Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson offers amendmen to hike grazing fees UPDATED

Senator Ben Nelson is retiring from the US Senate at the end of his term and he is trying to help former Senator Bob Kerrey take his place after he leaves by pointing out the hypocrisy of Kerrey’s opponent Tea Party/Republican Deb Fischer.  Fischer is a public lands rancher who only pays a pittance to graze public lands, $1.35 per month to graze a calf/cow pair. Not only does she graze her livestock on public lands for cheap, she gets other subsidies. Sunnyslope Ranch, of which she is a part owner according to the Environmental Working Group’s Farm Subsidy Database, received $156,385 in corn and livestock subsidies.
USDA subsidy information for Deb Fischer
Sunny Slope Ranch received payments totaling $34,309 from 1995 through 2010
Sunny Slope Ranch Inc received payments totaling $122,076 from 1995 through 2010
This is a common theme in the West, where our local politicians rage over government spending yet grab up as many subsidies as they can while cutting programs to help those who are less fortunate or politically connected.  Apparently things aren’t much different in Nebraska.

Senator Nelson isn’t just pointing out this hypocrisy, he has proposed two amendments to the upcoming Farm Bill to increase the public lands grazing fee so that it matches the amount paid for the same unit of grazing, called an Animal Unit Month (AUM), on private lands. The two amendments are similar except one applies to BLM and USFS lands while the other only applies to USFS lands.  The amendments, SA 2347 and SA 2348, would direct the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to base grazing fees on “a rate at a level that is comparable to the current private grazing land lease rate in the area or region, as determined by the applicable Secretary.”

This would go a long way towards reducing the deficit created by the administration of grazing on public lands which runs at $121 million per year according to a 2005 General Accounting Office Report and would save the American taxpayer at least $1.21 billion over the next ten years and maybe much more because the environmental costs of public lands welfare ranching are much higher.

To argue that these low grazing fees aren’t a subsidy, as Fischer and other have done, is absurd.  The rate of $1.35 per AUM hardly pays for the costs of administering the permits and only 2% of privileged livestock producers actually benefit from public lands grazing.

As readers of The Wildlife News already know, Western Watersheds Project and other groups filed a petition to the Departments of Agriculture and Interior to raise the grazing fee on public lands.

The Omaha World Herald writes about the issue but they miss something that Fischer may not be aware of.  If Fischer wins, she can’t be a welfare rancher anymore.

As noted in the BLM’s grazing regulations:

Title 18 U.S.C. 431 through 433 (1970) generally prohibits a Member of or Delegate to Congress from entering into any contract or agreement with the United States. Title 41 U.S.C. 22 (1970) generally provides that in every contract or agreement to be made or entered into, or accepted by or on behalf of the United States, there shall be inserted an express condition that no Member of or Delegate to Congress shall be admitted to any share or part of such contract or agreement, or to any benefit to arise thereupon. The provisions of these laws are incorporated herein by reference and apply to all permits, leases, and agreements issued under these regulations.

– – – – –

Added on June 21. By Ralph Maughan

Unfortunately this amendment to raise the grazing fees on public lands was not added to the Farm Bill which passed the U.S. Senate today, June 21.


  1. Larry Keeney Avatar
    Larry Keeney

    Excellent article. However, should the awful happen and Fischer is elected look for a rider on a future bill to change 18 U.S.C. 431 through 433 accordingly, or most probable the grazing contract will be transferred to a member of the family. No worry Fischer will not go without the ranching subsidy. After all Fischer has either earned it, it’s good for America and will produce jobs, or it’s their right under the constitution. Just ask any public lands allotment contract user.

  2. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Idaho Senator James Risch claims to be a rancher. Does he hold grazing leases on U.S. public lands? It seems that he used his political clout in Idaho to get some state grazing leases.


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.

We do not accept unsolicited “guest” authors or advertising.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ken Cole