Obama Administration Refuses to Reform Public-lands Grazing Fee

Fee is only $1.35 to graze a calf cow pair for a month.

Obama Administration Refuses to Reform Public-lands Grazing Fee
For immediate release – January 18, 2011

Contacts: Greta Anderson, Western Watersheds Project, 520.623.1878
Mark Salvo, WildEarth Guardians, 503.757.4221
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, 928.310.6713
Brent Fenty, Oregon Natural Desert Association, 541.330.2638
Ronni Egan, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, 970.385.9577

Tucson, Ariz. – After a lengthy delay, five conservation organizations finally received an answer today from the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture concerning the artificially low fee federal agencies charge for livestock grazing on public lands. Claiming higher priorities, both agencies declined to address the outdated grazing fee formula. The government’s response was prompted by a lawsuit filed by Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and Oregon Natural Desert Association.

Conservation organizations submitted a petition in 2005, asking the government to address the grazing fee formula and adjust the fee in order to cover the costs of the federal grazing program, which costs taxpayers at least $115 million dollars annually according to a Government Accountability Office report. Conservationists contend that Americans lose even more in compromised wildlife habitat, water quality, scenic views, and native vegetation.

“Today’s long-awaited answer was a huge disappointment,” said Greta Anderson, Arizona Director for Western Watersheds Project. “Year after year, we watch as the government gives a sweetheart deal to public lands ranchers at the expense of taxpayers and the environment. We had hoped the Obama Administration would have done better, but it’s business-as-usual for the western livestock industry.”

“Subsidizing the livestock industry at the cost of species, ecosystems, and taxpayers is plainly bad public land policy,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director with the Center for Biological Diversity, “Today’s choice to continue that policy is both a disappointment and a blight on the Obama administration’s environmental record.”“Given the massive budget shortfalls our country faces, we can no longer afford to subsidize a small group of ranchers to graze public lands at public expense,” said Mark Salvo, Director of the Sagebrush Sea Campaign for WildEarth Guardians and one of the primary authors of the petition. “As long as grazing is permitted on public lands, it’s only fair that public lands ranchers pay for the cost of their activity.”

Grazing fees have not kept pace with inflation or with comparable grazing leases on state and private land. The 2010 grazing fee was just $1.35 per cow per month, the fourth year in a row that the fee was set at its lowest legal limit. The 2011 fee will be announced at the end of January.

The groups will be exploring all options including litigation to address the agencies unfortunate decision today to take no action.

A copy of the 2005 fee petition can be found by clicking here.
A copy of the legal complaint against the government can be found here.
A copy of the Department of Agriculture’s response can be found here.
A copy of the Department of the Interior’s response can be found here.
A copy of the 2005 GAO report can be found by clicking here.
A report assessing the full costs of public-lands livestock grazing can be found here.

Stories in the news:
Obama Admin Denies Petition to Raise Grazing Fees on Public Lands
New York Times.

“Surprise”: Feds turn down enviros’ petition to raise grazing fees
Arizona Daily Star


  1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    When you’re out on the street, when your college tuition goes up again, when they cut social security benefits, when they raise retirement age, when your child’s school falls apart, it’s good to know they keep smiling — keep giving free grazing to the local landed gentry.

    1. STG Avatar

      Don’t support the destruction of public land in the West by eating beef! Switch to bison or eat other meat. Cattle are the non-native species, but bison are being treated as such.

  2. JB Avatar

    Public policies are only justifiable insomuch as they promote the general welfare of the citizenry. Agricultural subsidies for products like tobacco, sugarcane, and livestock grazing on arid, high-altitude public lands are perverse in this regard; that is, rather than promote the public good (as any policy should), they incentivize the production and consumption of products that are hurting the nation’s health, and environment.

    It absolutely floors me that people let these policies stand while raising their voices in protest against health care policies that will clearly benefit society as a whole.

    1. william huard Avatar
      william huard

      Well JB, with talented Politicians like Michelle Bachmann and Louie “My toupee with brains in it is on backorder” Gohmert, why not let these free market principles that relies on the vampires in the Insurance Industry to make decisions about people’s health care work? Hasn’t it worked well so far for millions of people with pre-existing conditions! I wonder if the Wildlife Services budget of what 7 or 8 milllion for lethal control will be considered in the budget cuts?

    2. Jon Way Avatar

      Well put JB: It absolutely floors me that people let these policies stand. Me 2.

