Utah Grazing Improvement Program

 In Environmental Federalism
By Augusta Scott

Abstract

The Utah Grazing Improvement Program (UGIP) was designed as a cooperative effort between the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) and the Utah Department of Natural Resources (UDNC) to better manage U.S. Forest Service rangeland in southern Utah. The primary goals of this program are to strengthen Utah’s livestock industry, improve rural communities, and refine the environment. Projects are created to rehabilitate natural resources and increase productivity on the land. Project success is measured by using on-the-ground and remote sensing techniques to monitor range health, as well as monitoring economic growth in rural communities and the livestock industry.

Rather than the U.S. Forest Service implementing across-the-board policies for managing grazing land, the UGIP granted stewardship autonomy to state agencies and local ranchers. This gives the state the opportunity to carry out innovative management practices that best fit rangeland needs in Southern Utah.

The Problem

In Utah, ranchers have strong incentives to maintain rangeland for their livestock, but unfortunately, they do not always possess the resources. Conversely, the federal government usually has the resources but lacks incentives. Livestock grazing is important in Utah, contributing to the cattle industry and the state’s economy, job market, and lifestyle. Utah’s livestock grazing industry contributes approximately $350 million to the state’s economy and generates thousands of jobs, which are typically found in rural communities.1 Less than 10% of Utah’s population, however, live in these rural communities. That number is very troubling for the future of livestock grazing because rural communities house the majority of the livestock industry.1 While the number of federal grazing permits being distributed is on the decline the previously circulated ones remain in use, suggesting that grazing on private lands is increasing.2 With the amount of public grazing land being reduced, many claim that ranchers should be provided opportunities to improve the land they still have access to.

The State’s Experiment

In 2006, the Utah State Legislature passed H.B. 145, establishing the Utah Grazing Improvement Program (UGIP). This program has multiple components to encourage success on the range: First, the UDAF, Utah State University Extension, and grazing advisory boards actively participate in recommending policy positions to state and federal land management agencies.3 This ensures local landowners have their interests represented in policy decisions that directly affect their lives.

The second component of this program is to provide funding for “range improvement and maintenance, control of predatory animals, management and extermination of invasive and poisonous plants, purchase or lease of lands for the benefit of a grazing district, watershed protection and development, and improvement and the general welfare of livestock grazing within a district.”4 This allows the state to provide economic incentives for ranchers and landowners to maintain rangeland that preserves the health of the ecosystem and livestock grazing industry. Ranchers can apply for cost-share grants to fund their range projects, and therefore improve land in a way that benefits them as well.

Program effects are measured by on-the-ground data collection and remote sensing technologies. Examples of successful projects include reseeding after a wildfire, implementing water troughs to even out the spread of cattle on the range, and removing invasive species.5 Program managers also measure the economic impact of the livestock industry in rural communities across the state. Research suggests that UGIP increases ranchers’ profitability, but the data are still being collected on the long-term effects of the program.

Conclusion

The Utah Grazing Improvement Program is a practical approach to some of Utah’s most pressing problems regarding rangeland management. Neither the state nor federal government determines the needs of the livestock ranchers. Rather, they assist in providing the means to help them succeed. Incentivizing landowners can be an effective way to promote responsible and reasonable stewardship that benefits cattle, grasses, and all other elements of the rangeland ecosystem. As long as ranchers have their proposals approved, they are able to determine the best way to utilize their land. This problem is not unique to Utah, however, many western states face similar ranching issues. If states were to adopt comparable incentive-based programs, preliminary research suggests that they could better support local ranchers, promote ecological welfare, and effectively manage rangelands.

Notes


  1. “State of Rural Utah.” 2017. http://www.ruralplanning.org/assets/soru-report.pdf.  

  2. Forrest, Troy. 2015. “History of Grazing in Utah.” Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. 2013. http://www.ag.utah.gov/conservation-environmental/grazing-improvement-program/history-of-grazing-in-utah.html.  

  3. “Links-Utah Range Projects | Rangelands | USU Extension.” 2009. Usu.Edu. 2009. https://extension.usu.edu/rangelands/pages/links-utah-range-projects; “HB0145.” 2019. Utah.Gov. 2019. https://le.utah.gov/~2006/bills/static/HB0145.html. 

  4. Forrest, Troy. 2015. “Grazing Improvement Program: Before & After Photos.” Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. Accessed April 30, 2019. http://www.ag.utah.gov/conservation-environmental/grazing-improvement-program/before-and-after.html. 

  5. Forrest, Troy. 2013. “Grazing Improvement Program: History.” Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. 2013. http://www.ag.utah.gov/conservation-and-environmental/2014-09-22-13-25-07/history.html; ”Examples of Utah Grazing Improvement Projects,” YouTube video, 2:10, August 27, 2009, www.youtube.com/watch?v=6n4Yw9opcpA&list=PL0086063DEF3CA8A6&index=3.; “Projects Helping the Environment,” YouTube video, 3:07, August 27, 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rGI81YFLp0&list=PL0086063DEF3CA8A6&index=1