Public-Land Grazing Permittees Under Pressure: Sustainability of Coping Strategies on Private Land

1995 Annual Report for SW95-015

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1995: $63,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1997
Matching Federal Funds: $36,557.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $99,100.00
Region: Western
State: Utah
Principal Investigator:
D. Layne Coppock
Utah State University

Public-Land Grazing Permittees Under Pressure: Sustainability of Coping Strategies on Private Land



1. Confirm findings of Birkenfeld (1994) with respect to proportions of proactive and passive permittees and determine factor(s) which distinguish these groups;
2. Determine coping strategies that proactive producers use to intensify or diversify their operations, determine why such options are chosen, and classify and rank common strategies in terms of sustainability;
3. Determine optimal patterns of ranch resource allocation (i.e., land, labor, capital, etc.) to allow operations to be sustainable;
4. Determine critical constraints and trade-offs that prevent sustainability criteria from being met and identify innovations to help producers overcome constraints; and


The purpose of this project is to determine the extent to which large-scale changes in management have recently occurred on privately owned grazing land in Utah. Specifically, this work has included identification of the types, extent, and causes of management change, the likely sustainability of new management practices, and implications for increased demand for technological and management innovations. Conventional wisdom in the early 1990s suggested that adoption of an aggressive “Range Reform” policy by the Clinton Administration had intensified fear among western range livestock producers that they would lose access to public grazing. The average Utah public-land grazing permittee typically runs about 40 percent of his or her animal unit months (AUMs) on public grazing, which illustrates the high level of economic dependence such operators have on public land resources. Permittees are also a large component of range livestock producers in states such as Utah. It was thought that the acute fear of losing access to public land would encourage range livestock producers to intensify or otherwise alter their use of private land in order to increase carrying capacity as a compensatory survival tactic.

Intensified use of private land would mean that demand for new technology and management systems would suddenly increase– this could include heightened interest in things like pasture forages, irrigation systems, educational materials on short-duration grazing, and range management innovations. It has been generally thought that over the past decades private grazing lands in the Intermountain West have been an underutilized and relatively ignored resource, ripe for major gains in productivity that could enhance animal agriculture in Utah. Understanding what drives producers to make changes, and what characterizes innovative managers, is important to help promote sustainability of agriculture in general and is the core theme of our project.

Our project is primarily based on social survey and economic analysis across large segments of the producer population in Utah. To-date the following has been accomplished: (1) With funding from SARE and Utah State University, one socioeconomic survey of 192 Utah
grazing permittees, each dependent on a mix of private and public lands, has been completed with the data fully analyzed and a master’s thesis written and defended; (2) with other leveraged funding from the EPA, a similar socioeconomic survey of another 201 Utah producers, dependent solely on private grazing lands, has been completed in terms of data collection, data analysis and production of a report for EPA that synthesizes results for both permittees and private-land- only producers combined– the idea behind having the two surveys of different sub-populations of land managers was to see if the sub-population dependent on public land would be engaged in more private-land improvements compared to the sub-population solely dependent on private land; and (3) a master’s level research project by Sainsbury involving a detailed economic risk analysis of private-land intensification among permittees has been underway, with completion now targeted for early 2000. The essence of this project has been to evaluate the potential profitability of forage improvement interventions on private lands under conditions of price risk for beef and climate risk in terms of variation in annual precipitation. Possible interventions include actions involving rain-fed rangeland, irrigated pasture, and naturally sub-irrigated meadow. Linear programming is being used to select the optimal interventions from an economic perspective based on an eleven-year framework of projected beef prices and annual rainfall regimes.

Dissemination of Findings

Two popular articles have been published in 1999. A professional presentation was given by Sainsbury et al. at the Annual Meeting for the Society of Range Management at Omaha in February, 1999. A technical article by Peterson and Coppock is in the final stages of peer review at the Journal of Range Management.

This summary was prepared by the project coordinator for the 2000 reporting cycle.