Veto of Amendments to the Taylor Grazing Act.
I have with some reluctance disapproved H. R. 3019, An Act to amend "An Act to stop injury to the public grazing lands by preventing overgrazing and soil deterioration, to provide for their orderly use, improvement, and development, to stabilize the livestock industry dependent upon the public range, and for other purposes," approved June 28, 1934 (48 Stat. 1269).
Some of the changes effected by this legislation were proposed to the Congress by the Department of the Interior. These changes, however, were relatively simple in scope and did not involve radical alterations in the principles of the original law.
Other changes effected by the provisions of this Bill are not sound. They would nullify in large measure the benefits of the Taylor Grazing Act and would make the administration of that Act along sound conservation lines virtually unattainable.
I append hereto copy of memorandum furnished me by the Department of the Interior and I note also the recommendation of the Department of Agriculture that the Bill be not approved.
I am confident that at another session of the Congress the matter can be reconsidered and more suitable legislation passed.
August 26, 1935
Memorandum to the President:(Excerpts)
I am returning to you House Bill 3019, amending the Act ap proved June 28, 1934 (48 Stat. 1269), to regulate grazing on the public domain. I recommend that this bill be not approved because of the irreparable damage that would result, if it became the law, to the present program for the orderly use, improvement and development of public grazing lands and for the stabilization of the livestock industry. The provisions in the amendatory act dealing with the exchange, leasing, and outright grant of lands would not only defeat the fundamental objectives of the present grazing law but through their operation might make it possible in a few years for the States to acquire all of the non-mineral unreserved public domain....
There are 165,000,000 acres in the public domain, which for many years have been subject to the unrestricted grazing of cattle and sheep, resulting in the destruction of a valuable natural resource in forage cover and the ruin of the land itself through erosion once the protective vegetative cover has been weakened by overgrazing. This situation brought about the enactment of the Taylor Grazing Law in 1934, which made it possible for the first time to provide for a coordinated, regulatory program for the use by stockmen and sheepmen of 80,000,000 acres of the public domain. This law and the plan of administration adopted by the Department of the Interior which provides for local self-determination of practical range problems has been given enthusiastic support by those intended to be benefited.
The amendatory act now before me expands to 142,000,000 acres the area subject to inclusion in grazing districts. This, in other circumstances, I would heartily favor. I do not believe, however, that the benefits resulting from an enlargement of the controlled area would outweigh the evils which would follow the changes in the law that are now proposed. . . .
The bill makes mandatory the exchange of State-owned lands for public lands of equal value, regardless of whether such exchanges are in the public interest, merely on the application of the State. . . .
The States exclusively, and not the Federal Government, would be the moving parties in these exchanges, nor is any discretion given the Secretary of the Interior to protect the interests of the grazing districts. The States, on the other hand, are given the opportunity of consolidating their land holdings within grazing districts by exchanging lands within or outside of the boundaries of the grazing districts. The Federal Government would have no option except to dispossess itself of its own land at the behest of the coveting State. Through the operation of this provision the Federal Government could be required to relinquish the most advantageously situated public lands in exchange for the least desirable tracts, most of which in turn would probably pass to the States at the end of two years as isolated tracts under another provision of the amendatory bill which I will discuss later.
This inequitable and unrestricted power would inevitably increase the instability of the livestock industry that is dependent upon the public range and which the present grazing law was intended to benefit....
I have mentioned the isolated tracts that undoubtedly would be acquired by the Federal Government under the exchange clause of this proposed amendment. These isolated tracts, under Section 8 of the bill, in so far as they are vacant, unappropriated, unreserved and nonmineral, would automatically be granted to the State two years after the passage of this act. It is the combination of this mandatory requirement with the exchange privilege that under a possible interpretation of the amendment might ultimately deprive the Federal Government of practically all of its public land holdings as well as take the breath of life out of the present grazing law. . . .
The present program for administering the isolated tracts is based upon a leasing system which permits stockmen to acquire the right for a period not to exceed ten years to graze their herds on the public domain. Under the amendatory act such a lease could be cancelled arbitrarily as the result of the exchange provision. The grazing administration should not be required to issue leases that lack assurance to the lessee that he will not be disturbed for the term of the lease, particularly when such a lease can be made a valuable credit asset at the bank.
The bill also authorizes employment of personnel without regard to the provisions of the civil service and limits employment to bona-fide citizens and residents of the State in which service is to be rendered. This would mean that the employees in any grazing district whose chief duty it is to maintain fair dealing among local permittees, would themselves be local residents subject to local pressure, to the vagaries of local factional strife, and to the whims of some dominant local stockman. The civil service has proved itself an excellent medium for the selection of qualified employees and the maintenance of personnel free from the pressure of powerful local or selfish interests. Civil service rules should continue to govern employment in the grazing administration.
In conclusion, I may summarize my reasons for withholding my approval from this amendment: The exchange and isolated tract provisions would probably promote monopolistic private control of a natural resource and tend to destroy the small stockman and homesteader; they could result eventually in transferring title to the remaining public domain to the States; they would practically destroy the two principal objectives of the present grazing law, which are the conservation of a valuable natural resource and the stabilization of the livestock industry; and they would turn over to local control the management of a national resource by restricting the power to select personnel. Above all, the most fatal result would lie in the subversion of our national conservation program which this Administration has fostered and which I desire to promote in every possible way. . . .
Very sincerely yours,
HAROLD L. ICKES,
Secretary of the Interior
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Veto of Amendments to the Taylor Grazing Act. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/209102