Increased Fees to Graze On Public Land Still Doesn’t Cover Costs 

President Obama’s proposed 2013 budget for the Department of the Interior includes a tiny bit of good news for western public lands: a $1 increase in the fee charged for livestock grazing on Bureau of Land Management lands.

The fee, which is required of each public land rancher to “utilize” (i.e. degrade) “forage” (i.e. wildlife habitat) belonging to the American public, is assessed by the “Animal Unit Month,” (‘AUM’ the equivalent “forage” to feed a cow/calf pair or five sheep for a month).

The amount of the fee is set by an antiquated formula established by the Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978 (PRIA) at a paltry $1.35 for the past five years.   Normally using PRIA the grazing fee can’t be raised more than 25% in a single year.  However,  by using the budget, Obama proposes to bypass the grazing fee formula’s restriction increasing the fee by $1 (75%) per AUM.

Even with the extra dollar, the fee fails to keep up with inflation since passage of PRIA, fails to come close to covering the cost of administering the federal grazing program, and fails to come close to collecting for taxpayers what private land ranchers pay on the open market (closer to $15 for equivalent AUMs on private pasture).

However, it appears as though the Obama Administration is moving in the right direction, getting the people who benefit from the program to pay a little bit more as compared to the American taxpayer.

Despite that, the news of the proposed $1 increase has public lands ranchers convincing themselves that the sky is falling:

Obama’s Budget Proposes To Increase Federal Lands Grazing Fee –

Dustin Van Liew, PLC executive director and NCBA director of federal lands, said increasing the grazing fee through an arbitrary tax is unwarranted and is further evidence that the president and his administration are out of touch with production agriculture.

In a political climate where congress is cutting the budget on educating our children, it sounds to me like Dustin Van Liew is out of touch with reality.

The Livestock industry talking-point likening the increase in grazing fee to an increased “tax” is absurd.  The Government Accountability Office’s 2005 report (pdf) describes the entire federal grazing program running at a $123 million annual deficit just in administrative costs. The report estimated that the BLM would need to collect at least $7.64 per animal unit month to cover the costs.  $2.35 total is nowhere near that amount, to say nothing of the market rate ranchers are paying on private ground.

Put another way, for every $1 that public lands ranchers pay to graze their cattle and sheep on public lands, the American taxpayer paid $4.66 to facilitate those same ranchers’ cattle and sheep destruction of our public lands.

The $1 pilot-program fee proposed in Obama’s budget would raise the AUM to $2.35 and is estimated at generating $6.5 million more in 2013 than the PRIA fee alone – meaning the program still operates in the red – it’s not enough.

Of course, all of this is to say nothing of what third-parties have concluded as a more accurate accounting of the the true cost of grazing on public lands (pdf), which sets the costs at closer to $500,000,000 of deficit spending every year.

Bottom Line:  The federal grazing program is a big Loser.

The Obama Administration could not set the fee high enough to cover the true costs in treasure and in  the loss of imperiled species, impaired water quality, destroyed soils and a multitude of other environmental values – all of which ought be our children’s entitlement.

Will the president’s proposed grazing fee increase survive Congress ?  Perhaps those in the Livestock Lobby would prefer we take more money from American school-children in order to keep those federal dollars flowing to accommodate their destructive use of our children’s environmental heritage ?

About The Author

Brian Ertz

Brian Ertz serves as President of WildLands Defense, Chair of the Sierra Club's National Grazing Team, and as Conservation Chair of the Sawtooth Group, Idaho Chapter Sierra Club. All Posts by Brian Ertz | Facebook | Email

58 Responses to Obama’s Proposed 2013 Budget Raises Grazing Fee… a bit.

  1. If we consistently refer to our children’s heritage, their entitlement or birthright, etc., we reinforce the idea that the world is here for humans. By claiming we’re saving the earth and protecting the environment for our children, we’re de-emphasizing the non-human inhabitants who also have a right to exist. (Or so say the Deep Ecologists, and to which we agree.)

    That said, awesome news about the grazing fee! Thanks for sharing!