  3. fenriswolfr Avatar

    I’m a bit confused about this. In a way, does grazing/agriculture/etc contribute to a public good? Or do we all raise our own animals in our backyards, grow gardens, hunt and fish? If they raise these prices, wouldn’t that mean people would have to pay more for protein at the grocery store?What if costs went up though, then people might see the cost of it and maybe take up raising their own animals, growing their own plants, and hunting and fishing. Maybe ranchers will sell out and we can have more subdivisions. I really don’t know.

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue

      Speaking of cost, what ever happened to wolf friendly beef? Was it an idea that never got off the ground, or did it run out of gas.

      Ralph, you bring up raising retirement age. It was only a few short years ago the rage was buy older employees out because they made too much money. The idea was to get younger lower paid employees or implement tiered wage systems. Is that something that worked too well?

    2. JB Avatar


      Certainly agriculture (i.e. food production) contributes to the public good! However, there is no question that certain foods are better for us and cost less (from an environmental standpoint) to produce than other foods. In the case of tobacco, I think most would agree that it is time for the subsidies to stop. Corn and sugarcane subsidies are also problematic because the refined products derived from these (i.e., sugar, corn syrup) have essentially no nutritional value and their consumption is hurting the health and well-being of our population. Beef isn’t bad for you in moderation, but cheap imported beef and local subsidies make it so cheap that Americans overconsume. Not subsidizing beef (and/or) putting a tariff on imported beef would make it more expensive and discourage overconsumption.

      I also agree that reducing/eliminating some agricultural subsidies would encourage people to grow their own food. That would actually be a huge win for the environment, as most people would not use chemicals to produce their own food and, of course, it would not need to be transported across the country to reach them.

      1. fenriswolfr Avatar

        Well I certainly wish I could over consume on grass fed beef. The only beef I can find here that is really affordable is either the ‘scrap cuts’ or from the asian markets (most certainly imported).

        People may be overconsuming on fast food (which is more like way too much corn), but probably not good quality grass fed beef.

      2. Bob Avatar

        what part of the world do you live? If you can’t find grass feed beef in your local paper from a local producer, let me know. Western Montana has many suppliers, with prices better than your store.

      3. JB Avatar

        I was at a conference this year where a livestock producer explained the “wolf problem” to me this way (and I am paraphrasing:

        Thirty years ago, when my father started this business, we sold beef for about $1.00 per lb; today, we get about $1.20. Meat products today are as cheap as they have ever been.

      4. Bob Avatar

        Then add to that the doubling in price of just about all inputs, fuel, equipment, fertilizer, and non-BLM grass. Wolves are just one more expense most of which is hard to measure. There is a new study coming out which I will forward, it shows some other facters not seen before like how dull wolf teeth cause damage.

      5. Jay Avatar

        Now their teeth aren’t sharp enough? Dang, they just can’t do anything right…

      6. Bob Avatar

        If you ever see a wolf kill up close most bites don’t fully penetrate the hide, so if the animal escapes after a bite or two the wound is enough to cause it to die of complications later. The wound shows no external sign, but the dead flesh inside is the problem. Powerful jaws and somewhat dull teeth.

      7. Jay Avatar

        And if their teeth were razor sharp, there would “studies” discussing their devastatingly surgical efficacy in killing–doesn’t matter what it is about them, they are going to be criticized for how they are. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…

      8. JB Avatar

        “Wolves are just one more expense…”

        His exact words. Look I’m not against livestock production, and I’m not against public land grazing–at least, not on principal. I am against providing government subsidies for a product that doesn’t contribute to the common good, especially when the production conflicts with wildlife.
        Predators are not breaking the backs of livestock producers–not even close–cheap imported beef is.

        – – – – –

        I’ll await the publication that shows the devastating impact of wolves dull teeth anxiously.

      9. JimT Avatar

        Dull Teeth…really? How can these…these….people…look themselves in the mirror and keep a straight face?

    3. Nancy Avatar

      Fenriswolfr – regarding your questions, a site worth wandering around in when you have the time. Is this guy just crazy or on to something?

      I cringe most days when I shop for food because I have no real idea where the food actually came from that I purchase (black pepper because of salmonella, was recalled for months in all sorts of by products, remember the egg recall? Check out the FDA Recall website)

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar


        You will be unhappy then to learn that the new House majority wants to eliminate funding for the new food safety bill — more damn government regulations!!

        Actually, government regulations like that give consumers good information about choices available and dangers to avoid as they purchase things strengthens the market system rather than weakens it.

        The trouble with too many in Congress, both parties, but more on the Republican side, is that they are corporatists, not friends of a well functioning free market.

      2. JimT Avatar

        All consumers are asking for is information about what is in their food, and where it comes from so they can make an informed choice about what to put in their bodies. Amazing to me how the power of the consumer continues to steadily go down despite all of these health crises Nancy mentions and more in recent history.

