The Arizona Legislature has created two new multi-million dollar government assistance programs for the state’s public land ranchers that have made them a virtual protected class.
Both programs were created in response to recent enormous drought-driven wildfires that burned hundreds of thousands of acres of public land across the state, especially on the Tonto National Forest, where more than 580,00 acres have burned since 2019.
The first new program, called the Arizona Post-Wildfire Infrastructure Assistance Program (APWIAP), was created in 2021 when the Legislature passed HB 2001. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, included a one-time $10 million appropriation to the state Department of Forestry and Fire Management to dispense APWIAP grants to ranchers to help them rebuild livestock fences and waters damaged by wildfires.
It was passed after the Legislature was called into a special session for a statewildfire emergency response. One of the bill’s primary supporters was Stefanie Smallhouse, president of the Arizona Farm Bureau, and co-owner of the Carlink Ranch, located in the lower San Pedro River Valley near the community of Redington. “It’s important to get cattle back on the land,’’ she testified, and explained that it couldn’t happen if ranchers didn’t have the money to rebuild burned fences and livestock watering systems.
The Carlink Ranch, like many Arizona ranches, has significantly benefited from other government assistance programs, as shown in the table below.Government Assistance For Ranchers Program Key
The EQIP program absorbed the NRCS Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) after 2014.
The Arizona EWP Drought Program was discontinued in 2001 after a critical audit.
Note: Open Space Reserve Grants became LCCGP Grants after 2002.
Note: These grants were previously called Section 319 nonpoint source (NPS) water pollution prevention grants.
|1999||EWP||$61,644||Paid to Take Cattle Off the Land During Drought|
|2005||LCCGP #05-85||$47,448||Water Development & Fencing|
|2007||LCCGP #07-82||$100,000||Water Development|
|2023||HPC #22-505||$13,070||Water Development, Phase 1|
|$795,117||TOTAL 1999 - 2023|
According to the Department of Forestry and Fire Management, they still had about $3.52 million of their $10 million of APWIAP money left to spend as of December 31, 2022. The tables below show the Tonto National Forest ranches that received APWIAP assistance in 2022 – in addition to other government assistance they received. (Visit this page to see a complete listing of APWIAP assistance disbursed in 2022.)
Tonto National Forest Ranches That Received APWIAP In 2022
|1999||EWP||$15,765||Paid to Take Cattle Off the Land During Drought|
|2007||LCCGP #07-33||$69,885||Livestock Water and Fencing|
|2009||LCCGP #09-44||$55,920||Conservation, Restoration & Resource Augmentation|
|2011||LCCGP #11-25||$30,543||Conservation, Restoration & Resource Augmentation|
|2022||APWIAP*||$497,240||Rebuild Livestock Fences & Waters Burned in the 2021 Telegraph Fire|
|$970,795||TOTAL 1999 - 2022|
|2022||HPC #21-605||$74,343||Rebuild Livestock Waters Burned in the 2020 Bush Fire|
|2022||APWIAP*||500,000||Rebuild Livestock Fences & Waters Burned in the 2020 Bush Fire|
|$688,887||TOTAL 2019 - 2022|
Grazing was reauthorized on the allotment in 2019 after several years of nonuse.
|2005||LCCGP #05-101*||$65,295||Erosion Control & Livestock Water|
|2009||LCCGP #09-59*||$39,575||Ranch Projects|
|2022||APWIAP**||$499,830||Rebuild Livestock Fences & Waters Burned in the 2020 Bush Fire|
|$906,494||TOTAL 2005 - 2022|
** Temporary program administered by the Arizona Dept. of Forestry & Fire Management.
|2005||LCCGP #05-23||$17,926||Livestock Water and Monitoring|
|2007||LCCGP #07-20||$76,989||Livestock Water and Fencing|
|2019||HPC #18-603||$10,560||Parker Coolidge Tank Cleanouts|
|2022||APWIAP*||$500,000||Rebuild Livestock Fences & Waters Burned in the 2021 Telegraph Fire|
|$984,054||TOTAL 2004 - 2022|
Note: Ranch manager David L. Cook also manages some other local ranches. From 2005 to 2021 his DC Cattle Co., LLC, received another $395,599 in EQIP assistance. Some of it was likely used on the Tonto’s Sleeping Beauty Complex grazing allotments, which he managed for a local mining company.
|2022||APWIAP*||$445,770||Rebuild Livestock Fences & Waters Burned in the 2021 Telegraph Fire|
|$721,144||TOTAL 2005 - 2022|
John R. Hoopes, Vice President of the Salt River Project, is an owner of the ranch.