    • avatar Brian Ertz says:

      DL – i disagree that allusions to our childrens’ heritage, entitlement, or birthright is misplaced and passively ‘reinforces’ anthropocentric values.

      the allusion to our childrens’ heritage, entitlement, or birthright is not a suggestion that non-humans or natural systems belong to humans — it is a suggestion that our children – future generations – whatever – are entitled the exercise of our human restraint – or responsible ‘stewardship’ of social institutions now because their lives and experiences will be affected by our decisions ~ whether good or bad. that’s a very different suggestion.

      my children ~ and future generations of everyone’s children ~ are entitled to live in a world in which we restrained ourselves from destroying the natural environment around us – and we should most certainly consider them entitled to a inherit a world in which they are not straddled with the fiscal debt associated with our misMANagement and deficit spending to accommodate the very destruction of their natural world.

      perhaps you don’t have children – perhaps the mention of such chafes for whatever reason. when i had mine it changed my life – my perspective on a lot of things – primarily how and for what (or whom) i live my life and contribute my opinion on public administration – and i am sure it is similar to others that don’t have kids but have similar experiences, events or character. the children’s heritage or entitlement comment is an allusion to a ‘trust’ responsibility – i.e. that we have a social obligation to act responsibly on behalf of future generations. when used in such a context, it strikes that chord with folk who have the experience of having kids (or don’t, but understand the allusion and embolded sense of social responsibility it invokes) in a much more close, personal (and effective – i think) way than i suppose invoking Arne Næss might. perhaps i’m wrong. clearly i’m open to that.

      on such kritique more generally – i’m stoked to have this conversation – and hope you respond:

      language is a funny thing. i very much enjoy many kritiques of anthropocentrism as articulated by varying camps describing themselves as deep ecologists. i think such inquiries are fascinating.

      i’ll mention my appreciation for such – enough so that many of these inquiries constituted a large part of my academic experience. i sort of got a degree in it and have worked (or ‘inquired’) with some really incredible people.

      i enjoy allusions to non-human agency and what that might mean, whether they come from deep ecologists, bio-centrists, eco-centrists, etc … but more than any of them – i enjoy those allusions and inquiries regarding non-human agency especially when they come from my 8-year old son.

      i’ve dabbled in incorporating academic inquiries and kritiques into writing, even on this forum – i’ve even tried to illustrate the bighorn debate via an eco-feminist narrative ~ which i think is particularly apt – but which ultimately provoked a loud *thud* in ‘general reception’ terms, except perhaps for a few academics who might have known about it.

      what i’ve come to conclude, for myself of course, is that there is a time and a place – a purpose – for such kritique – and attempts to provoke a general appreciation for non-human agency. Ultimately, a photo of my 8 year-old son lit up in a sage-brush environment seems to excite and galvanize a lot more people’s support.

      another thought i’ve come to that sort of relates: when deep ecologists, or feminists, or those who seek to abolish the white race – or whatever – kritique, there are a couple of ways with which they approach it.

      one is that they’ll start their own conversation – they’ll look at a body of contemporary work – deconstruct it and point to the various parts that exemplify allusion to the ‘oppressive’ influence. this is done in a book, in a class-room, in an ivory tower somewhere – passively – and their work contributes a body of thoughtful perspective that folk engaged in inquiry can visit to learn about those really important subjects – maybe even be inspired as i have been.

      then there is a more ‘activist’ approach to the same work. those that don’t write their own book or start their own conversation, but instead go out into the world and ‘intervene’ – that is to say – those that have a tendency to impose their kritique (or usually someone else’s that they’ve just learned about and are recently excited about) upon a given conversation and insist upon its own importance – maybe even intellectual superiority – often to the point of obstructing the narrative/subject of the original conversation by introducing a tangentially pertinent mountain of thought in front of a conversation about a molehill.

      of course, it is always important to insist that the subject with which one kritiques, or perhaps the author/actor, isn’t doing enough, or is implicitly ‘reinforcing’ the ‘oppressive’ influence by not describing the mountain when describing the molehill. this approach can certainly be a powerful agitation – and appropriate in a lot of places and conversations – particularly when the conversation as such is itself explicitly leading down a positively or actively destructive path.

      take for example my implicit failures to live up to a number of kritics. you may notice i used capitalization, sentence structure, even grammar – a radical, perhaps more than you or i, ivory-tower activist might point out that i am subscribing to, and perhaps ‘reinforcing’ (again that funny word) oppressive paradigms of conformity-of-thought. white privilege, patriarchy, materialism – you or i could forge an intellectual path to any of them in the failures/omissions/active-modes-of-communicating that exist in my above article – and most kritiques have generalized ‘hooks’ that we could pick up – landmarks by which we could use to plow our path to tangential relevance. and as i mentioned, they are fun and enlightening to think about in their proper contexts.

      of course, when misapplied (or perhaps i should be fair and abstain from such a values judgement and say ‘when applied in certain ways’) – these critiques (oops – ‘kritiques’) are infinitely regressive, particularly when those generalized ‘hooks’ are relied upon in garnishing leverage to kritique. you’re allusion to an implicit ‘de-emphasis’ of non-human agency in reference to an allusion to our responsibility to kids is particularly prone to infinite regression. by talking about and valuing natural systems – even by advocating to grant agency to non-humans – we’re not talking about race-relations, class inequities and other oppressions that exist — are we de-emphasizing them ? i.e. the zero-sum game upon which any argument regarding ‘de-emphasis’ relies doesn’t exist, and if it does – anyone who speaks up is oppressing an alternative value.

