Federal Government Releases Public-Lands Grazing Fee For 2008 is Lower Than Ever, Despite Rising Costs To Taxpayers

New on Feb. 8.  Rocky Barker. Low federal grazing fees lie at heart of calls for reform. Idaho Statesman.

Feb. 6. This news release came from the Arizona Office of the Western Watersheds Project. The subsidy to cattle and sheep growers on our public lands just keeps getting worse. $1.35 an AUM is the lowest the law will permit, but with inflation, in real dollars it keeps getting lower and lower. Now it is only about 40% of the minimum permitted when PIRA was passed back in 1978.

Contact: Greta Anderson, WWP Arizona Director 520-623-1878

February 6, 2008– Today, the federal government announced the public lands grazing fee for 2008: a mere $1.35 per cow, per month to graze on our National Forests and BLM lands on 235 million acres in the West.

A report by the Government Accountability Office in 2005 showed that BLM and Forest Service grazing receipts fell far short of their expenditures on grazing by almost $115 million. The fee decreased from $2.36 per AUM (animal unit month) in 1980 to the current

rate of $1.35, or over 40% while grazing fees charged by private ranchers increased by 78 percent for the same period. To recover costs of administering the federal grazing program, BLM and the Forest Service would have had to charge $7.64 and $12.26 per AUM[1] .

The fee is set by a formula established by the Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978, and calculates the fee based on the amount of forage required to sustain one AUM (a cow and her calf) for one month. This new fee is as low as the government formula allows it to go despite increasing costs to administer the grazing program. The new fee and formula do not account for inflation or the increasing size of those “animal units.”

“Adjusted for inflation since 1980, the new cost to graze a cow and her calf is worth about $0.54 in constant 1980 dollars” said Jon Marvel, executive director of WWP. “It costs more than that to feed a hamster, and it’s not fouling streams, ruining wildlife habitat, or accelerating erosion as livestock do. This is a huge hand out to public land ranchers. If the fee had been adjusted for inflation, today’s rate would be $5.94 per AUM.”

In addition, based on figures from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the average weight of cows increased from 1050 pounds in 1984 to 1242 pounds in 2004, or an increase of 23%, while the forage consumption of their calves is not counted. If the current weight and forage consumption of cows and their calves were counted, the actual forage consumed is over 40% greater than the agencies charge for, further devaluing the fee recovered. These “super-sized” cows are eating more forage than their smaller predecessors, raising the profits for the livestock industry and reducing the amount of vegetation available for wildlife.

“No one is surprised that a government program runs at a deficit,” said Greta Anderson, WWP’s Arizona Director. “What people may be surprised to know is that this de facto subsidy only benefits a very small percentage of ranchers who have public lands permits. So why should we subsidize this marginal industry? What is the benefit to the broader America public to be giving away the bounty and biological integrity of our public lands while degrading our watersheds, water supplies and wildlife habitat? ”

“Western Watersheds Project would like the land management agencies to revisit the grazing fee formula and adjust the base rate to reflect inflation, the increased weights of livestock, and the ecological costs of maintaining the program.” Greta Anderson said, “Given the massive budgetary shortfalls in the agencies and the scaling back of staff and services that is occurring, recovering a fair fee on our public grazing lands is a perfectly reasonable goal.”

Graphs Added – Brian Ertz

[1] http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05869.pdf



  1. Tai Avatar

    I sure wish gas, coffee and health insurance cost the same today as in 1978. What a sweet deal for ranchers opposed to welfare for them thar non-white city folks.

  2. Jon Way Avatar

    I don’t get the republican mandate. No taxes on anything. It defies common-sense. Where will we pay for programs – oh yeah, we will get rid of them all (domestically) and then run at a huge national deficit during a 7 year war. If there is anytime to increase taxes and things like Grazing Fees it would be during Bush’s war. Not that I like paying taxes but it is just amazing that someone can think they can have unlimited spending on a credit card and never pay into it. Am I the only one that believes this?

  3. Monte Avatar

    Higher taxes aren’t the answer, eliminating welfare is, and this includes these silly grazing fees. For those of you not familiar with private grazing fees, in my area in Montana it is in the neighborhood of $15.00 an AUM for heifers and anywhere from $17.00 to $25.00 an AUM for pairs. This is welfare, plain and simple, and it is wrong no matter your color. The forceful redistribution of wealth is always wrong.

  4. Catbestland Avatar

    Here are the fees for recreational use of Colorado’s public lands. Granted, some recreational use of public land can be destructive, but none as much as public lands grazing. This is taken from the Colorado BLM website.