        When we eat meat of any kind, it is always local. No guarantee that one won’t get sick, but you sure minimize the chances if you know the farm, etc. Besides, recent nutritional data is showing more and more that a plant and fruit based diet is much more healthy…small amounts of meat as a compliment…

    4. Mal Adapted Avatar
      Mal Adapted

      Personally, I’d be willing to pay substantially more for beef if it meant an end to welfare ranching. In any case, my impression is that abolishing the federal grazing subsidy would have little effect on the price of beef, because only a small fraction of the beef consumed in the U.S. is grazed on federal land. I don’t have an actual figure, however. Does anyone here have one?

      1. JimT Avatar

        But you wouldn’t..that is the whole point. A loss of less than 3% of the total beef supply would barely nudge the prices, especially when one reads that bison prices are shooting through the roof due to unmet demands for the healthier red meat.

        Bottom line…there is no economic or ecological justification for continuing the welfare public ranching. It is, as others have written, a Sacred Cow issues, and you know how people can get real touchy about their religion…;*)

  4. Woody Avatar

    If there are 25,000 ranchers with grazing alotments in the West that comes to a subsidy of about $4,600 each. Not bad, and the wolves that bother them are killed for free by Wildlife Services.

  5. Tom Page Avatar
    Tom Page

    A couple thoughts:

    1) I’d bet that the BLM spends at least as much taxpayer money fighting procedural lawsuits as they do administering the grazing program, at least in the Challis Field Office…:)

    2) I think most ranchers are aware that these artificially-low fees are not going to last forever. There are two ways they can respond – either put your head in the ditch and hope the problem goes away, or get enough landowners together with enough allotments to create some political momentum and make incremental changes towards sustainability. These changes would ideally reduce permittees’ dependence on public grass to maintain their operation, and allow for flexible management schemes that would lessen environmental impacts.

    Although many on this blog will disagree (and I sometimes do myself) I think the cows vs condos argument has some merit when it comes to grazing subsidies, yet, as always, it depends on the private land management practices of the landowner holding the BLM/USFS permits.

    It’s interesting to see that other posters have mentioned fuel costs. For our operation, the biggest obstacle to conservation management is how to reduce the darn power bill every month.

    Quite frankly, the public land grazing subsidies help us get close enough to the break-even point that we can hold on to the property long enough to execute changes in flow management, private land upland habitat restoration, riparian habitat management, fencing, roads, and on and on. Fixing the problems created by 100 years of unregulated grazing on arid public land sagebrush steppe will take years of expensive and careful work. Raising fees to help push the ranchers out will provide minimal good at best, and the resulting degradation of private lands might even cancel out those marginal benefits.

    1. Elk275 Avatar

      Things to think about. Cows to small tract acreages is a greater threat than most realize.

    2. Ovis Avatar

      Tom Page,

      Your comment 1) was addressed today in the Challis Messenger newspaper. Dr. John Carter from Mendon, Utah wrote that in his opinion the Challis Office brought all the public requests for documents and so forth on themselves because of their failure to obey the law.

      Here’s the link. http://www.challismessenger.com/index.php?accnum=story-8-20110120

      1. Tom Page Avatar
        Tom Page

        Take a deep breath, relax, and notice that I put a little smiley face icon at the end of that comment…like this…:)

    3. mikarooni Avatar

      I’m a public lands rancher; I admit it; I’ve got lots of experience; and, in the interests of honesty, I’m afraid I have to say the “cows vs condos argument” is a bunch of, well, cow manure. Most base properties are miniscule in comparison to the size of the permits. Sure, some ranchers take good care of their allotments; but, in many, if not most, cases, that’s not what’s really happening. In a lot of cases, both the environment and even the local communities would actually be much better off with condos on the base properties and the public lands left to the wildlife when you figure in the removal of the forage, which is then not available for wildlife use; the sometimes severe damage to the plant communities themselves that can be caused by trampling or overgrazing that either damages the plants directly or keeps them from having a decent seed crop year after year; the predator control crap; the poaching (yes, many ranchers save their livestock for sale and feed themselves on the wildlife); the neo-Nazi politics; and the bad behavior of many of the spoiled ranching families (little Butch is often the local meth head). Again, I’m not saying that there aren’t good ranchers; but, let’s be honest and cut some of the self-serving spin.

      1. Tom Page Avatar
        Tom Page

        In some cases, I’d agree with you. Others, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t call it self-serving spin, in any event. What do I have to gain? Our project is not intended to make money as a cattle operation, we’re trying to do all the things I noted. If, when we’re done in 15-20 years, all the cows go away, I wouldn’t have strong feelings about it one way or the other.

