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This page was last updated on January 06, 2009 .

There is No Federal "Open Range"
by: Larry Walker, 8/31/03

Many people appear to hold the misperception that federal public lands in the West are "open range".

This has not been the case for nearly a century since passage of the Taylor Grazing Act in 1934 brought the last of the "public domain" (now administered by BLM) under regulation. National Forests have been under regulation considerably longer.

It has been upheld in the courts that, with regard to the federal lands, federal law takes precedence over state laws on the fence issue - grazing on federal lands without an appropriate authorization is a prohibited act and constitutes trespass. As I recall, this ties back to the "supremacy clause" of the U.S. Constitution.

So, there is no such thing as federal "open range". The situation on nonfederal public lands (state, county, city and so forth) will vary by state; but I will speculate that most of those lands are administered under laws and regulations that also make unauthorized grazing a prohibited act (with or without a fence).

Therefore, the only true "open range" is unfenced PRIVATE land. The net effect is that the various state "open range" laws (1) allow ranchers to use the private lands of their neighbors without authorization or compensation, and (2) externalize the legitimate business cost of controlling the ranchers' livestock onto their neighbors.

Does this make any sense to anybody except the ranchers? If the rolls were reversed, those same ranchers would be the first to scream "takings"!