Grazing on Public Lands

The primary goal of this Sierra Club federal public lands grazing policy is to protect and restore native biodiversity and achieve functional and self-sustaining ecosystems. The Sierra Club recognizes that the preponderance of scientific evidence documents that grazing by non-native species has led to severe and sometimes irreversible degradation of native ecosystems. Federal public lands belong to the American public and must be managed to maintain their long-term ecological integrity. In order to achieve our objectives, the Sierra Club advocates significant changes to current land management practices to correct the problem.

The following five points apply to all aspects of this policy:

(1) Commercial grazing is not appropriate on federal public lands except where it is shown by science that some grazing is needed to achieve ecological objectives.

(2) On federal public lands that were once grazed by large native herbivores the Sierra Club will seek, whenever feasible, the replacement of non-native grazing species (cattle, sheep, goats, etc.) with native grazers (within their historic range).

(3) Where settlement or ownership patterns obstruct the reintroduction of native grazers on public lands, grazing operators should manage livestock towards the goal of maximum restoration of native plant and animal communities, water quality and other environmental goals. Meat or fiber production should not be a primary goal of such grazing and operators should be required to demonstrate a steadily improving range trend toward excellent ecological condition.

(4) The Sierra Club recognizes that restrictions on grazing may have negative impacts on the cultural and economic stability of some communities. These impacts are apt to be most severe in Native American, minority and low-income communities. We are committed to developing partnerships with community members to identify and implement strategies to protect both traditional communities and the ecological integrity of public lands, without sacrificing either.

(5) The Sierra Club is committed to helping ease the economic burden on small family ranch operations with federal public lands allotments that would be affected by termination or reduction of their grazing leases.

Local Sierra Club entities are urged to advocate whatever incremental improvements seem most appropriate for specific sites within their jurisdiction up to and including an end to commercial grazing.

In addition to local site-specific efforts, the Club may seek federal legislation and regulations to curtail grazing and accomplish the other goals of this policy.

Nothing in this policy precludes the Sierra Club's full support for legislation and/or administrative actions, such as wilderness bills, that primarily address non-grazing issues, but do not meet the goals of this grazing policy.

Sierra Club Strategy for Moving Towards our Goals for Public Land Grazing

The Sierra Club believes that the following interim actions can facilitate the long-term goal for eventual restoration of our federal public lands, and would support legislation or regulation where needed:

(a) Holders of grazing permits or leases should be allowed to reduce utilization rates or rest or retire lands without losing their permit or lease, and without the retired use being reallocated to others.

(b) If allotments become open for reallocation, they should be awarded by a competitive bidding system whereby a bidder who meets minimum bid requirements and proposes the grazing strategy that will maximize biological preservation and recovery shall be awarded the grazing contract, even if that bidder proposes to retire the allotment and manage it for other values, such as water quality.

(c) The managing agency should determine and document, at each renewal interval, that the allotment has made substantial progress towards established ecological and environmental quality goals. Permits or leases where such progress is not demonstrated should be terminated.

(d) The managing agency should establish and enforce strict water quality standards for all streams on public grazing allotments. The managing agency should establish and enforce standards for protection and restoration of all public land riparian ecosystems. Where progress is not being made to fully meet these standards grazing should be terminated.

(e) The federal government should establish a Grasslands Restoration Bank to purchase open space and wildlife riparian easements on private grazing lands in primarily public land grazing watersheds where ecosystems are grazing dependent; or to buy the fee land from private ranchers in arid or other areas where neither private nor public lands are suitable for grazing. Once these two highest priority needs have been largely met, this Bank could be used to subsidize the transition from non-native to native grazing species.

Internal Priorities for Immediate Action

Recognizing that changes to grazing policy will likely take a number of years to accomplish and that some areas of the public lands are more imminently threatened by destructive grazing practices than others, the Sierra Club has prioritized our efforts. As a first priority, the Sierra Club will work toward ending commercial grazing on federal public lands where one or more of the following circumstance exists:

  • Lands that receive an average annual precipitation of 12 inches or less or areas with cryic soils.


  • Associated activities (e.g., water developments, predator control, vegetation manipulation) are occurring in such a manner that native plant and animal species are significantly impacted.


  • Grazing is causing degradation of habitat necessary for threatened, endangered or sensitive native plant and animal species.


  • Grazing is causing significant degradation of water quality.


  • The public land management agencies have insufficient funding, staff, and determination to create and administer monitoring systems that will provide reasonable assurance that adverse impacts will be minimized and opportunities for restoration taken advantage of.


Definition note ("or areas with cryic soils"): This site defines cryic soils: "Cryic (Gr. kryos, coldness; meaning very cold soils). Soils in this temperature regime have a mean annual temperature lower than 8 degrees C but do not have permafrost." In the American West, these areas have cryic soils: all areas above timberline, virtually all areas above the Douglas fir zone, and some areas within the Douglas fir zone. In addition, cold air (and water) drainage results in most mountain meadows within the Douglas fir zone (and even lower and into the Ponderosa pine zone) having cryic soils.]

Adopted by the Sierra Club Board of Directors, September 24, 2000