      i am not obliged to argue for or about the intrinsic value or agency of non-human wildlife or natural systems. my failure to ascribe to linguistic devices or allusions that are free of deep ecologists’, feminists’, marxists’ or others’ ‘hooks’ does not constitute an implicit ‘reinforcement’ of anthropocentric, patriarchic, capitalist or other assumptions or modes of oppression that are inherently destructive.

      i guess – ultimately, i’ve just concluded, for myself of course, that it’s important that such kritique exists – but i think it is likewise important that they are leveraged with purpose and selective application. there are plenty of prudent targets – i think this article, and the subject matter you describe, is not such. alluding to our common responsibility to act in such a way that leaves the world better for future generations is not an exclusive statement.

      • Such a lengthy and well-considered reply really exceeds what a tossed-out comment deserved. In fact, had there been a “delete” button on the comment form, it might have been struck as soon as it was published, because we agree that this was not the right place for the discussion nor was the “kritique” meant to undercut the merits of the analysis of the grazing fee. Alas.

  2. avatar CodyCoyote says:

    Howling Stetsons on the range…

  3. avatar Doryfun says:

    “The Obama Administration could not set the fee high enough to cover the true costs in treasure and in the loss of imperiled species, impaired water quality, destroyed soils and a multitude of other environmental values – all of which ought be our children’s entitlement.”

    The same could be said about the oil industry. A true cost would reflect extractive effects of natural capital, not just industrial capitalism.

    It is a painfully torturous path trying to improve on getting the right capitalism equation into place, one dollar more per AUM at a time.

  4. avatar Nancy says:

    Speaking of children & education, Google: grazing rate study dnrc 30 million acres public lands. The link is to long to paste here but its an interesting comparison between state lease and private land grazing.

    Anybody noticed the huge increase in live beef & lamb prices on the market lately?

    Glad their not part of my diet 🙂

  5. This is a long needed step in the right direction.
    With the increase in lamb meat prices, Obama should also end the subsidy payments to woolgrowers for lamb meat and wool.

  6. avatar Nancy says:

    Another interesting link Ken. (Had to cut & paste it in Google search) First link, a few paragraphs down in the meeting, some input from local ranchers disputing the increases.

    • avatar Ken Cole says:

      I recall reading the article about the meeting and seeing how much the ranchers complained about paying just 70% of the fair market price for grazing on state lands. I’m not sympathetic.

      • avatar Tom Page says:

        The market for grazing on state lands is difficult to assess because many of these lands are contained within BLM allotments. The state has limited options for leasing in those situations. Certainly, when you look at the recent oil/gas leases in western ID or commercial leases around Boise, the state has actively pursued leases that raise more revenue than grazing.

        So to say that ranchers pay 70% of market isn’t entirely accurate – the market is what ranchers are willing to pay, not some arbitrary number, and to compare it to private land available for grazing isn’t always a valid comparison.

        We barely break even on our state leases in Idaho, for example, although we have to pay a surcharge since we don’t own the cows that use it.

  7. avatar CodyCoyote says:

    Can someone tell us how much weight a 3-7 month old calf and its mother Hereford gains from eating mountain grass from June 1 till September 30 , roughly ? All the allotments in my area are for 120 days of graze over the summer months. The owner would pay a whopping $ 5.40 for the grazing fee, but I’m guessing ( and it’s just that ) his heifer and her calf put on 150-250 lbs. Or expressed in carcass weight dollars at the sale ring, that would be $ 150-250.00 worth of saleable beef meat and fat added from public graze costing 2- 3 percent as much. The rancher gets somewhere between a 20:1 to a 33: 1 return on his grazing fee , before “expenses” .

    And the rancher’s complaint would be…..?

    • avatar Elk275 says:

      It depends, depends and depends. What breed of cows, quality of grass, availability of water and distance a cow/calf have to travel to water. Typically the cows and calves are turned out on the range June 15 and taken off by October 15. The calf will have been born in February and the cow will be bred in May or June. The cow will gain nothing due to a new pregancy and milk production. The calf should weight 150 pounds plus on June 15 and could weight 600 pounds on October 15.

      There are many variables and every cattleman has a different way of running his operation. It depends on many variables.

      • avatar Nancy says:

        Yep it does Elk. Here’s a variable, another way of looking at the profit margin:

        A ranch near me dumps probably 500 cows ( 1,000 head, throwing the calves in ) at $1.34 per pair on public lands, each summer. (Don’t know how bulls are factored in but probably 15-20 of them in addition)

        So roughly $600 a month? $2,700 for a summer’s worth of grazing.