        I’d agree that most allotments are beat-up. Most of the ones we have sure are, thanks to the people who had them before we took over. My point is that simply taking the cows off won’t fix the problems there, and losing the ranches with it may make the private lands worse. It’s too dry and devoid of bunchgrasses and forbs. I’ve visited multi-year upland exclosures with some really smart range scientists on our permits, and they don’t look much different than the grazed country.

        I think it’s fair to say that, in general, private lands have greater potential as wildlife habitat – the first Euro-settlers weren’t stupid. Most riparian ground is private, the water rights are controlled by private entities, and the soil is usually better on private. So, there’s proportionally much more lost (permanently) when things turn to asphalt, fences and knapweed. An abused ranch can be fixed.

        And finally, as I noted, sometimes I think the cows vs. condos argument is bs too – it all comes down to the landowner.

    4. mikarooni Avatar

      PS, I forgot to add that the damage is much worse if the “rancher” is a sheepherder pretending to be a rancher. You can’t even imagine the range damage I’ve seen from sheep. And, that’s not even mentioning the diseases that Old World sheep spread, regular wool-covered Typhoid Marys on the range. You could put condos and walmarts on half of every sheep allotment in the country and still come out ahead.

  6. Alan Gregory Avatar

    This is enough to get the book “Sacred Cows at the Public Trough” out again for yet another read.

  7. Cody Coyote Avatar
    Cody Coyote

    Retired Senator Alan Simpson of Cody WY , who co-chaired the national deficit reduction panel, has a pet saying: ” In Wyoming, we have a lot of sacred cows. Some of them are even cattle…”

    Simpson’s family owns a so-called cattle ranch 36 miles SW of Cody , called the Bobcat Ranch . It’s cow-calf operation is farmed out to the neighbors . It still recieves all the tax benefits of what passes for a ” working cattle ranch ” these days, including those $ 1.35 AUM grazing fees. The Bobcat abuts both National Forest and BLM land. Its cows are put on summer range along with the neighbors herds and sorted later.

    I mentioned to Al that one of the things his panel definitely needed to recommend was slowly raising grazing fees up to a more cost effective level , say in 6-8 years time. to all of $ 6-8.00 per AUM or whatever figure represents a break even point for public land managers when set against the cost of complementary private graze. After all, just allowing for inflation , the $ 1.35 AUM fee paid today which is the same $ 1.35 paid 40 years ago , should actually be around $ 12.00 AUM f adjusted. You think wolves howl ? —wait till you hear the ranchers howl when told they might actually pay what it really costs for that great mountain grass and clean water.

    Of course that pragmatic populist notion of raising AUM fees to a level approaching nondeficit spending went nowhere.

    It’s that Sacred Cow thing…

    1. Daniel Berg Avatar
      Daniel Berg

      If the grazing fees were raised to $12/AUM, what would be the effect on ranchers? How much of a make or break issue would it be?

      1. Brian Ertz Avatar

        depends on the rancher(s)

        .. in Nevada, it might mean that it is no longer economical for the Water Authority or a huge multinational gold mining corporation (Barrick Gold) to run livestock on public land for some ulterior/surrogate purpose..

        .. In Idaho, it might mean the suits on the top floor of Simplot Co. decide to pull out of the public land grazing business — or Mary Hewlett Jaffe (heir to the Hewlett Packard fortune) throws in the towel on her central Idaho holdings ..

        .. In Wyoming, it might mean Dean Singleton, the primary owner of one of the largest media empires in the United States, the Media News Group that owns the Denver Post and the San Jose Mercury News among many other holdings — decides to take welfare ranching off his portfolio …

        people tend to forget … public land ranching subsidies are for the most part CORPORATE welfare …

      2. JimT Avatar

        Most people simply don’t understand the facts of ranching in the West, Brian, the myth of the 1800s family ranch, bucolic scenes of cows on the landscape…

        Amazing to me that the Tea Party extremists with their blunt budget cutting axes out, aren’t focusing on the billions of dollars of agri-business subsidies as a way of reducing the deficit. Wait, those are usually Republican supporters, so I guess AG is off the table.

        The whole public welfare ranching thing makes me disgusted…Let them pay market price; let them be fully responsible for their cows and the damage they do, and the restoration of the ecosystems, just like private land ranchers are. You think they would change practices then?