|2022||APWIAP**||$375,985||Rebuild Livestock Fences & Waters Burned in the 2021 Telegraph Fire|
|$417,967||TOTAL 2002 - 2022|
** Temporary program administered by the Arizona Dept. of Forestry & Fire Management.
|2022||APWIAP*||$453,905||Rebuild Livestock Fences & Waters Burned in the 2021 Telegraph Fire|
|$484,923||TOTAL 2015 - 2022|
Ranch owner Stephen M. Brophy is also the CEO of Arizona’s second-largest landowner – Aztec Land & Cattle Company.
|2007||LCCGP #07-16||$50,000||Livestock Water & Fencing|
|2009||LCCGP #09-22||$56,518||Wildlife Diversity & Watershed Health|
|2017||HPC #16-602||$14,500||Dirt Tank Cleanouts & Repairs|
|2022||APWIAP*||$295,820||Rebuild Livestock Fences & Waters Burned in the 2020 Griffin Fire and 2021 Copper Canyon Fire|
|$860,250||TOTAL 2005 - 2022|
The fact that the APWIAP program was just getting started didn’t stop the Legislature from passing HB 2182 in early June 2022 to create a nearly identical, and permanent, second new program. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, created the Livestock Operator Fire & Flood Assistance Program (LOFFAP) to be administered by the Arizona Department of Agriculture. The Department received a $10 million appropriation for the program in the state FY 2023 appropriations bill passed in late June, and it began accepting grant applications in March 2023. (Rep. Cook is owner of the DC Cattle Ranch, which holds the grazing permit for the Coolidge-Parker grazing allotment on the Tonto, and was awarded $500,000 in APWIAP assistance in 2002, as shown in the ranch tables above.)
Other Government Assistance
As you might have suspected, the federal government also has post-wildfire assistance programs for ranchers with permits for grazing allotments on public lands managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Department of the Interior coordinates the recently increased funding for the federal Burned Area Rehabilitation (BAR) program that includes the “repair or replacement of minor infrastructure damaged by a wildfire,” which can be livestock fences and waters.
Prior to the BAR program receiving additional funding, the Tonto National Forest procured funds for rebuilding livestock fences and waters as part of the U.S. Forest Service’s Minor Facilities and Infrastructure Rehabilitation Pilot program, which began in 2020. In late 2021, for example, they received $2.3 million to replace livestock fences destroyed that summer by the 180,757-acre Telegraph Fire.
According to the Forest Service, the Telegraph Fire, which burned much of the Globe Ranger District, destroyed about 66 miles of exterior grazing allotment boundary fences, and more than 61 miles of interior allotment pasture fences. Tonto officials explained that the money was put to use rebuilding the exterior fences, to help keep cattle off of local roads and private property. But there’s only enough money to rebuild the exterior fences, so the affected ranchers were informed they must pay to rebuild the interior fences. (If $2.3 million is divided by 66 miles it comes out to almost $35,000 per mile to rebuild the exterior fences. Inflation is, of course, part of the reason for this high cost, but one has to wonder if fencing contractors are profiteering from the situation.)
As you again may have presumed, there’s also government assistance available to help the Tonto ranchers rebuild their interior pastures fences. A portion of the monthly grazing fees they pay go into the Forest’s range betterment fund, which can be used for fence repairs. But the below-market public land grazing fee of only $1.35 per head per month generates far too little revenue to be of much help. This has long been a problem on all National Forests, but instead of raising the grazing fee, Congress made public land ranchers eligible for the USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Subsequently, since 2004 the agency’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has been providing them with EQIP assistance through contracts for cost-sharing “conservation” projects, such as building livestock fences and waters. The NRCS pays 50 to 75% of the project’s cost, while the rancher is supposed pay the rest.
Providing the money for ranchers to meet this cost matching requirement in order for them to be eligible for EQIP is a major objective of the APWIAP and LOFFAP grants. (This was also the objective of the state Livestock & Crop Conservation Program (LCCGP) the Legislature created in 2003. Also, the Arizona Game & Fish Department does this through its Landowner Relations Program, which uses Habitat Partnership Committee (HPC) grants and Heritage Fund money.)
The result of these multiple government assistance programs is that the rebuilding of burned ranching infrastructure can cost Arizona public land ranchers practically nothing.