        In the meantime, while the cows are off grazing “elsewhere” the pastures grow, are mowed and round baled.
        A modest estimate of my neighbor’s harvest in roundbales? 300-400 bales. Average cost of a roundbale $60-$80 per bale.

        Middle of the road $70 or so per bale, times app. 350 bales = around a $24 grand savings (since he doesn’t have to buy hay for the winter) by taking advantage of cheap public land grazing rates.

        AND winters of late have been very mild (well, except for last winter) so lots of roundbales taking up space come spring.

        Surplus gets sold off (another tidy $$ sum) to areas harder hit or ranchers not fortunate enough to have summer grazing allotments (I seem to recall most public land grazing allotments are like gold and held by a very small percentage of large, passed down from generation to generation, ranches)

        Seems like a win-win situation here 🙂

      • avatar CodyCoyote says:

        I realized my numbers were low. What you say , Elk , makes the point even more salient. The rancher sees 450 pounds/ $ 350 worth of meat put on his calf in four months , for a wholesale cost of $ 5.40 including Mom , who adds a few hundred pounds of her own. So the combined ratio is more like 100: 1 or 125:1 of dollars paid to US Treasury vs. dollars netted by rancher at sale ring. Before expenses.

        My dad was a car dealer for about 25 years. He sold a lot of Jeep pickups to area ranchers ( remember the Jeep Gladiator ? a rock solid strong 4WD truck ). Back then in the 60’s, a rancher only needed to get a fair price for 5-6 of his yearlings to buy that Jeep Gladiator for cash. The trade -in wasn’t worth driving to town…too beat up. Today , it sounds like a rancher has to get a good market price for maybe 40 calves to buy that Dodge Ram.

        Grazing fees really don’t pencil out well for the taxpayer, but are a heckuva deal for the grazer.

        • avatar Tom Page says:

          Grazing fees are hugely subsidized, no doubt. But your calculations aren’t counting in the cost of allotment transport, range riding (the big one), and other random factors (losses being probably the biggest). I’m no expert on economics, but I’d much prefer to eat healthy food (free range, grass-finished cows killed and butchered in a local slaughterhouse) from nearby wild landscapes (such as our place and associated allotments) rather than Gen-mod veggies, foreign or feedlot meat, or fruit flown in from South America. So the grazing subsidy counts for something in that department too.

          • avatar CodyCoyote says:

            Tom- why should US taxpayers accept below cost grazing fees to use the public’s resources ? It sounds like you expect the (extremely ) below cost fees to offset the trucking, range riding, fencing etc. costs incurred. What’s wrong with break even no-net-gain/loss or as close as we can reckon that , since each allotment is unique even when compared to its adjacent allotment.

            Here near Cody Wyoming there are not truckinbg costs…herds are trailed up the mountain for the summer, and back down again in the fall. Those same herds are not range driven by herders very much at all…too many operators throw their cows on the mountain , check ’em a couple times over the summer, gather in the f all and drive ’em down to winter pasture. Then they have the gall to expect us to pay for every cow that didn’t make it ,saying those darn wolves and grizzlies ate ’em. In fact, in Wyoming if they can show it was in fact a wolf that killed a cow, the rancher gets paid in full for SEVEN cows. The most work to be done is apparently the paperwork for the compensation claim. Wow. In all of Wyoming last year there were only 36 confirmed losses of cattle due to wolves.

            Here’s a suggestion. in my Wyoming, the county assessor uses a 4-year moving average base for assessing property for taxes. The value derived is done by comparing each piece of property to the properties around it, taking into account the prices of recent sales to come up with a current appraisal.

            Why shouldn’t grazing allotments be rated according to their productivity compared to other allotments ? Good grass and easy water in the National Forest might be feed for $ 12.00 / AUM , but the salt scrub and scarce water of BLM sheep graze might only be worth $ 3.00 . The notion that every grazing allotment is worth the same ridiculously low $ 1.35 AUM really doesn’t make any sense.

            I’m sorry that 45,000 cattle died in Wyoming last year due to All Causes..disease, birthing, predators, accidents, bad weather. But 1.7 million cattle survived. Losses are a cost of doing business. Factor it into the yield. Putting livestock on public range should be no guarantee of compensation nor abatement of any implied or actual risk. if those darn cows are so valuable, they need to be tended to 24/7/120 while on public graze. Where I live, they are not.

          • avatar Tom Page says:

            CodyC –

            I don’t “expect” the below cost fees to offset those expenses – merely pointing out that public land grazing allotments are not a simple equation where you dump cows outside your fence and then pick them up later in the year. I don’t “expect” the public to pick up any costs for losses, either. That is indeed the cost of doing business. My point is that you made a very straight connection between putting cows on the allotment and counting profits at the end, and that’s not the case.