  8. mikepost Avatar

    “Cows vs Condos” argument only applies to private lands. The worst abuses are on public allotments which will never be developed. All that is required is a market rate (same for public land as for private market) for public land leases and it will all take care of itself in the long run. All but the very most productive leases will go without bids and revert to wildland. Then all we have to do is figure out how to achieve some of the very necessary positive ecological benefits of well managed grazing that will now be lost. Classic example: vernal pools. No grazing, those complex ecosystems fade away. Overgrazing, nothing there to grow. It is not black and white….

    1. JB Avatar

      I agree that the effects of livestock are not necessarily “black and white”. However, I would also point out that one person’s perceived benefit, may be the next person’s perceived loss.

      I do NOT buy the argument that cattle provide any “ecological benefits” that are “necessary”, as your post states. If cows were a necessity, how did the poor ecosystems function before their introduction? 😉

      1. Save bears Avatar

        These have been wide ranging opinions that much of the desertification on the African continent was in part caused by the introduction of cattle…

      2. Elk275 Avatar

        Whether we like cows or not what are you going to do with checker boarded lands and BLM lands that are interspersed with private lands. Each state has different land ownership patterns.

        There are many places that I hunt where Foreset Service, BLM lands and private lands mix and there are no fences. Under state law if a landowner wants cattle off then the landowner has to fence his property and that would include the federal govenment. One of the biggest impediments to wildlife is fences. Then there are entire federal sections that have no public access and even the federal agencies can have difficulties accessing there property.

        On a side note: I purchased a Garmin 60 CSX and have all of the land ownership maps on the GPS and it is accurate to 3 meters. There are properties with both federal, state and private without fences. God help you, if one wanders into unmarked private property especially property that has been leased to an outfitter.

        I problem that I see on this forum is that those who do not live in the immediate area and are year around users of the lands do not understand the small situations. Instead they feel that all federal lands in the western USA are similar.

      3. JB Avatar


        One of the issues I have with people who DO live in the West is that the do not necessarily appreciate the subtleties of property law. A private property holder, despite what many westerners think, does not have the power to do what the wish with their land. A general principal of property law is that owners should “do no harm.” When the actions of landowners violate this principal, elected officials are justified in modifying law to prevent such action. Thus, the list of things I cannot do to/on my property is quite substantial (it includes raising livestock, and erecting structures on >50% of my lot, for example).

        The assumption that the loss of cattle necessarily means private property will be sub-divided for condos rests on shaky grounds, in my opinion.

  9. JimT Avatar

    Same old story as before. The power players haven’t changed in this fight, so why should we expect a change even if it makes economic sense, never mind the ecological benefits of making them pay full market value just like their private land compatriots. Salazar simply gave another present to his fellow ranchers. Merry Christmas a little late, public land welfare folks.

  10. JimT Avatar

    The development fear is just something the ranchers and outfitters haul out to scare folks away from changes that make full economic sense. They present it as this boogeyman that WiLL happen everywhere, so better not mess with their subsidy.

  11. Jay Avatar

    Forest (I mean Fire) Service campgrounds are running, what, $16 to set up your tent and sleep outdoors for one night? What a deal! That same $16 bucks would put almost 24 cows (12 cow/calf pairs) out on the land for an entire month. Us non-grazing types are getting the shaft. No doubt they charge us that amount to account for maintenance costs, so why not charge permittees to cover the costs the same as the rest of us?

    1. Salle Avatar

      There have been many times that I paid for campground fees to pitch a tent or whatever only to find that it was difficult to find a place to put a tent that wasn’t covered in cowshit or sheepshit AND all the biting insects they bring with them… Not to mention the eroded stream banks and lack of wildlife due to contamination by livestock presence.

      Wasn’t worth the fees, I wished at those times, that I had just gone to a motel for the night before I got out to the forest.

      Maybe there should be a movement of concerned citizens who glom a majority of campgrounds and refuse to pay more than the grazing fees… Lots of campgrounds everywhere all during the same time/day/week…?

      1. wolf moderate Avatar
        wolf moderate

        Great point Salle. I was up at Sagehen Reservoir near Cascade and there were cows everywhere. I mean everywhere in the campgrounds. I didn’t even want to swim due to the amount of cow chit all over. $16 a night to sleep with cows? One bumped my dang tent. I complained to the “camp host” and he said that the wranglers were supposed to keep them out of the campgrounds. Well, get off your dang azz and get these cowboys to control their cattle!

        Sorry for rant, I had forgotten about it until your post 🙂

    2. Doug Avatar

      Oh my, I had never thought of that. It is indeed getting pricey to camp, although I understand trail and camp maintenance have costs, campers and hikers are not usually exerting a heavy toll on the ecological health of the land like cattle. And recreational users are the main users of the land!


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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Ken Cole