Post-Wildfire Restocking Policy
Furthermore, it appears that paying for the rebuilding of burnt livestock fences and waters isn’t the only government assistance that Arizona’s public land ranchers are receiving after wildfires. Forest Service regulations require field staff to assess things like burn severity and ranching infrastructure repair status before authorizing the restocking of burned grazing allotments. But reviews of annual operating instructions (AOI) for allotments that recently burned on the Tonto National Forest raise doubts about whether or not this is actually happening.
The 193,455-acre Bush Fire in 2020, for example, burned most of the Tonto’s Sunflower grazing allotment. The allotment’s 2020 AOI, issued in January, before the fire, authorized 178 adult cattle yearlong. The 2021 AOI issued after the fire only reduced the authorized numbers to 159 cattle yearlong. Additionally, the grazing permittee was allowed to use a pasture in the adjacent Bartlett grazing allotment, which had been vacant since at least 2010, and also use the Sunflower allotment’s Otero pasture, which had been placed in non-use status by a October 9, 2015, decision for the Sunflower allotment. That decision stated the pasture wouldn’t be grazed, “until such time as a new environmental analysis is conducted to show the need for these pastures and the effects of authorizing grazing within them.” Both of these “relief” pastures are comprised primarily of Sonoran Desert, and there was an ongoing, severe long-term drought.
The Lyons Fork allotment, which burned in the 2021 Telegraph Fire, is another example. It’s 2021 AOI, issued in January, before the fire, authorized 90 adult cattle yearlong, but the subsequent 2022 AOI only reduced the authorized numbers to 80 cattle for 6 months – and that was during the hot summer season of March through August, when cattle can do the most damage. This was despite the fact the 2022 AOI stated that, “Most of the pastures were impacted moderately to severely by the Telegraph Fire.” Likewise, the Coolidge-Parker allotment, which also burned in the Telegraph Fire, was authorized for 70 adult cattle yearlong in its 2021 AOI, but according to the 2022 AOI issued after the fire, the authorized numbers were only reduced to 64 cattle yearlong.
Similarly minor changes were seen from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests in their AOIs issued after several grazing allotments were burned in the 2020 Cow Canyon, and 2021 Horton Complex and Bear fires.
These situations bring into question whether or not the primary objective of the post-wildfire livestock management strategy of the U.S. Forest Service is to protect publicly owned natural resources, or to ensure continued ranching operations.
Growing Frequency and Severity of Wildfires
It’s undeniable that ongoing human-caused climate change contributed to the long-term drought which helped to produce the recent severe wildfires in Arizona. And research (Kauffman 2022) has shown that permitting cattle grazing on public lands is a major contributor to climate change.
But public lands grazing has also more directly increased the severity of wildfires by increasing woody vegetation fuel loads. That’s because cattle prefer to eat herbaceous vegetation, like forbs and grasses, which can remove the fine fuels necessary for the milder fires that naturally control brush, which burns more intensely. The proliferation of woody vegetation is a common result of intense livestock grazing, like that used in holistic resource management (HRM) schemes.
Additionally, wildfires in Arizona’s deserts and arid grasslands are becoming worse because of the spread of exotic buffle grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) and red brome (Bromus madritensis) grass. Intense livestock grazing helps these invasive grasses spread. And recent research (St. Clair 2023) indicates that cow plops help red brome seeds germinate. The hotter and more frequent fires caused by these grasses on the state’s Sonoran Desert lands are particularly disturbing because they threaten the survival of the iconic saguaro cactus (Esque 2004).
In other words, these things mean that the government programs which finance the repairs of ranching infrastructure after wildfires are subsidizing an activity that helped to create the fires in the first place. (Buffle grass, in fact, was introduced by ranchers to provide more forage for cattle.)
Moreover, the state and federal financial assistance being provided to ranchers for post-wildfire repair projects, coupled with the other government assistance they can receive, means their economic survival is almost guaranteed – as if they are a protected class.
This is poor public policy, because climatologists are warning us that the Southwest is likely to continue to get hotter and drier as climate change progresses. Couple that with the fact that many of Arizona’s public land ranches were already, at best, marginally profitable because the land is inherently unsuited for livestock grazing, it’s obvious the cost of the current political strategy of providing ranchers with an endless amount of subsidies will continue to increase. How much money will be spent trying to shove this square peg down a round hole?
It would be much fairer to U.S. taxpayers if Congress would revise the federal grazing regulations so that public land ranchers could be paid equitable prices if they voluntarily relinquished their grazing permits in order to permanently retire them.