            I’d personally love to see grazing allotments rated according to productivity. I’d also like to see much more flexibility in managing/selling allotment privileges. It would make for a better system all the way around.

          • avatar Ken Cole says:

            Grazing allotments are rated for productivity when the permitted number of AUMs is determined. I would argue that those allotments, where you might conclude one AUM is not as productive as another AUM and results in the user just breaking even, may not be suitable for grazing.

            The BLM and USFS rarely, if ever, include all of the pertinent parameters for determining whether an allotment is suitable for grazing or not. They usually just figure out how much forage might be available on any given allotment based on historic use and leave it at that. They rarely investigate the impacts to other values in their suitability analysis and bend to the will of the rancher who wants to extract forage from a landscape.

          • avatar Tom Page says:

            Ken –

            The key phrase being “when the permitted number of AUMs is determined.” I can assure you that out of our seven allotments, there is a wide range of productivity, and it doesn’t necessarily match what the permit says. However, under the current system, I’m pretty much stuck with what the permit says, year after year, until the renewal. This problem is made more difficult by the existing monitoring system – for example, the BLM doesn’t specifically monitor sage grouse use on our allotments, they monitor things such as stubble height or bank shearing, or whatever. So there’s no clear connection between our grazing practices and what’s happening to sage grouse. This is why I think it’s hugely important to get more flexibility in management and monitoring. There also needs to be a greater ability to transfer or retire those allotments that are difficult and/or expensive to manage for livestock, or may have greater value as roadless range or an ATV park, or whatever provides greater public benefit.

            Right now, for a number of reasons (including lawsuits), the BLM is very reluctant to try anything out of the ordinary, but I’m hopeful that we all will break out of the lawsuit quagmire and get a better, more flexible system eventually.

  8. avatar Nancy says:

    “I’m no expert on economics, but I’d much prefer to eat healthy food (free range, grass-finished cows killed and butchered in a local slaughterhouse) from nearby wild landscapes (such as our place and associated allotments) rather than Gen-mod veggies, foreign or feedlot meat, or fruit flown in from South America”

    Thats the problem Tom. There are few “local” slaughterhouses and prices are high if you can find one offering local beef. Most young cattle are raised here and shipped to the midwest feedlots where they are fattened up, on who knows what (in addition to steroids & antibotics because of the conditions they spend their last few months in)

    Go into local supermarkets or restaurants and their beef is from the midwest.

    Part of the debate is, how much land it takes (subsidized public lands) to raise beef in the arid west compared to beef raised elsewhere in the country. And at what expense to wildlife and their habitat?

    • avatar Tom Page says:

      The lack of local slaughterhouses is not a result of public lands grazing. High Country News did an excellent article on the concentration of power in the meatpacking industry a couple years ago.

      As for the drugs/corn that goes into animals – again that’s not a result of public lands grazing. We don’t do it with the cows that live on our place, and I don’t eat it, but I can’t tell someone else what to do or what to buy.

      As far as the debate on land required to raise beef/lamb in the west…that I think is the difficult question…particularly the amount of energy (fuel & electricity) it takes to manage a large operation. I’m not certain that we’ll be able to ever reduce our energy use to a long-term sustainable level. Not that we’re not going to try, however.

      Personally, I don’t believe our operation is detrimental to wildlife, and I’m going to be optimistic and say that the changes we’re implementing will be (and already are) beneficial to wildlife and habitat. But it really comes down to the operator. If the operator doesn’t care about wildlife, or is so cash-starved that his/her decisions are based solely on economics, then the resource will degrade.

      In twenty years of doing conservation work, the absolute best habitat & wildlife conditions I’ve seen in the west are on well-managed private lands (cattle, sheep or bison ranches) EVERY time.

  9. avatar Salle says:

    It seems to me that the rate increase is hardly enough to cover the costs of the administrative change… especially since these folks are making their living (or part of it) on the public dole when using public lands for their livestock.

    If yer yard ain’t big enough for all yer dawgs, then you probably don’t need to have all those dawgs, or maybe you shud buy yersef a bigger yard.

  10. As Tom Page tells us, public lands grazing has many costs associated with it that those who graze private lands do not have to pay. We all could list a large number of these, especially including that they are multiple use lands, meaning that non-grazing uses like off road vehicles, oil and gas development, and federal regulations have to be tolerated. The public lands are often rougher terrain, less fertile, and prone to more more severe weather.

    I think that these conflicts with grazing could used to support a small, or maybe even a moderate reduction of the grazing fee from what it would be on a nice, fenced area of pasture. Some say the grazing fee on such a private pasture would be $15 to $25 per AUM. It could be argued that maybe the fee should only $10 or so on public lands. However, in our imperfect real world the fee is only $1.35 per AUM on public lands.

