land said, to adopting McIntosh’s theory will potentially be high.

“We could risk the rights we do have and are trying to protect by chasing rights we don’t think we actually have,” he said.

Jordan Valley rancher Bob Skinner, vice president of the Public Lands Council, said he is unsure of McIntosh’s intentions.

“I don’t know what these people are thinking,” he said.

Skinner said McIntosh’s theory misses the broader point of fair use of public land.

“We support multiple use. Everybody has a right to the public lands and that is what we support,” he said.