During several recent public forums focusing on the potential listing of the Greater Regional Sage Grouse (GRSG) the United States Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) State Supervisor Ted Koch grossly downplayed the economic impact the listing would have on local economies, rural Nevada and the ranching industry. The USFWS will decide the fate of the bird and federal land users in late 2015 by announcing a decision of either endangered or threatened for the GRSG under the endangered species act (ESA). Either listing would be disastrous to those who use federal lands.

The Nevada Cattlemen's Association (NCA) supported an effort by Texas A&M University and University of Nevada, Reno researchers to analyze the economics of alternative range management options for ranchers in Nevada following the addition of GRSG to the endangered species list which would result in reductions of grazing permits. The economic study and article titled Economic Analysis of Management Options Following a Closure of BLM Rangeland due to Sage Grouse population in Elko County, Nev., was recently published by these two universities and authors.

Elko County was selected for the analysis because the region has suffered several large range fires over the past ten years and contains significant prime sage grouse habitat. A panel of NCA ranching members representative of full-time, moderate to large cow/calf operations in the region, were interviewed to obtain specific information for the analysis.

Habitat protection for the sage grouse in the West is a significant problem for the economic viability of ranches due to the potential permanent loss of thousands of acres of grazing lands. Ranchers who depend on federal land grazing for part or all of their pasture are limited in their management options when habitat protection prevents their use of federal land. Reducing the herd or retiring is their remaining option due to limited available private land for lease.

The purpose of this study was to analyze the economic consequences of reducing the herd size on a representative ranch in Northeast Nevada if the ranch was faced with permanent loss of federal rangeland due to habitat protection for sage grouse. An economic model of a representative ranch with 650 mother cows in Elko County was used to analyze alternative scenarios of decreasing herd size as the federal grazing land was reduced due to habitat protection.

The results showed that should the ranch be forced to reduce the herd size by more than 25 percent, the ranch might have to look at ways to retire or acquire more private land to survive. The state of Nevada is 87 percent public owned land so purchasing more acreage is implausible.

The protection of the GRSG at the cost of grazing land for cattle in the West could have a significant negative impact on the livelihood of ranchers and supporting industries across the region. This is a much different story than what was stated by USFWS Nevada State Supervisor Ted Koch.

Ron Torell is the president Nevada Cattlemen's Association

Reference:

Economic Analysis of Management Options Following a Closure of BLM Rangeland due to Sage Grouse population in Elko County, Nevada. The authors are James W. Richardson, Brian Herbst, and Tom Harris, respectively, Regents Professor & Texas AgriLife Research Senior Faculty Fellow, Department of Agricultural Economics, Texas A&M University; Research Associate, Department of Agricultural Economics, Texas A&M University; Professor, State Extension Specialist, and Director, Department of Economics, University of Nevada, Reno.