Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Nebraska called “welfare rancher” by Democratic Opponent

Democrat Bob Kerrey uses increasingly popular term to attack rancher/politician who utilizes low federal grazing fees-

Republican Deb Fischer, like others who graze cattle or sheep on federal public lands, pays almost nothing in return to the U.S. treasury. Politics has held down the fee paid to graze public lands so that now the fee is less than grazing fees to use state lands in every state and 10 to 20 times less than renting private land. A rancher who holds a federal grazing lease pays just $1.35 to run a cow or a cow and calf for a month. Five sheep cost the same.

For the first time this enormous subsidy has become an issue in a major election campaign, in part because the Republican nominee is close to the tea party and wants all “welfare” cut to the bone, except hers and others so lucky to hold a federal grazing lease, according to the Kerrey Campaign. Recently retiring Nebraska senator Ben Nelson tried to add an amendment to the Farm Bill that would raise the grazing fee. It didn’t get far with public land ranchers like Democrat Max Baucus being a major players on the bill.

So confident of their power to extract this subsidy, public lands ranchers and their friends are trying to lengthen the term for these non-competitive and nearly free leases from 10 years to 20 years (see The Grazing Improvement Act). After 20 years the lease would be renewed with no auction and almost no environmental review.

Because of this subsidy and other tax payer funded benefits, about 30 years ago grazing activists began to call this class of rancher “welfare ranchers.” This appellation was aided by their belief that the same ranchers were often ferocious critics of the unemployed, poor, and uninsured sick. This label has been slowly growing in frequency of use as the actions of these ranchers, who are also often politicians, has become more apparent.

It will be interesting to see if this label sticks and boosts the Kerrey campaign against their opponent who embodies these traits.

See: Kerrey slams Fischer over grazing fee ‘welfare’.


  1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I came over the hill from Council, Idaho to Donnelly, Idaho yesterday evening and ran into a herd of domestic sheep bedded right along West Mountain Road. (I assume they were Soulin sheep on their way to graze on public lands above McCall.)
    Ralph, you say in the article that they can graze 5 sheep for $1.35/month. That actually means 5 ewes and their lambs. If each ewe has 2 lambs, then a total of 15 sheep can be grazed for $1.35/month. The lambs I saw yesterday were almost half the size of a ewe and in a month will be eating just as much as their mothers. That comes to less than $.10/month per sheep.
    Soulins will get to graze their sheep for essentially nothing($.10/month/sheep), get a Government subsidy for their wool and lamb meat, and get subsidized government predator control by Wildlife Services furnished for free. If a wolf should kill one of these sheep, the state of Idaho will pay for the dead sheep. Valley County commissioners have set aside $3000 dollars to help pay for predator control and to reimburse ranchers for predator killed livestock. Some of my property tax goes for this insanity.
    The Peruvian herder I saw running down the road with his dog will get paid $750/month for working 24 hours a day, 30 days per month.(That is, if he completes his contract and doesn’t get deported for not liking the wages and working conditions.)
    In all likelyhood, wolves will be killed when this herd of sheep is parked right in the middle of a wolf rendezvous site and the wolves come over to eat a lamb. If a Bighorn sheep should show up near the domestic flock, IDFG will come and shoot it.
    If the USFS irritates the Soulins, Idaho Senators and Representives will be all over the offending USFS employee.
    This is Welfare ranching with a capital WWWWW.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Larry Thorngren,

      Under Idaho’s feudal system, it is good indeed to be a baron or earl!

    2. Salle Avatar

      Yes, welfare ranching with the oligarchic touch… That’s Idaho for ya. The place where the landed gentry have it all and everyone else is a serf.

  2. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    That is interesting to hear a politician say something like that. Maybe it will draw more attention to the issue of welfare ranchers even if this one doesn’t win.

  3. Richard G. Avatar
    Richard G.

    The common person is being attacked on all fronts.This stinks, in plain english, every issue is a one sided affair.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan