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 Taylor Grazing Act

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 In 1934, Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act (48 Stat 1269, "Act of June 28, 1934" codified at 43 U.S.C. 315 et seq) "to stop injury to public grazing lands by preventing over-grazing and soil deterioration, to provide for orderly use, improvement and development, to stabilize the livestock industry dependent upon the public range." The Act applied to remaining unreserved public domain lands, managed by the BLM, which had not yet been offered for disposal:

First clause of Act reads; " order to promote the highest use of public lands pending its final disposal, the Secretary of the Interior is authorized..."

Section I includes language to the effect that:

"Nothing in this sub-chapter shall be construed in any limiting or restricting the power or authority of any State as to matters within its jurisdiction."

The original bill, H.R. 6462, that was reported out of the Public Lands Committee, reproduced verbatim in the March 10, 1934 Report No. 903 to the Committee of the Whole House, and subsequently approved by the House, included the following amendment:

And provided further, That in such orders, and in administering this Act, rights to the use of water for mining, agricultural, manufacturing, or other purposes, vested and accrued and which are recognized and acknowledged by the local customs, laws, and decisions of the courts, shall be maintained and protected in the possessors and owners thereof, and, so far as it is consistent with the purposes of this Act, grazing rights similarly recognized and acknowledged shall be adequately safeguarded." [House hearing record p.126 as cited in Frederick W. Obermiller, "Did Congress Intend To Recognize Grazing Rights? An Alternative Perspective on the Taylor Grazing Act," The Grazer, No. 185, December, 1995, Extension Service, Corvallis, Oregon.]

Despite strenuous objections voiced at Senate hearings by Forest Service Chief F.A. Silcox and Assistant Solicitor Rufus G. Poole for the Interior, the Senate Committee on the Public Lands and Surveys reported out H.R. 6462 with the Scrugham amendment and a "do pass" recommendation.

(Report No. 1182; Calendar No. 1258; published May 26, 1934.) However, sometime before June 12, the Administration intervened with rejection of the language by Secretary Ickes and a threatened veto by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Senator Patrick McCarran of Nevada offered replacement language with intentional ambiguity to replace Section 3:

"[N]o permittee complying with the rules and regulations laid down by the Secretary of the Interior shall be denied the renewal of such permit, if such denial will impair the value of the grazing unit of the permittee, when such unit is security for any bona fide loan."

The new wording effectively meant that grazing preferences and authorized use  would exist in perpetuity as long as the ranch unit as a whole was pledged security on a loan. In a colloquy on the Senate floor to clarify the intent of the McCarran provision on June 12, 1934, it was stated:

Mr. McCarran:

"[O]ne holding a farm or a homestead who has heretofore depended upon the public range as a part of an integral unit of which his homestead may have been a minor part, shall have the privilege of going to a loaning agency and asking permission to borrow, and having recognition of the fact that he has certain rights upon the public domain which shall not be interfered with during the term of the loan."

Mr. Mahoney:

"If I understand the Senator correctly, his purpose is merely to guarantee that the rights to grazing privileges which are conveyed by the bill shall be so definite that they may be recognized as security when the holder seeks a loan."

Mr. McCarran:

"That is exactly correct."

[From page 11153 of the June 12, 1934 Congressional Record - Senate as cited in Frederick W. Obermiller, "Did Congress Intend To Recognize Grazing Rights? An Alternative Perspective on the Taylor Grazing Act," The Grazer, No. 185, December, 1995, Extension Service, Corvallis, Oregon.]

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Section III of the Act also reads:

"That nothing in this sub-chapter shall be construed or administered in any way to diminish or impair any right to the possession and use of water for mining, agriculture, manufacturing, or other purposes which has heretofore vested or accrued under existing law or acquired and maintained in accordance with such law." It establishes that: "Preference shall be given in the issuance of grazing permits to those within or near a district who are landowners engaged in the livestock business, bona fide occupants or settlers, or owners of water or water rights, as may be necessary to permit the proper use of the lands, water or water rights, owned, occupied or leased by them."

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Section IV reads:

"No permit shall be issued which shall entitle the permittee to the use of such improvements constructed and owned by a prior occupant until the applicant has paid to such prior occupant the reasonable value of such improvements."


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