The taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for grazing either.

Let’s talk a bit about the public lands grazing fee that Cliven Bundy refused to pay.

The Forest Service (FS) has been charging fees to graze private livestock on federal lands since 1906 and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been charging fees since 1936. In 1978, Congress established a fee formula in the Public Rangelands Improvement Act (PRIA), and the grazing fee has been set according to this formula ever since.

The problem is, however, the formula is flawed. PRIA requires the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to see a fee annually that is the estimated economic value of grazing to the livestock owner. The formula uses a base of $1.23 per AUM, established from the fair market value of grazing lands in 1966, and adjusts it annually according to 1) the charge for leasing private grazing lands, 2) the sales price of beef cattle, and 3) the cost of livestock production, including such factors as the cost of gasoline. Sadly, though PRIA only intended for a trial run using this formula, the formula was extended indefinitely by an Executive Order in 1986 under President Reagan. Efforts to revise the fee formula have been rejected.

The formula is flawed first because it uses $1.23 as the base rate, the base rate of private lands grazing in 1966. In real dollars, adjusting for inflation, this ­would be $8.97 today. Private lands lease from a low of $9 per AUM in Arizona to $33.50 per AUM in Nebraska. Under any measure, the base rate undervalues the public lands, but the problems with the formula are compounded by its double-counting of ability-to-pay factors. The result is that the fee has been exceedingly low year after year, and hasn’t risen above the minimum fee of $1.35 per AUM since 2007. The year that Bundy stopped paying his grazing fee is was just $1.86 per AUM, and it’s never gone above $2.31.

Just imagine getting a whole month’s worth of cow food for that amount of money. Now you know why the ranchers are so attached to the screaming deal they are getting with their public lands permits. The lower the bottom line, the higher the profits.

Problem is, the costs to taxpayers of just having the land managers administer the program have continued to rise and the grazing fees don’t even begin to cover it. According to the Government Accountability Office in 2005, the grazing fee isn’t nearly sufficient to cover the costs of managing public lands grazing, and American taxpayers subsidize the program with at least $1.23 billion every decade, not counting the additional costs of species recovery, range infrastructure, soil loss, weed infestations, increasing wildfires, and bacterial contamination of water supplies.

In Mr. Bundy’s case, the costs are much higher. When Bundy stopped paying grazing fees in 1993, he would have owed less than $3500.00 each year for his herd of 150 mama cows year round. He refused to pay because he wanted to run more cows than the BLM would permit, and he has since racked up a debt of nearly a million dollars in fees, fines, and penalties. That doesn’t count the legal expenses incurred by BLM to get the courts to order Bundy off, nor does it include the costs of last week’s failed roundup. The Bunkerville conflict has cost taxpayers untold millions for the sole benefit of one rancher who refuses to budge.

Make no mistake: Bundy isn’t the only rancher ripping off the American public. Every public lands livestock permittee is banking on federally-funded range infrastructure like solar wells and fences and benefitting from federally-funded wildlife killing that targets native predators like wolves and coyotes for the sake of livestock safety. Many permittees benefit from drought payments and disaster payments, seek handouts for “restoration projects” that are really just reseeding the forage species their cows stripped in the first place. And most livestock operations occur at the peril of endangered species, whether it’s the Mojave desert tortoise being nutritionally starved or Greater sage-grouse eggs being broken by clumsy hooves. What is the cost of extinction? The American public is woefully uninformed about the entrenchment, expense, and ecological harm of this land use.

Let’s have that conversation instead. It isn’t about one rancher and his debt to BLM; it’s about all 22,000 public lands permittees and their debt to all of us. 




  1. Salle Avatar

    Thanks for all this reference material, Greta. This is a lot of info that should be in a stand alone piece and not buried in a pile of comments. Good work!

  2. Yvette Avatar

    Great article. This needs to be shared widely. I’m learning a little about the the history and laws of public grazing in the West. I didn’t know much, but sadly, I knew more than many people.

  3. Letty Avatar

    Thank you for sharing the details of how our property is leased!

