Public Lands Grazing Use A Way Of Life For Ranchers

Outside historic Durango, Colorado, there’s a family that has been running sheep for nearly a century. Not only are they providing a year-round economic base for the community, but they’re also playing an active role in the production of America’s lamb and wool.

Public lands ranching is a way of life for ranchers like J. Paul Brown in western Colorado. He says without grazing permits like his in the San Juan National Forest, his family wouldn’t be able to stay in business and continue to raise high-quality lamb and wool.

Well, it’s just so important. There’s just so little private land out here in the West. We think that the private land is very important for our base. But, you know, to really be a full-time rancher here, you need to be able to use the forest allotments and BLM allotments.

He says through responsible grazing, they’re enhancing the range condition of the forest and truly making it a healthier environment for all outdoor enthusiasts.

I think just grazing the grasses stimulates those grasses. Instead of having decadent feed that’s or grasses that just grow up and fall over and then grow up again and fall over. You know, we will stimulate the growth of that grass. It makes it greener and prettier.

Since 1971, the Brown family has been grazing their sheep in the San Juan National Forest. And J. Paul Brown says today wildlife issues are one of their biggest challenges to preserving their way of life.

In the past few years, there’s been a threat of a lawsuit to the Forest Service regarding them allowing us to be up here because of the bighorn sheep. And you know, that’s certainly concerning to us and it’s a threat to our livelihood.

Despite the rhetoric from environmental groups who want ranchers off of federal lands, he says ranchers like him embrace multiple uses on Forest Service and BLM land.

You know, I believe in multiple-use and I don’t believe it ought to be all grazing. But by the same token, you know, I don’t think that we should be eliminated from the multiple-use aspect of this area up here.

It’s because of ranchers like J Paul Brown and others that organizations like the American Sheep Industry Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Public Lands Council work every day in states like Colorado and in Washington, DC, to make sure cattle and sheep remain part of America’s public lands. Public lands ranchers are invited to the 2019 public lands council annual meeting taking place on September 25th - 28th in Great Falls, Montana. For more information, visit

Story by Russell Nemetz