    I would think that with such an enormous subsidy federal lands grazers would not dare to complain about the losses they sustain from predators or from poison plants. Of course they do complain and some very loudly.

    • avatar Salle says:

      …loudly, often and much of the time have the ears of politicos who find the argument works into their own self-serving rhetoric.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      I should add that I would eat beef grown on grass. I would not and do not eat beef from the store where it comes from cattle which at the minimum, are “finished” with corn and or other feed before slaughter.*
      – – – –
      *Actually, I don’t eat any beef except that a close relative grows when I visit. I do eat organic yogurt and non-GMO cheese.

    • avatar Tom Page says:

      Ralph –

      The private land users do “pay” those costs…but you don’t have to pay to use the land since you already own it. I wasn’t really thinking in terms of the things you listed…I was thinking about actual out-of-pocket operational expenses.

  11. One of the big problems with public lands grazing, other than the subsidized price,is the cheating that goes on by the loudest complainers. The BLM and USFS are short handed and the permitees are often on a “Honor” system when it comes to counting the number of animals released each summer onto a grazing allotment.
    In 1970 when I was evaluating and locating Bighorn Sheep transplant sites for the IDFG, the local Mormon bishop was caught turning out two times (multiple Use as practiced by the livestock industry) the number of cows he had a USFS permit for on the upper Pahsimeroi in Idaho. I had an appointment with the ranger, but he was out trying figure out what to do about the trespass situation.(He was a fellow Mormon from the same ward as the Bishop.) The USFS secretary was a non-mormon and delighted in telling me about the situation.
    I don’t know how it was resolved, but it was obvious from the over-grazed condition of his allotment, that the rancher(Bishop) had been cheating for years without being caught.
    It is easy for a permitee to bring extra loads of livestock when the rangers are off duty and I think many of them do it.
    If it were possible to do a count from the air in the middle of the grazing season this summer, far more animals grazing on our public lands would be found than there are permits for.

    • avatar Salle says:

      Maybe there should be a public campaign to insist that instead of using ultralights to kill wildlife, they be used in surveying the public lands’ permitted allotments this year. Sure would be a better use of taxpayer funds and accomplish the much neglected task of enforcement.

    • avatar Ken Cole says:

      When you look at the actual use reports that the permittees are required to submit (many of them don’t always report) you will see that many ranchers don’t graze the permitted number. This happens all over the west and when reductions to grazing are made to a permit those reductions rarely, if ever, are below the actual use reported. The common name for those cows that are never grazed is “paper cows”.

      Of course there are many who may game the system and graze more than the permitted number or just not report their full actual use. It’s virtually impossible to figure out what is really happening on the landscape and the agencies have no clue either. It’s a mess.

  12. avatar Alan Gregory says:

    Great. This means a dollar less in pocket money for beer at the quick mart. Hah.

  13. avatar Alan Gregory says:

    Andy Kerr, who has written extensively over the years about the travesty of below-cost livestock grazing on public lands, can be read about this at
    Also remember what John Muir wrote about it: As sheep advance, flowers, vegetation, grass, soil, plenty, and poetry vanish.

  14. avatar mikarooni says:

    I ranch public lands. It’s not my “real” job; I do it on a scale much too small to make a living from it; in fact, I lose money doing it. I do it because I ended up, back in the days when land was an investment, with a variety of ranch lands that came with leases/allotments and were horribly trashed out, by overgrazing, dotted with derelict camp sites, complete with broken glass shining in the sun, rutted and torn up by ORV damage, and even used as flat out garbage dumps. Repairing damage and restoring these places has become my second job. If I didn’t hold these lands, they would go back into the lease/permit pool and end up the way they were when I got them; but, regardless of what the regulations and the bureaucrats on the scene might say, a rested allotment truly is a contested allotment; the grass and the hunting tags just get too good and too attractive for the locals to resist. So, the only way that I can hold these lands is to maintain a minimal level of grazing and thus have a rationale for holding them and controlling the boundaries.

    With that said, feeding and working the cattle and selling what I produce has taught me some things, albeit not exactly the lessons that the ranching right-wing would claim. The lesson relative to this discussion is to never underestimate either the level of self-delusion in the ranching community or the intensity of brainwashing to which these clowns are subjected by the manipulators that actually control the meat industry and their big ranch minions who have the bigger operations and can produce on a scale that enables then to get the sweetheart contracts.