  4. Deb Avatar

    I have several friends who are suggesting we all contact BLM and ask where we can get free grazing land. If the ranchers weren’t such a cohesive group, the ones that have paid their fees would be up in arms about Bundy not paying. But they stick together like glue. What I find interesting is how the right is supporting the welfare ranchers interests. They don’t know what they don’t know, and won’t be learning anytime soon. Maybe if the BLM had been doing their job originally this Bundy issue would not be news. They spend their money and time collecting mustangs from our public lands, but couldn’t take care of one welfare rancher.

  5. BobMc Avatar

    Thank you for the concise summary. Some readers may be unaware that only a minority of ranchers in western states are given this competitive advantage over fellow ranchers. The ‘lease’ upon ‘expiration’ is not put up for grabs, but remains with the rancher, and is even used as collateral for bank loans, that is how sure the current holder is to be the future holder. If a leaseholder sells the ranch, in most circumstances the lease goes to the new ranch owner. If the lease price is set by law, then BLM and USFS should have bidding based on leasehold improvements proposed by the bidder, paid by the successful bidder, and required by the agency to keep the lease. Better yet, as suggested, let’s get all livestock off public lands, and let’s let the former public lands leaseholders learn a new way of life that has that most American of components: competition.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      Yes indeed. I am amazed that those who have private pasture only do not complain about the low public land grazing fees.

    2. Clutch Avatar


      When Bundy’s lease “expired” it was put up for grabs and quickly purchased. The permit was purchased by Clark County for $375,000.

  6. Clutch Avatar

    Some might find it interesting that the public has taken issue with this “Cowboy Socialism” and been making recommendations to BLM since the early 1990’s. Here is a study and recommendation completed shortly after Bundy “fired” the BLM.

  7. Clutch Avatar

    Grazing Fees: Overview & Issues

    Perhaps the reason “Ranchers stick together like glue” is that they don’t want to bring attention to this lucrative practice.

    I would bet that many ranchers are quite “un”-happy with Cliven Bundy at this moment since his headline grabbing behavior has just resulted in a nationwide interest in the BLM/USFS public lands grazing program. Its going to now cost Ranchers quite a lot more to buy their State Lawmakers’ influence in keeping this legislation alive. 😉

    1. Mark L Avatar
      Mark L

      Yes, I was thinking along those lines as far as the other ranchers not liking the headline grabbing by Bundy. Now there’s more coverage by the national media, there’s more questions about why this situation was allowed to fester, and why the ‘kneejerk’ reaction by his armed buddies (and the capitulation of BLM)? May have been better to just let this one go in the long run, but it’s too late now. As has been said before “you brought that shit on yourself” YBTSOY!

      It’s no where close to over.

      1. Clutch Avatar


        I agree that its nowhere close to over, but there are some strong lobby interests for farmer & rancher subsidy programs as was just made clear by the recent expansion for federally-funded crop insurance.

        A bit off-topic but there is something else nowhere close to over and that is the resentment of the militia mindset. Particularly if the statements mande by Harry Reid are foreboding that all those armed supporters of Bundy are going to be charged as “Domestic Terrorism” under the US Patriot Act which allows for the suspension of Americans’ Constitutional Rights.

        Harry Reid making a public display of his personal animosity towards small ranchers like Bundy makes me wonder if he hasn’t used his political clout to strongarm some of those 57 fellow ranchers out of business. Just as he has often been accused?

        1. Ida Lupines Avatar
          Ida Lupines

          I think there’s enough smoke swirling around Harry Reid now that there is probably something there.

          If we get rid of all the cattle and ranchers, what will replace it? Wildlife refuges? Will the ‘mitigation habitat’ be apples to apples, or apples to oranges or (sour) grapes? We seem to be turning our wildlife refuges into hunting habitat to make them profitable. What will be next: an REI catalog with “Grey Wolf”, “Grizzly Bear”, “Canada Lynx” complete with an item number and a price next to it? And of course all applicable taxes.

        2. Nancy Avatar

          “A bit off-topic but there is something else nowhere close to over and that is the resentment of the militia mindset”

          Not off topic at all Clutch. This is what comes to mind (and scares me) when I think of the mentality of Bundy and his followers:

          1. Immer Treue Avatar
            Immer Treue

            Plus, is there not something on the books about crossing state lines, armed, to conduct mayhem?

        3. Yvette Avatar

          I am starting to tire of the label ‘terrorist’, because it is now used against nearly everyone that someone in the LE, state government, or federal government disagrees with. It’s as if, “if you don’t like a certain group of people then simply label them a terrorist and use the corporate media to convince the public they are terrorists.”

          Most often it is used to label unarmed protesters like the Occupy Movement kids, and conservation and animal rights protesters.

          Back when the Patriot Act was enacted I thought it would lead to nothing good, and would usurp our rights. What I remember is a lot of Americans cheering Bush and Cheney on when it was enacted, but that is a moment when I would have been more inclined to take on the ‘militia mindset’.

          Maybe something good will evolve from this mess in Nevada. Hopefully, 1) more mainstream Americans will learn about the history and operations of public land grazing; (I’ve learned a lot and now have a cache of links to study) and 2) take a bigger interest in our public lands and realize we need to protect what little we have left.

          I would like to see people stop labeling everyone we disagree with a ‘terrorist’. That has gotten tired and old, but it goes both ways. For example, a few months ago in Oklahoma City, two protesters hung a banner that was covered in glitter in the main entrance at the Devon Towers Energy Building in downtown OKC. Some glitter fell off the banner. Those two young adults have been charged with ‘bio-terrorism hoax’. Not kidding.

          1. Ida Lupines Avatar
            Ida Lupines

            Thank you, Yvette. I don’t advocate violence, and on the anarchy scale, ten being the highest, I’m about a .5.

            The Democrats are afraid of losing power – that’s why they’re trying to ruin Chris Christie, they fear him. Not to say I would vote Republican, but I have had it with the lot of them. They all behave alike.

  8. Clutch Avatar

    I apologize for stirring the pot but I just can’t resist this one.

    A name of a local rancher friend & supporter of Cliven Bundy is Cliff Gardner (Ruby Valley, Elko Co). I think this is the same Cliff Gardner listed as receiving USDA Subsidies totalling $184,724 between 1995-2012. Its no where near as much fepree money as some ranchers in the county but it is interesting that these same rancher/farmers that do not recognize the US Government nor consider it necessary to follow the Federal Laws have no issue with puting their hand out for subsidies 😉

    And remember the USDA is just one source available to these free-spirited, independent, self-reliant ranchers.

    And he also shares Bund’s belief that the Public Land is his own property:

    Since, 1996, Gardner said he had no choice but to run the cattle on land that was once his, but taken away by a Forestry Service mandate.

    The statements made by his wife and him do offer insight into the persecution they feel was building so its a worthwhile “read” if you have some time.

    1. alf Avatar

      Clutch said (18 April @ 8:02AM) : “…it is interesting that these same rancher/farmers that do not recognize the US Government nor consider it necessary to follow the Federal Laws have no issue with puting their hand out for subsidies.”

      I’ve heard it said that when a rancher dies, they bury him shallow so he can keep his hand out.

      1. Ida Lupines Avatar
        Ida Lupines

        I don’t think it’s strictly ranchers – it’s human nature. Everybody has their hand out for government freebies and subsidies – around here, not sure if it’s still true, it used to be that the government paid insurance for living on waterfront property, even if people can afford it! People who live in flood zones, fire zones, earthquake zones, tornado alley, etc. should pay for it themselves.

        1. Ida Lupines Avatar
          Ida Lupines

          Here’s what we have to contend with, rather similar, I think – drill, baby, drill might have been the original reason, but now we can add wind and solar too:

        2. Jay Avatar

          Uh, everybody? That’s a bit of a broad-sweeping brush you’re painting with there.

  9. Deb Avatar

    What a great idea to make our public lands wildlife refuges, with no hunting…not gonna happen, but I think I read somewhere that only 2-3% of the cattle in the country are raised out west, so they wouldn’t be sorely missed me thinks. Cattle are at all time high price wise right now, so welfare ranching on public lands needs to be exterminated. The Taylor grazing act is antiquated but ranchers hold onto it tightly.

    1. MAD Avatar

      Well, if we look at this map put out by the USDA. we’d see that MT, ID, WY, UT, and NV account for less than 8% of the total cattle production of the U.S.

      Now consider that MT has 3%, and Idaho 2%, that leaves the other 3 with 1% or less. Now factor in those ranchers who graze on private land, because we always hear that not all ranchers are sucking on the govt teat, and we have a fraction of the cattle production going on in states that are the least suited for it, with arid or semi-arid climate.

      It just shows you how powerful these few cattle producers really are, and how ingrained into the western psyche is this fictitious, romantic western lifestyle. Actually, it’s kind of depressing when you think about it.

      1. Lola Avatar

        You have a point but what about….. the cattle in those states that do produce most of the beef are corporate owned not the independent rancher who is actually a small business in comparison to those. Those ranchers have been earning a living by that way of life long before most of us were born…..just like the family owned farms that are disappearing because of corporate farms.

        1. Ida Lupine Avatar
          Ida Lupine

          This is my concern as well.

          1. MAD Avatar

            and you’re point is……what? That because the small, family-owned ranch MAY have been around for a long time, that the public should give them a pass on employing environmentally-sound and proper, ethical business practices? I’m sorry, gone are the days where folks can do whatever they want to the environment, especially public-owned lands, wreak havoc, and then turn around and say, “hey, I didn’t realize it was bad.” 50 years ago it was common practice to just dump toxic waste and sludge in rivers, the oceans, or just bury it a few feet underground. Lo and behold, it turns out there are nasty consequences for stupid actions like that.

            Personally, I don’t care if the cattle are run by conglomerates or small, private ranches. I’d prefer it was a small family-owned operation but I live in the real world and know that ain’t the case mist of the time. As long as it’s done properly and lawfully, then I will respect their business.

            So, using you’re logic, Cliven Bundy and his band of fools are to be given deference because they’re family has been ranching for decades; regardless of the law violations, unsound husbandry practices and disregard for property they don’t own, but rather held in trust by the Feds for ALL Americans, not just one family?

            1. Ida Lupine Avatar
              Ida Lupine

              This is a special case, in my opinion. I want to wait until all the facts come in about title to the land before I make a judgment. There’s a reason that the BLM hasn’t acted until now. Yes, I believe he does deserve some special consideration because he has been ranching for decades.

              I don’t support violence, but it wasn’t the militias who came armed, killing livestock, and creating ‘free speech’ zones. I’m appalled.

              There are major, major problems with what companies are doing to the environment (BP, anyone?). BP is still dumping toxic waste into Lake Michigan. How do they get away with it? They make Mr. Bundy look like small potatoes.

              Conglomerates are not acting lawfully and properly; this is why they are trying to institute ag-gag laws. Their ‘husbandry’ practices (if you can call them that) are monstrous. This shouldn’t be the accepted as being the real world, and it doesn’t have to be.

              Don’t look now, but ‘green’ energy is the latest to be abusing the environment, complete with the ‘we didn’t know’ it is bad for birds, bats, and butterflies. “Those days” are not gone but are still with us. I’d take a small percentage of cattle ranching that only uses the land for part of the year, than 24/7/365 damage that comes with development.

              It’s an ideological argument and nothing more. I’m appalled that the Federal gov’t has control of so much land in the West, we don’t have that where I’m from. It isn’t our land, they can and will do with it what they will – such as increased drilling and fracking.

              I support this man much more than Peter Pan provocateurs trashing it for 30 days!

              1. Jay Avatar

                If you’re pro-Bundy, then you are anti-wildlife.

  10. Jerry Black Avatar
  11. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    If you’re pro-Bundy, then you are anti-wildlife.

    There’s a very large middle ground between the two extremes. I am as for wildlife as you can get, I assure you. But I am anti-hypocrisy and I am not a follower. One could easily say that ‘if you are pro large-scale green energy development, you are anti-wildlife’.

    It would seem that if both sides were to give a little ground, then maybe some wouldn’t take out their frustration with ‘bunny-huggers’ on wildlife?

    1. Jay Avatar

      “I’m appalled that the Federal gov’t has control of so much land in the West, we don’t have that where I’m from.”

      You clearly have no idea of what you’re talking about when it comes to the west. If it weren’t for all that public ground, there wouldn’t be any wildlife left out here. Yes, the fed. agencies aren’t perfect (overgrazing being but one example), but wildlife survives in spite of that. If you think having all that public ground in private hands would be better for wildlife, you’re delusional.

      1. Ida Lupines Avatar
        Ida Lupines

        Obviously, you are unable to see things except in extremes, with no happy medium. I find that when people attack others for their views such as you do, they are either threatened by them or have no valid arguments in response, or live in a brain-washed liberal dream world. (Not that I do not share some liberal views, but I’m not a bobble-head agreeing to all of them because of party loyalty.) Have a nice day!

        1. Jay Avatar

          No Ida, you’re not a bobblehead, you just have no idea what you’re talking about with respect to western land issues. Do you have any clue as to how many streams no longer have water in them to water fields for hay for cattle, or how many coyotes and wolves get killed on public land to protect private cattle, or how elk are not tolerated for coming down to eat on private land because of forage getting consumed by cattle on public land?

          “I find that when people attack others for their views such as you do, they are either threatened by them or have no valid arguments in response, or live in a brain-washed liberal dream world.”

          First off, I did not attack you–I said you are ignorant of the issues, which you clearly are. I find the second part of that statement almost comical, as it’s you that has no valid arguments. You don’t know anything about the west, but that doesn’t seem to stop you from espousing your opinions. I bet if I said that Nantucket Sound is a perfect place for a wind farm, you’d find me completely off base, wouldn’t you? See the analogy?

          1. Ida Lupines Avatar
            Ida Lupines

            If it weren’t for all that public ground, there wouldn’t be any wildlife left out here.

            I might have agreed with this statement at one time, but today I see a disturbing trend of our public lands being sold out to big business, and for politics. The EPA refuses to take action in certain areas, and the President is painfully obvious in his delaying of a decision on the Keystone Pipeline for political reasons. It has not gone unnoticed.

            I know more than you think; for an outsider, and probably much more than your average US citizen who doesn’t live in the West, I would bet. And in areas where I may or may not, I’m not afraid to admit it and to learn.

            If you thought Nantucket Sound is a perfect place for a wind farm, that’s your opinion to which you are entitled. Many do think so. It’s the perfect analogy because the location was taken by the Federal government and the wind farm is being forced on us, at public taxpayer expense. To say nothing of the exorbitant rates if and when it does go through!

            1. Jay Avatar

              I don’t know anything about Nantucket sound and don’t have an opinion on that, I was using that to illustrate a point.

              “I know more than you think…” I respectfully say your comments regarding western land issues contradicts this statement. Have you ever even been out on public lands in the west?

              1. Ida Lupines Avatar
                Ida Lupines

                Yes, I have. I love them.

              2. Jay Avatar

                “Yes, I have. I love them.”

                And yet you think all that public land should be in private hands, where you no longer will be able to visit them without risk of trespassing. Baffled again.

              3. Ida Lupines Avatar
                Ida Lupines

                Where did I say that I wanted the land privatized?

        2. Jay Avatar

          One last thing–if you don’t like having your opinions challenged, then what are you doing expressing them on an internet blog? Seems you only want that blind-loyalty agreement that you criticize in your comment.

          1. Ida Lupines Avatar
            Ida Lupines

            I don’t mind having my opinions challenged, but we’ve all been asked to keep it civil and not have it degrade into name-calling.

    2. bird dog Avatar
      bird dog

      A little research will show you that Cliven Bundy has made all the claims — it is not federal land, BLM has no authority, ad naseum.

      He lost all of his court cases making these silly claims.

      Yes, it is a mystery that BLM did little other than litigate for 20 years and it came to such a dramatic head. If you have witnessed how timid BLM is when dealing with trespass, it would not be a surprise. They are scared shitless of appearing to be “heavy-handed.”

      I applaud BLM for backing down — it would have been a sad day and a blood-bath had it not. However, I hope the Justice Department will take this issue seriously, and through some folks in the slammer for obstruction of justice, threatening a law enforcement officer, and other serious federal crimes.

      The contract to round up the cattle was equivalent to about $1000 per cow. Personally, I think they should have just shot all of them, since they were bound for slaughter houses anyway. It would have been safer and not provided a focal point for an armed standoff.

      The difference between the wall street protests and the Bundy affair is peaceful demonstrations versus heavily armed resistance. To compare the two is ridiculous.

  12. […] The taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for grazing either. […]


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