Milestone. Historic, First Ever Voluntary Grazing Permit Retirement.

The Gila Just Got a Lot More Wild!

Historic, First Ever Voluntary Grazing Permit Retirement on nearly 50 square miles of the Gila National Forest

Silver City, NM--On April 21, 2014, the Gila National Forest accepted the first voluntary waiver of a grazing permit in the bioregion. The U.S Forest Service administratively suspended use of the Deep Creek Allotment- a 44 square mile area- and will vacate the grazing allotment for at least 10 years and cannot reissue the permit without full compliance with NEPA and ESA requirements.

In the face of dramatically changing economic and climate conditions in this rugged part of New Mexico, ranchers, the U.S. Forest Service, and conservationists are crafting creative approaches to restore the landscape and give people the freedom and flexibility they need in challenging times. This spring, WildEarth Guardians kicked off a voluntary grazing permit retirement program. We now offer ranchers the opportunity to waive their grazing permits back to the U.S Forest Service in exchange for monetary compensation.

Wolf. pc Sam Parks
Lobos will benefit from this grazing-free safe zone

This novel and inventive approach to resolving public land grazing challenges in the region pays ranchers to voluntarily waive their permits and offers reprieve to lands and watersheds that have been left threadbare and vulnerable by years of overgrazing, drought, and wildfire.

Like outdoor recreation, ranching has strong ties to public lands and the traditions of the American west. But for too long, the impacts of livestock grazing on the land, water and wildlife have outpaced nature’s capacity to recover. This is especially true in the Greater Gila Bioregion, where nearly 90% (4.2 million acres) of the Forest Service lands are presently authorized annually for grazing. Years of drought and recurring large wildfires have compounded the impacts of ranching in the region.

We now offer ranchers the opportunity to waive their grazing permits back to the U.S Forest Service in exchange for monetary compensation.

The owners of Deep Creek Ranch and WildEarth Guardians entered into an agreement to provide monetary compensation in exchange for the voluntary waiver of the grazing permit, laying the groundwork for lasting stewardship in the region. The Deep Creek Ranch permit authorized 205 head of cattle and 8 horses year-round on the forest. The allotment is more than 28,000 acres (44 square miles) and located east of the town of Alma in Catron County, NM on the Gila National Forest. The allotment experienced longstanding challenges between livestock grazing and Mexican gray wolves from the Dark Canyon Pack.

WildEarth Guardians has another permit retirement agreement signed and is collaborating with other ranchers in the Greater Gila Bioregion to voluntarily waive their grazing privileges. With Wilderness areas and Inventoried Roadless Areas comprising a landscape that is 1.3 times the size of Yellowstone, the Greater Gila Bioregion is a national conservation treasure; and easing some of the conservation challenges faced by this region opens the door for exciting and collaborative conservation opportunities.

Deep Creek Allotment MapThe Deep Creek Allotment is located just north of the Gila Wilderness (click on map to enlarge)

Gila wilderness pc Trip Jennings

Historic conservation returns to 50 square miles of the Gila Bioregion

Grazing Permit Retirement

Livestock grazing is, by far, the most ubiquitous use of public lands in the Greater Gila Bioregion. Livestock graze on nearly 90% of the public lands in the region and have an enormous impact on native species, water use, large carnivores, fire ecology and aquatic ecosystems in the Greater Gila Bioregion. For two decades WildEarth Guardians has advocated for the protection of the public wildlands, ancient forests, Mexican wolves, and rivers of the Greater Gila. Developing a way for ranchers to overcome the challenges presented by grazing in areas in need of resource protection has become a key component of this campaign.

Long before the Cliven Bundy conflict grabbed the national spotlight, ranchers in the Gila Region were grabbing their guns over the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf. For close to two decades, ranchers, conservationists and federal agencies have been at each other’s throats over the future of the region. After years of conflict, WildEarth Guardians is taking a different approach to resolve this conflict and ensure that wolves have room to roam.

For two decades WildEarth Guardians has advocated for the protection of the public wildlands, ancient forests, Mexican wolves, and rivers of the Greater Gila.

In 2006 we decided to make a strategic shift, choosing to work with public lands ranchers to accomplish our goals instead of fighting them. Its working. Once longtime foes, we’re now working with public lands ranchers to retire grazing allotments and advocate for wilderness designations by Congress on the Gila and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. We intended to reduce wolf-cattle conflicts and prove that grazing permit retirement works.

Compensating federal grazing permittees to end their grazing on public lands is ecologically essential, economically rational, fiscally prudent, socially just and politically pragmatic. It is an equitable way to overcome long-standing challenges between domestic livestock grazing and environmental protection, recreation and other uses of public lands.


Roadless Areas

Inventoried Roadless Areas are undeveloped lands found on U.S. National Forests that do not currently enjoy the permanent protection of a Congressionally designated wilderness area but are often given some degree of administrative protection. These lands are often adjacent to designated wilderness areas, are very rugged and share headwater streams and rivers. Today there are more than 2.2 million acres of still wild and unprotected roadless lands that surround the Gila and the adjacent Aldo Leopold Wilderness Areas. It is one of the last landscapes in the continental U.S. where such vast wildness remains. It needs to be protected. WildEarth Guardians aims to give the wildness that remains in the Greater Gila the space to endure.

Gila Wilderness and Roadless Area Map for Wolves
Map of wilderness-quality roadless areas in the Greater Gila Bioregion


Our strategy is elegant and simple. And our support—from ranchers, Congress, and conservation investors—is steadily growing. Very often in the Gila Bioregion, roadless lands overlap with the very same grazing allotments we hope to retire. With these complementary strategies, we hope to add up to 2.2 million acres of roadless lands to the national wilderness preservation system while also retiring an equal or greater number of public land acres from livestock grazing so that wolves can roam on the landscape without conflict.

Federal land designations not only ensure the long term health of the land, but can provide significant economic benefit to local communities.

Visit the U.S. Forest Service website to learn more about roadless area conservation.


More Information

Read our August 20, 2014 press release about this historic conservation agreement.

Read more about “The Gila Solution” in High Country News.

For more information on how economic conditions are changing in the region,see our report: "Changes in Public Lands Ranching in Gila Bioregion."


Photo credits: Wolf-Sam Parks; Gila Wilderness—Trip Jennings.