indbar.jpg (4476 bytes)

Senate Grazing Hearings Testimony

indbar.jpg (4476 bytes)

Chief F.A. Silcox testified before the Senate Committee on Public Lands and Surveys on April 26, 1934, stating:

"The real purpose of this language is, I fear, to grant to the stockmen who are grazing lands on the public domain an estate or property interest in the particular lands which they have been accustomed to use, and that the fee simple title now possessed by the Federal Government will be terminated and the Government's interest thereafter limited by a part interest granted to the particular stockmen who chanced to be using the lands at the present time, and confirmed to them as a property right.

"[Many westerners] have been demanding that such preferences should be recognized as constituting 'rights' in and to the use of Government property, but in some instances have gone so far as to contend that by reason of the preference granted in the past a state of facts exists which results in already conferring upon the users legal rights in fact. In short, they contend that the national forest permittee whose lands have been recognized as depending upon national forest range holds the range not merely by license from the Government, but by reason of an actual property interest in the Government land itself. They claim, in short that the stockman has estate in the national forest range lands used by him and his estate is dominant and the Government's estate servient. I am advised by our legal officers that this position is not legally sound; that such a property interest cannot be established over lands which are the property of the Federal Government by prescription of adverse user and can only be established by actual grant; also the authority to grant public lands or easements therein rests exclusively in Congress.

"If the language of the amendment quoted above, referring to grazing preferences specifically as grazing 'rights' rather than leases or privileges, is not subject to construction as thereby constituting the grant of an easement in the public domain lands, it at least comes perilously near it...If anyone doubts that this is the ultimate purpose of this amendment, his doubt will be removed if his attention is called to the intimate connection in the language used in confirmation of grazing rights and that of water rights.

"[T]he amendment grants...what certain stockmen have been consistently contending was already the actual status of the Government's property - in short, that the stockmen already held the dominant estate in the Government lands which they have grazed, and that there remains to the Government only a servient opens the door to endless controversies, misunderstandings, and footless litigation.

"If Congress wants to establish these vested rights, it is up to Congress. But we know from our experience in handling the question on the western range that you get into all sorts of complications and speculations with these grazing preferences on the assertion of a property interest. If that is what is intended, then we ought to have it clearly understood...It is my opinion alleged vested rights are going to be asserted."

wdbul.gif (1214 bytes)

Assistant Solicitor Poole testified on April 27, 1934:

"The danger of this [Scrugham] provision is obvious. It would, perhaps forever cloud the fee simple title of the Federal Government, and, in turn, the title of the transferee. Like other property it would be transferable and inheritable. If this provision...operates as a federal grant, the Department of the Interior cannot subscribe to it, and the Secretary has instructed me to inform the committee that he would prefer to have the bill defeated if this provision is not removed." [Senate hearing record pp. 56-59 and p.70 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.]

wdbul.gif (1214 bytes)

According to Legislative History, Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, during the Taylor Grazing Act Senate Hearings had stated:

"We have no intention stockmen off their ranges or deprive them of rights to which they are entitled either under State laws or by customary usage."

 wodbutb.jpg (3270 bytes)