    To be specific, you could either cut grazing fees by a factor of four or raise them by the same factor and the economic plight of the small time ranchers wouldn’t be significantly impacted one way or the other. The screaming might shift to a different topic in the former case or intensify in the latter; but, the overall picture wouldn’t change, because grazing fees really aren’t the problem for “family” ranches. Similarly, you could either completely do away with the ESA and shoot every wolf and every single other predator in North America or reintroduce saber-toothed tigers in every county and the small time ranchers would still be up the creek about the same distance, because “environmentalism” really isn’t their problem.

    The real problem is that, no matter how great of a grassfed, range-raised, predator-friendly product a small time rancher produces, it can’t compete with the mountains of mass-produced tissue culture meat coming out of the chemical plants that call themselves feedlots. The feedlots are, by and large, monopolistic operations that are fed by the subsidized monopolies that produce mountains of modern syntho-grain and in turn feed the meatpacking monopolies. The only thing this incestuous system needs from a rancher is calves, not beef, just calves and, contrary to their delusions, the western ranchers do not raise cattle, nor do they raise beef. They raise calves as feedstock for the big agro-business monopolies further east.

    So, why are mall time ranchers always whining about fees and environmentalists and regulations and taxes? Because the big agro-business monopolies are making money the way things are now and sure don’t want ranchers whining about the them. So, the big agro-business monopolies spend some expense money buying politicians and cattlegrowers’ associations and propaganda to focus the ranchers on what the big agro-business monopolies want them focused on …guns, religion, the tea party, wolves, city people, grazing fees, anything but the monopolistic corruption of the meat industry.

    • avatar Rancher Bob says:

      I do agree that ranchers of the west produce calves and public lands grazing fees won’t effect our bottom line because we already pay more money for better lands.
      I am big enough to get those sweetheart contracts and deal with several feed lots and all have been family owned. The monopoly empire starts after that with some feed lots and almost all slaughter plants.
      Most rancher of my generation understands that we just supply a input for those monopolies but that is what happens when big government regulates the small guy’s out of business. Sure there are some economies of scale for the big guys but mostly it was regulations trying to protect the consumer.
      One question I ask who was trashing those public lands you first talked about? I’ll have to read it later as it’s time to check calves.

      • avatar JB says:

        “…that is what happens when big government regulates the small guy’s out of business.”

        I found that to be an interesting–and very ideological–statement. In my experience the “free market” is what puts people out of business. “Too big to fail” came about because of a failure to regulate, not the other way around. Companies that are too big to fail are monopolies, even if they have other competitors, and so can demand special treatment. In fact, I would argue that capitalism creates one big game of Monopoly, and we all know how that game ends.

        • avatar Salle says:

          Indeed, JB!

        • avatar Rancher Bob says:

          Very true in some cases but in the food industry the need for federal inspectors and the like became to much for the little guy. One needed to increase product volume to pay for the increased cost. Everyone has been whining about how much local raised and butchered beef is that’s economy of scale, cost more to do things one product at a time. Food is cheaper because of those monopolies in most cases. “Free market” doesn’t put people out of business supply and demand does.
          How does special treatment and regulation differ?

          • avatar Salle says:

            Cheapnes begets cheapness. That’s why most of the foods you see on the shelves at your locally placed corporate food outlet is crap, nutrient deficient, high in synthetic chemical content that is not likely to bring the same results in sustained health as real food that was produced with quality rather than quantity in mind.

            And I have to ask, Rancher Bob, who pays for these food safety/health inspectors?

          • avatar Salle says:

            “…but in the food industry the need for federal inspectors and the like became to much for the little guy. One needed to increase product volume to pay for the increased cost.”

            It is my understanding that these federal inspectors are federal employees so they are supplied by the taxpayers in order to supposedly secure food safety from those who produce their food since they don’t have that option in most cases. So how is it that the expense for such a service is a financial burden on livestock producers when we all pay for them? Or is it just a case of you not liking that the gov’t is doing this for our safety from food born pathogens? We taxpayers pay for that so what’s your beef, again?

            You know, most of the protectionist policies in this country are there because abuses were rampant and uncontrolled. If it weren’t for the greedy and deranged, we probably wouldn’t need these laws.

          • avatar Rancher Bob says:

            In the business that butchers my beef the business pays the state, the state pays and trains the inspector. They charge me more I have to charge more. I raise calves for the industry and I sell as many grass fattened, hormone and drug free, no animal by-product butchered calves as I can. My calves pasture non-federal lands along side every predator and other animal that lives in Montana. We use a range rider for summer pastures we have a carcass pick-up and compost program so no bone yard. Show me demand for that product and I’ll fill that demand.
            My question for you Salle, your summer job is looking for wild flowers and you blog all winter who pays your wages? Are you a trust fund baby or work for a taxpayer agency, draw unemployment how is it you buy your food? Just really curious how your world works.

