Overview. This Act was the first federal effort to regulate grazing on federal public lands. It establishes grazing districts and uses a permitting system to manage livestock grazing in the districts.
Grazing Districts. The Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) is authorized to establish grazing districts of vacant, unappropriated and unreserved land from any parts of the public domain, excluding Alaska, which are not national forests, parks and monuments, Indian reservations, railroad grant lands, or revested Coos Bay Wagon Road grant lands, and which are valuable chiefly for grazing and raising forage crops. Whenever grazing districts are established, the Secretary shall grant adjacent landowners, upon application, rights-of-way over the lands for stock-driving purposes to provide access to marketing facilities or to lands not within the district but owned by the person with stock-grazing rights.
As adopted in 1934, the Act requires that a hearing be held in the state before grazing districts are created. There must be public notice and the location is to be convenient for state officials, settlers, residents and livestock owners of the vicinity. The publication of notice has the effect of withdrawing the lands within the exterior boundary of the proposed district from all forms of entry of settlement pending the hearing. The Act does not alter or restrict the right to hunt or fish within a grazing district. § 315.
The Secretary must: provide for the protection, administration, regulation and improvement of the grazing districts; adopt regulations and enter into cooperative agreements necessary to accomplish the purposes of the Act; regulate occupancy and use; preserve the land and resources from destruction or unnecessary injury; provide for orderly improvement and development of the range. The Secretary may continue the study of erosion and flood control and perform work to protect and rehabilitate areas subject to the Act. Willful violations of the Act, or of its rules and regulations, are punishable by fine. § 315a.
Grazing Permits. The Secretary is authorized to issue permits to graze livestock in grazing districts to settlers, residents and other stock owners upon the annual payment of reasonable fees. Permits must be for a period of not more than ten years, with renewal subject to the discretion of the Secretary, who shall specify numbers of stock and seasons of use. During periods of range depletion due to severe drought or other natural causes, or during epidemics, the Secretary may remit, reduce, refund in whole or part, or postpone payment of grazing fees for the time the emergency exists. Grazing privileges must be safeguarded adequately but must not create any right, title, interest, or estate in or to the lands. § 315b.
Fences, wells, reservoirs and other improvements for the care and management of permitted livestock may be constructed on public lands within grazing districts under permits issued, or cooperative agreements approved, by the Secretary. Permittees are to comply with state law with respect to the cost and maintenance of partition fences. No permit entitles the permittee to use improvements constructed and owned by a prior occupant until the applicant has paid the prior occupant the reasonable value of the improvements, as determined under the Secretary's regulations. § 315c.
Use of District Lands. The Secretary must permit free grazing of domestic livestock within districts. Nothing in the Act is intended to prevent the use of timber, stone, gravel, clay, coal and other deposits by miners, prospectors, settlers and residents. Further, the Act must not restrict: the acquisition, granting or use of permits or rights-of-way within grazing districts under laws existing before the adoption of the Act; ingress or egress over public lands in these districts; prospecting, locating, developing, mining, entering, leasing or patenting mineral resources of grazing districts under applicable law. § 315d and 315e.
The Secretary is authorized to identify lands which are more valuable or suitable for the production of agricultural crops than for the production of native grasses and forage plants, or more valuable for other uses, and to open these lands to entry, selection or location for disposal, except that tracts for homestead entries may not exceed 320 acres in area. § 315f.
The Act directs the Secretary to promote cooperation among those interested in the use of the grazing districts, such as local associations of stockmen, state land officials and official state agencies engaged in the conservation or propagation of wildlife. The Secretary also must provide for local hearings on appeals from decisions of the administrative officer, and may accept contributions toward the administration, protection and improvement of lands within a grazing district. § 315h.
Use of Funds Received. Money received under the Act shall be deposited in the U.S. Treasury as miscellaneous receipts, except that 12 1/2 percent of the money collected from grazing fees shall be paid to the state in which the grazing district is located and 50 percent of the money collected for the leasing of isolated tracts under § 315m will be paid to the state in which the leased lands are located. The states' legislatures are expected to spend the funds for the benefit of the counties in which the districts or leased lands are situated. In addition, when appropriated by Congress, 33 1/3 percent of grazing fees received from grazing districts on Indian lands ceded to the U.S. for disposition under the public land laws are to be paid to the state, to be expended by the state legislature for public schools and roads in the counties in which the grazing lands are located. The other 66 2/3 percent is to be deposited to the credit of the Indians pending final disposition under applicable laws, treaties or agreements. §315i and 315j.
Leasing. The Secretary is authorized to lease for grazing purposes vacant, unappropriated and unreserved lands which are so situated as not to justify inclusion in grazing districts. Preference must be given to owners, homesteaders, lessees or other lawful occupants of contiguous land to permit proper use. When public lands are restored from a withdrawal, the Secretary may grant a preference right for a grazing lease, license or permit to users of the land for grazing purposes. § 315m.
The Secretary may lease, and determine lease rates for, state, county, or private lands valuable for grazing and lying within the exterior boundaries of a grazing district, where the leasing will promote the orderly use of the district and aid in conserving the forage resources. No lease shall run for more than ten years, and grazing fees paid to the U.S. for grazing privileges on the land shall not be less than the rental paid by the U.S. for the land. § 315m-1.
Agency Cooperation. The Secretary is authorized to cooperate with other federal agencies to carry out the purposes of the Act and coordinate range administration, particularly where stock grazes part time in a grazing district and part time in a national forest or other reservation. § 315k.
The President may reserve by proclamation and place under national-forest administration unappropriated public lands lying within watersheds forming a part of the national forests which are best administered with the national forests. Similarly, the President can place under Interior Department administration those national forest lands which are principally valuable for grazing and best administered under this Act. § 315l.
Nothing in the Act shall be construed as restricting the states from enforcing statutes enacted for police regulation, and state laws regarding public health or welfare remain in full force and effect. § 315n.