    10. What is the range of fees charged under the BLM Recreation Fee Demonstration Program?
    Fees ranges from $5 to $15 a day for camping on the public lands, and $3 to $6 for other recreational uses. Group rates range from $20 to $75 in picnic areas. Several projects provide annual passes and volunteer passes.

    The monies from these fees is supposed to go to maintain these public lands. Doesn’t that mean that WE are footing the bill for feeding THEIR cattle??? In addition WE (along with our wildlife) suffer the damage to OUR public lands and water sources. Isn’t this some form of servitude to the Bovine Powers that be in the west???. At the very least this policy represents disicrimination against the public’s use of the land for recreational purposes. Isn’t this an actionable offense???

  5. Chuck Avatar

    It seems to me that ranchers are not happy unless they are complaining about something, am sure some will say this is still too high. Its time for them to just buck up and deal with it. Lets see, other complaints, elk are grazing in our pastures and eating all the food for our livestock, wolves are killing all our livestock, cougars & bears are killing all our livestock, the harsh winters/summers are killing all our livestock. I think should go buy them some cheese to go with all their wine. Seriously its getting old, if they can’t make it on their own with out all these government handouts then its time for them to find another job.

  6. Mike Post Avatar
    Mike Post

    California private fees are similar or even a bit higher than Montana. The crazy thing is that with no relationship between costs and revenues from the leases, there is no direct incentive to keep adminstrative costs comensurate with the fees. A fully loaded cost recovery based price per AUM would result in the ranchers staying on top of USFS and BLM to cut costs and be efficient and leave the tax payers out of the equation.

  7. Brian Ertz Avatar

    the other thing mentioned is the AUM… the amount of forage constituting an AUM is supposed to sustain a cow and her calf for a month ~ but over the years livestock has been bred to be significantly larger — WWP estimates > 40% more forage is consumed.

    that’s more “feed” for less dime ~ it also skews the utilization rates negatively affecting watersheds up and down — less wildlife forage/habitat, more soil erosion etc…

    no wonder there are so many public lands that are over-grazed, it’s not necessarily 40% more livestock, it’s that the livestock there are eating 40% more “forage” …

    if this marginal industry were treated like any other business in the “free market” — it would have been put down long ago …

  8. Catbestland Avatar

    So cows get to stay on public land and crap in our water sources for $1.35 per month and we have to pay as much as $15 per day just to camp at least 200 ft from any water source.

  9. dbaileyhill Avatar

    The “mom and pop” main street businesses in small towns, might have been able to stay open with the amount of cash wasted in the livestock market. To say the least a much better investment. Maybe even created a few jobs in small town America, and encouraged young adults to come back after going to college. I am dream’in again.

    Or encouraged sustainable practices in being good stewards of the environment after the “fuel crisis” years ago instead of promoting waste and unlimited consumption, which has lead to this monumental mess we are in now.

  10. Salle Avatar

    “You may be an American, however, contrary to popular marketing strategies, you cannot have it all”

    My favorite quote. Made it up myself.

  11. Salle Avatar

    Another thought, if your yard isn’t big enough for all your animals, you shouldn’t have them. In other words, if you don’t have enough land of your own to graze yer cows, you should only have enough for the property you have on the deed you bought. Period.

    If you don’t have a yard, you probably don’t need a dog….

  12. SmokyMtMan Avatar

    A question for you: if grazing cattle on public lands stopped tomorrow, what would it do to the price of beef?

    An argument says cattle grazing subsidies help reduce the market price of a high quality meat. This makes it more affordable to the poor. So, it is in the interest of the government to assist in keeping beef prices lower for those families that struggle financially to purchase meats.

    I wish I knew what percentage of our nation’s beef is produced from the grazing of our public lands. I would guess it is quite low, at 5-15% or something.

    But I have no idea? Any info? Guesses?

  13. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    The effect of subsidies is generally to lower the price of that which is subsidized. However, if only a small portion of the product is produced with subsidies, the price reduction will be small.

    As you guessed, public land grazing is just a small portion of the beef supply, although is it relatively more important in cow/calf operations.

    Subsidies distort the marketplace, although this might be a good thing because the mariketplace is far from being the classic free market.

    The economic justification of subsidies is that what is subsidized is otherwise produced in an amount less than the public requires due to defects in the actual marketplace.

    Is this true with beef?

    If it is true, you still have to factor in the negative externalities of the grazing on water, land, and wildlife.

    There are those who say that eating beef in other than small quantities is not a healthy food, especially due to the way it is finished by use of the feeding mixes based on corn and grain before slaughter. They add a lot of fat.

    As for myself, I quit eating beef about 5 years ago and replaced it with chicken. I’m not in the poverty level, but, nevertheless, chicken seems to cost less than beef.