          • avatar JB says:

            Bob, not everyone is whining about local foods. Some of us are happy to pay more at our local farmers’ market. 🙂

            P.S. Special treatment = unequal costs and benefits; regulation = everyone treated the same way.

      • avatar mikarooni says:

        Okay, Rancher Bob… Big government regulations running the little guy out of business? You’re demonstrating exactly the kind of delusions and clinging to the brainwashing that you’ve been exposed to that I’m talking about. Wake up and get a clue.

        • avatar Rancher Bob says:

          Read slowly, the beef industry has three basic layers with some over laps for some operations.
          First layer feeder calf suppliers mostly family operations over half small numbers of cattle. Very few regulations so to speak. We produce inputs for feed lots.
          Second layer feeders again mostly family owned. More regulations. So far no monopolies.
          Third layer your slaughter plants the start of your evil monopolies, monopolies because the little slaughter plants were regulated out of business. The reason your food has the quality it does. Yes it was done for your safety do you feel safer or do you receive a better product. In the past if you ran a small slaughter operation and you had health problems the market put you out of business. The reason we have the beef supply we do now is because of regulations.
          As for delusions, between the two of us your the one who raises long horns, your the one who does it for a loss. Your the one thinks he’s the only one who cares about the land.
          The problem is we supply all the grass fattened range raised predator friendly beef the market wants. I can point you to dozens operation in any state already doing just that. Problem is demand and regulations you buy it and the family ranch will produce all that’s demanded.

    • avatar Salle says:


      First, I would like to extend my personal thanks to you for “holding” those allotments in manner that you do.

      “Because the big agro-business monopolies are making money the way things are now and sure don’t want ranchers whining about the them. So, the big agro-business monopolies spend some expense money buying politicians and cattlegrowers’ associations and propaganda to focus the ranchers on what the big agro-business monopolies want them focused on …guns, religion, the tea party, wolves, city people, grazing fees, anything but the monopolistic corruption of the meat industry.”

      Like a matastisizing cancer, corporatocracy’s tentacle have penetrated and permeated everything that has to do with anything from the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat…etc.

  15. avatar CodyCoyote says:

    How many American cattle ever set foot on public lands at some point in their life ?

    I’ve heard it is maybe 6 percent, but could be as low as 3 percent. Does anyone have a good source for that range of numbers…cattle raised overall vs. cattle grazed on public range at some point ?

    • avatar SAP says:

      From 2007 on this blog:

      “Some 3-4 million head of beef cattle in the Westwide states, or about 40 percent of beef cattle inventories (about 8 percent nationally) may spend some time grazing public lands.”

      Evidently, the 40 percent there refers to just the western states (CA-OR-WA-ID-NV-AZ-NM-UT-CO-WY-MT); they are saying that 8 percent of the nation’s beef cattle inventory (at least in 2002) spent SOME time on public lands.

      How that translates into pounds of beef purchased by consumers is unclear.

    • avatar Salle says:

      And I wonder how much is exported rather than sold for consumption in the US. Just curious.

  16. avatar Mark Bailey says:

    How are we going to make it legal to buy out a grazing permit and retire it? Collectively ranchers are against it according to their Cattlemen s Associations. Way of life and all that. Individually, however, many are ready to make a deal and do something more productive with their time and money than ravage the land. A buyout would take a lot of stress off the arid Western landscape in a hurry.

  17. avatar Maggie Frazier says:

    Yes, this is a good thing! But sure would be great if the cattlemen who take advantae of this program actually did pay their “fair share”.
    Just take a look at what this public land grazing is doing – with the help of the BLM – to the wild horses.
    The cattle lobby, along with the oil & gas lobbys, are responsible for the big push with the roundups.
    Maybe to many people, this isnt an important subject – but when we talk about preserving the land for our children, the animals that live on this land are a big part of it. The predator animals that used to live out there have been pretty much killed off. Now man, in his infinite wisdom, is responsible for “managing” the wild animals. Not doing such a hot job of it most of the time.

    • avatar WM says:

      ++ Just take a look at what this public land grazing is doing – with the help of the BLM – to the wild horses.++

      Along with the cattle/sheep grazing, I have never thought wild horses particularly had an entitlement to public land. They are not native, apparently nobody owns them, they reproduce quickly, they displace an equivalent number of wild animals that graze and they destroy the landscape if there are too many. It costs taxpayer money to remove and get rid of them (auction/slaughter). Happens in a fair number of places in the West.

      • avatar Nancy says:

        “They are not native, apparently nobody owns them, they reproduce quickly, they displace an equivalent number of wild animals that graze and they destroy the landscape if there are too many”

        Oh WM. Had to chuckle when I read that response. Kind of sounds like our own species, don’t ya think? 🙂


February 2012
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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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