SUBLETTE COUNTY – People have extra time to review and submit comments on the U.S. Forest Service’s new handbook of proposed nationwide “grazing directives”, until April 17.
The original deadline to comment on the USFS’s “Grazing Permit Administration Handbook” was extended to give more people time to study the details.
The manuals and handbook are being updated after 30 years and rewritten to clarify rangeland management directives for its employees, according to USFS National Press Officer Babette Anderson. Any grazing permittee with questions should talk to his or her local Forest Service rangeland manager, she said.
“The proposed updates to FSM 2240.3 add clarification to existing policies regarding rangeland improvements. No additional requirements are being added to permittees,” Anderson replied in an email in response to questions submitted by the Sublette Examiner.
The portion referred to here is for “grazing agreements on national forests in the western regions” that some western legislators have called “lengthy and complex.”
Details in the proposed handbook might clarify permit processes for USFS employees but could be confusing to the permittees they will advise.
For example, the grazing directives explain how a ranching family or corporation can plan to divest half of its permits to a child – or newly included – a grandchild.
Wyoming Stock Growers Association’s Jim Magana said he did not see “any major negatives at this time.”
One of “the most significant improvements,” he said, is the path to pass up to 50 percent of an original rancher’s grazing permits on to younger generations – “facilitating the transfer of permits from one generation to the next in a family by allowing grazing of livestock owned by children or even grandchildren for a period of time.”
The handbook’s summary says including grandchildren “helps families where the children left the ranch but their kids want back in.”
“For the most part, I feel that the changes are positive for FS permittees,” Magagna said. “There is a lot of emphasis on increasing communications.”
Pinedale rancher and Wyoming House Rep. Albert Sommers agreed: “Most of the management directives that I have reviewed seem positive.”
Families and corporations with term grazing permits should consult with the USFS for estate planning. Only a “family” – not a corporation or a trust as many family ranches operate – can be eligible for conservation easements, for example.
Question: The directives talk about a “conservation easement ranch family” – does this mean the ranches can’t have a corporation or trust, which is how many families set up their businesses?
Answer: “Conservation easements have become more common as a land conservation tool with more landowners entering into conservation easements. The Forest Service should not be engaged in the negotiation of conservation easement terms, but information was included in the proposed updates at section 12.21(a) to provide employees with a basic knowledge of conservation easements as we anticipate that it would be helpful relative to grazing permit administration and base property qualifications.”
More directives inform employees about how ranching businesses might be organized to best serve the families.
Question: Many have the basic president, vice president, secretary and treasurer – and don’t have other family members listed as parties, assuming they are because they are “family.” Do they have to add every person’s name to a corporation for the child or grandchild to be considered eligible for acquiring up to 50 percent of the permit?
Answer: “There are many ways that individuals choose to organize their business. The Forest Service should not be engaged in those business decisions but instead communicate what requirements must be met to qualify for a term grazing permit. Section 12 discusses the types of entities that may be eligible to hold a term grazing permit and what requirements must be met to obtain a term grazing permit.”
Question: How do people with ranch corporations who want conservation easements have to maneuver through this?
Answer: “We assume you are referring to the opportunity for children and/or grandchildren to run up to 50 percent of the permit holder’s permitted animals. This is an expansion of the opportunity that has always been provided to children of a permit holder. To clarify, this provides an opportunity to place livestock on the permitted allotment under the existing permit and is not associated with the children or grandchildren ‘acquiring’ a portion of the permit.
“In order for an individual to obtain a permit or portion of the permit, the permit holder waives the permit, or portion thereof, back to the Forest Service, who would then issue a new permit to the child or grandchild so long as that individual meets the eligibility and qualification requirements (e.g., owned livestock and qualified base property). That process has not changed with the proposed updates to the rangeland management directives.
“However, the updates also include the ability for the parent or grandparent to run up to 50 percent of the permit holder’s permitted animals. Meaning, once the child or grandchild decides that they would like to run greater than 50 percent of the permitted numbers, they could obtain ownership of the base property and work through the process to obtain the term grazing permit, after which the parent or grandparent could run under their permit. The intent of the proposed updates is to provide additional flexibilities to facilitate succession opportunities.”
Question: If corporations are “not people and thus cannot have children” – do they have to change to a non-business entity for a child or grandchild to pick up some of the operations? This could affect a lot of families’ businesses.
Answer: “Section 12.22 does not prohibit permittees from following the process described above. There may be additional opportunities for the children and/or grandchildren to become part of the corporation or other business entity. The best approach for permittees who are considering making changes to base property or livestock ownership is to contact their local Ranger District office to talk about what requirements must be met to continue to be qualified to hold a term grazing permit.
“There are many variables involved and the District Office can inform prospective permittees on what flexibilities exist within Forest Service policies that may pair with their business decisions related to their base property.”
Question: Why is there a new section on administration of cow camps?
Answer: “Forest Service employees are the primary audience of the rangeland management directives. It has been approximately 30 years since the directives have been updated and we have noticed questions about cow camps coming up several times over the years, especially cow camps that could be considered historic. The updates are intended to provide clarity and explain how cow camp maintenance requirements may or may not have to change after they reach 50 years of age as well as a discussion on the manner they can be authorized depending on the ownership of the facility.”
Question: What new requirements specifically are being added to the permittees’ plate?
Answer: “The proposed updates to FSM 2240.3 add clarification to existing policies regarding rangeland improvements. No additional requirements are being added to permittees.”
The proposed Grazing Permit Administration Handbook and information to comment are at https://www.fs.fed.us/rangeland-management/directives.shtml.