    In sum, I think ending public lands grazing would only raise the price of beef a small amount. Due to negative externalities of public lands beef production, to me the tradeoff in terms of slightly higher beef prices is more than acceptable.

  14. Monte Avatar

    As usual, you guys are making this way too complicated. It is simply wrong to charge far less than market value to ranchers. It forces taxpayers to foot the bill for the livestock grazers’ gain, thus it is welfare, the forced redistribution of wealth. This is wrong, always will be, no matter who the recipient is. Simple.

  15. Pronghorn Avatar

    “So cows get to stay on public land and crap in our water sources for $1.35 per month and we have to pay as much as $15 per day just to camp at least 200 ft from any water source.” HA! That says it all!

    “…if grazing cattle on public lands stopped tomorrow, what would it do to the price of beef?” Who needs beef? Or ANY meat, for that matter? The poor, the rich, the livestock, the predators, the Yellowstone area bison, the planet–we’d ALL be better served if the livestock industry underwent a drastic overhaul.

    Economic Facts of Public Lands Grazing
    Public lands grazers are a minority of livestock producers in the West and throughout the country…1

    Number of livestock producers with federal grazing permits: 27,000. 2
    Percentage of livestock producers with federal grazing permits in the United States: 3%. 3
    Percentage of livestock producers with federal grazing permits in eleven Western states: 22%. 4
    Number of livestock producers without federal grazing permits: 880,000. 5

    Numbered footnotes and more info can be accessed at http://www.publiclandsranching.org/
    Their info must be slightly outdated, though, because they list a higher AUM.

  16. JB Avatar

    Monte says: “… the forced redistribution of wealth. This is wrong, always will be, no matter who the recipient is. Simple.”

    Whether it is wrong or right, I would argue that the forced redistribution of wealth is inevitable whenever you have huge disparities between the haves and have-nots and the have-nots begin to lose their ability to meet their basic needs.

    Moreover, I think your statement is a bit over the top. Is it “right” for a few super-rich to own vast tracks of land and resources while masses live in squalor (look around in many third world countries). What about the “forced” redistribution of wealth that was illegally obtained (e.g. drug dealers)–is that ALWAYS wrong?

    I don’t think things are as simple as your statement implies.

  17. Monte Avatar

    Ahhh, the haves and have nots, the basis of class envy and socialism, and the ruin of liberty.

  18. JB Avatar

    Hollow arguments Monte. Liberty has many definitions:

    1.freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control.
    2.freedom from external or foreign rule; independence.
    3.freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.
    4. freedom from captivity, confinement, or physical restraint

    Which liberty is it that you’re so upset about losing? Your “right” to carry an assault rifle to the supermarket?

    You’ve heard of the golden rule–the people with the gold make the rules? And so they do. And they set up systems of government that favor…you guessed it…themselves; systems of government that keep the have-nots in their place, and ensure the haves will continue to prosper (and so Mr. Bush gives tax breaks to the oil companies, while the rest of us take it in the ass).

    We have welfare states because some people think liberty is about more than the freedom to do whatever the hell you want whenever the hell you want to–everyone else be damned. We have welfare states because some people think the freedoms we all enjoy don’t mean much without a safe place to sleep and a bit of food–things which the richest country in the world ought to be able to provide.

  19. Brian Ertz Avatar

    positive liberty

  20. jimbob Avatar

    This is another reason why anybody who calls themself a conservative should rise up against the Republican party and the “Bushies” (which will soon be the “McCainies”). You can’t rail against big government and taxes, yet support minor impact programs which require taxes and more bureacracy! It is absolute idiocy and there are so many examples of this that it points to how corrupt these people are that are using our political system for their own financial gain, regardless of how it affects the country!

  21. Dave Demyan Avatar
    Dave Demyan

    First I agree that public lands grazing managment is broken.
    However, private land development regulations is also broken. Twenty acre subdivisions throughout the west also have major detrimental impacts on hydrologic function, native plant communities and wildlife. Open space is important. Should private landowners bear the brunt of the burden for the public benefits that large blocks of undeveloped land provide? There are ranchers who are good stewards of the lands that they use. Granted they are few and far between. Is it possible to provide incentives for good stewardship? I don’t know. So far there are perverse incentives to abuse natural resource lands in the pursuit of short term commodity utilization. It would be nice if our legislators were more interested in long term public benefits that are derived from sustainable land management. Instead they are influenced by lobbyists who represent interest groups that provide biased information.
    There are ways to manage public lands that permit commodity usage while maintaining wildlife and recreation values. It is too bad that decisions are based on black and white perspectives, when it is a technicolor world with lots of possible solutions that could be found if those with opposing viewpoints would just quit battling.


Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan