Drought: Some Utah ranchers want elk dead for cows

Group asks increase in elk permits so public land cows can continue during drought-

Even though cattle graze for just $1.35 an animal unit month (an AUM) on Forest Service land, a group of central Utah livestock operators has asked the Utah Wildlife Board for an increase in elk permits because there isn’t enough forage to go round during the drought. The Salt Lake Tribune reports on the issue. As Western range suffers, should Utah cull wildlife?.

An AUM is defined as the amount eaten in a month by  “a mature (1,000-pound) cow or the equivalent, based on an average consumption rate of 26 pounds of forage dry matter per day.” That is about 800 pounds of dry forage for $1.35. Even though calves only get some of their nutrition from their mother, the price remains the same for a cow plus a calf per month ($1.35 in total) on the national forest.  Elk are judged to eat about 2/3 an AUM a month. So to keep 2 cows on the range 3 elk would have to be removed.  Currently on private pasture in Idaho and Utah, the fee to graze is from $20 to $40 dollars per AUM. Elk, of course pay no grazing fee, nor does the state of Utah, their owner.

A common justification for the low public grazing fee is that livestock operators have to put up with recreationists, predatory animals, and insecure forage. In the face of inadequate forage, such as during a drought, a grazing permit says the grazing pasture or perhaps the grazing allotment will be closed. This happens once the forage is down to a predetermined level (such as 2 inches). In some cases the cattle or sheep are not allowed to be turned out at all given the conditions, though in reality this seems to be rare.

This extraordinary request does not seem to be faring well in the Tribune’s public comment section, but then the state’s cattle and livestock politicians have their own calculus.





  1. Theo Chu Avatar
    Theo Chu

    Sounds OK to me as long as they don’t complain about the remaining elk grazing their irrigated pastures or eating their stored hay this winter.

  2. Chris Avatar

    How about wolves are reintroduced to keep those elk numbers down.

  3. Immer Treue Avatar
    Immer Treue

    So the $$$ Don Peay and his organization received to lobby against wolves is for naught?

  4. Bob Ferris Avatar

    So of course the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is fighting against the ranchers to oppose this and argue for reduced cattle stocking on behalf of elk. Right?

    1. Yvette Avatar

      Seems like a slight advantage. Let them devour one another.

  5. CodyCoyote Avatar

    Dang ranchers caught looking thru the wrong end of the binoculars again…

  6. Jake Jenson Avatar
    Jake Jenson

    Relocate them elk to Idaho.

  7. Veronica Egan Avatar

    The $1.35 fee has been in place since the 60s and was cheap even then. Grazing reform is the only answer. Charge federal lands permittees a fair market rate and watch them go swiftly out of business. End welfare ranching now!

    1. Barb Rupers Avatar
      Barb Rupers

      Sadly this has been suggested for years but so far it hasn’t happened. I do think that more people are becoming aware of the situation and perhaps in the future . . .
      if we keep working on the issue.

      The majority of the letters to the SL Tribune were anti cattle.

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      They certainly should pay more. I can’t think of any argument for such a low fee except the one I wrote in the story.

  8. patrick Avatar

    The very best solution is a very dramatic reduction in red meat consumption. 1. Healthier people, 2. Less medical expense (heart disease, cancer etc.) 3. Much better ecology and 4.Reduction in the horrific treatment of animals.

    1. Nancy Avatar

      And 5 Patrick – all of the above 🙂

      1. Nancy Avatar

        And toss in 6 – over a third (if I’ve read the stats correctly) of the farmland in the US, is dedicated now to the factory farming of meat.

    2. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines

      I don’t eat it – but it isn’t realistic to think that the majority of people are going to stop eating meat for the foreseeable future, and with a world population continuing to expand – and as developing countries become more prosperous, they are eating more of it! The best we can do is eat less, but I don’t know if that will have a dramatic effect. Grazing reform, nobody has the spine to do it and haven’t for decades. And factory farming is horrific.

      We need to use less energy also, but that probably won’t happen either. The future truly is a nightmare.

    3. WyoWolfFan Avatar

      This is part of why I have significantly reduced my red meat consumption.

      1. Nancy Avatar

        “Few consumers are aware of the economic forces behind the production of meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. Yet omnivore and herbivore alike, the forces of meatonomics affect us in many ways”

  9. Yvette Avatar

    The drought doesn’t appear to be loosening anywhere. We get short reprieves, but not for a long enough duration to recover. It will continue to get worse.

  10. Maggie Frazier Avatar
    Maggie Frazier

    So the permitees have to “put up with recreationists (people who would like to enjoy our PUBLIC LANDS) predators(who have been almost eradicated) and insecure forage (which has been destroyed by cattle). BUT they only pay $1.35 per cow/calf pair a month – somehow I think that should make up for the inconvenience of sharing the PUBLIC LAND with the taxpayers and the wild animals that live there. Its about time the BLM dealt with these ranchers who feel they have a right – not a privilege to the public lands – and treat them like they treat the animal advocates. And boy do these wild animals NEED advocates!

  11. snaildarter Avatar

    Cows (slow elk as Ed Abbey would say) are an anachronism. No place for them on public lands. American’s eating less or no red meat helps, but as the third world acquires a taste for meat and toilet paper nothing is safe. We must create and enforce rules that protect wildlife and the natural world.


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.

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