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 recent wildfires.
It was passed after the Legislature was called into a special session for a state wildfire 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 to the Legislature in June 2021, 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 government assistance programs, as shown in the table below. (Update: In early 2023 the Carlink Ranch was awarded a $324,000 APWIAP grant for use on the Coronado National Forest’s Bellota grazing allotment. Accord to Forest Service grazing billing records, the Carlink Ranch acquired the grazing permit for the allotment in 2022.)
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|
|2023||APWIAP*||$324,000||Rebuild Livestock Fences & Waters Burned in the 2020 Bighorn Fire|
|$1,119,117||TOTAL 1999 - 2023|
In August 2021, just two months after HB 2001 was passed, the Arizona Department of Forestry & Fire Management released a APWIAP grant guidebook. The Department didn’t use the standard rulemaking process to write it, as required by A.R.S. § 41-1003, because this “emergency” program was exempted from rulemaking as per A.R.S. 41-1005, so the guidebook was the extent of the program’s rulemaking.
The legislation that created the APWIAP grants, HB 2001, had specified that only “public and private landowners” were eligible, but the Department’s grant guidebook unilaterally expanded the eligible grantees to include “501(c) non-profit organizations.” This allowed the Department to dispense APWIAP grants to the nonprofit Arizona Association of Conservation Districts (AACD). The AACD promotes Arizona’s local Natural Resource Conservation Districts (NRCDs), which are state government entities overseen by the Arizona State Land Department. (Stefanie Smallhouse’s husband Andy is the chair of the Redington NRCD.) APWIAP grants received by the AACD are supposed to be forwarded to local landowners or NRCDs, but since it’s a private entity, the AACD is not subject to the state’s open meeting or public record request laws.
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. (Visit the Government Assistance For Arizona Ranchers page to see a complete listing of APWIAP assistance disbursed.)
The tables below show the Tonto National Forest ranches that benefited from APWIAP assistance because of damage caused by recent wildfires – in addition to other government assistance that has benefited them.
Tonto National Forest Ranches That Benefited From APWIAP Grants In 2022 & 2023
|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|
|2023||APWIAP*||$336,600||Rebuild 7 Miles of Livestock Fence Burned in the 2021 Telegraph Fire|
|$1,307,395||TOTAL 1999 - 2023|
|1996||AWPF #95-003*||$115,522||Sycamore Creek Riparian Exclosure Fences|
|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|
|$804,409||TOTAL 1996 - 2022|
** Temporary program administered by the Arizona Dept. of Forestry & Fire Management.
Grazing was reauthorized on the Sunflower 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 allotment, which he managed for a local mining company.
|2014||HPC #13-610||$12,600||Spring Water Development|
|2022||APWIAP*||$445,770||Rebuild Livestock Fences & Waters Burned in the 2021 Telegraph Fire|
|2023||APWIAP*||$245,400||Rebuild 5.25 Miles of Livestock Fence Burned in the 2021 Telegraph Fire|
|$979,144||TOTAL 2005 - 2023|
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.
|2023||APWIAP*||$417,000||Rebuild 8.5 Miles of Livestock Fence Burned in the 2021 Telegraph Fire|
|$577,683||TOTAL 2011 - 2023|
|2005-2007||EQIP*||$72,689||Martin Ranch, Inc.|
|2005||LCCGP #05-66*||$14,000||Livestock Water|
|2007||LCCGP #07-063*||$5,000||Livestock Water|
|2022||APWIAP**||$490,290||Rebuild Livestock Fences & Waters on the adjacent Devils Canyon allotment that were burned in the 2021 Telegraph Fire. (The Arizona trade name of Devils Canyon Allotment/JI Ranch is on the grant contract. It's owned by Lynn A. Martin.)|
|$1,010,426||TOTAL 2005 - 2022|
**Temporary program administered by the Arizona Dept. of Forestry & Fire Management.
|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|
|2022||APWIAP*||$453,905||Rebuild Livestock Fences & Waters Burned in the 2021 Telegraph Fire|
|2023||APWIAP*||$98,600||Rebuild 2 Miles of Livestock Fence Burned in the 2021 Telegraph Fire|
|$583,523||TOTAL 2015 - 2023|
Ranch owner Stephen M. Brophy is also the CEO of Arizona’s second-largest landowner – Aztec Land & Cattle Company.
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.)
HB 2182 also exempted LOFFAP grants from rulemaking, but the legislation did require that the Department provide a 60-day public comment period for the “annual grant guidelines and criteria.” It also specified that only “landowners and lessees of a livestock operation of more than forty animals” were eligible.
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. 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 it turned out there wasn’t enough money to rebuild the interior pasture fences, so the affected ranchers were informed they had to 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 an 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. It also repudiates the description of APWIAP grants as being “emergency” assistance.
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 contributed to the severity of wildfires by increasing woody vegetation fuel loads. That’s because cattle prefer to eat herbaceous vegetation, like forbs and grasses, and this behavior 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.
On June 30, 2023, the Arizona Department of Agriculture announced a 60-day public comment period beginning on July 1, 2023, for their proposed Livestock Operator Fire & Flood Assistance Program (LOFFAP) grant guidelines. This was after they had started accepting LOFFAP grant applications in March.
In January, 2023, the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management released a list of APWIAP grants they dispersed from August to through December 2022. It included a $490,290 grant to help rebuild livestock fences & waters on the Tonto National Forest’s Devils Canyon grazing allotment. The APWIAP grant contractor, which used the Arizona trade name Devils Canyon Allotment/JI Ranch, is not the landowner or the grazing allotment’s permittee, but the designated manager authorized by the permittee, Resolution Copper Mining LLC.
On July 12, 2023, the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management released a list of the APWIAP grants they dispersed from January through June 2023. It also showed that their grant fund still had an unspent balance of $795,940. The list of approved grants included four grants totaling $1,097,600 to be used on grazing allotments in the Tonto National Forest’s Globe Ranger District which had burned in the 2021 Telegraph Fire. These allotments received previous APWIAP grants in 2022. According to the Tonto’s Rangeland Program Manager, Chandler Mundy, this second round of grants was necessary because they underestimated the cost of building new fences. After the Telegraph Fire, he explained, the Forest had agreed to pay to rebuild the boundary fences of the burned allotments, in order to keep cattle off of roads and private property. But the affected grazing permittees were told they were responsible for rebuilding their interior pasture fences. Mundy said the Tonto had accessed about $3.25 million in federal burn recovery money to rebuild the exterior fences, but the bids they received for the contract were higher. The nonprofit Arizona Association of Conservation Districts (AACD) then submitted applications for APWIAP grants to cover the shortfall, and was approved to receive them. The AACD is administering the grants for the Tonto fence replacement projects, even though the law that created the APWIAP grants, HB 2001, states that only “private landowners” can receive grants, and the Arizona Department of Forestry & Fire Management is supposed to administer them.