Grazing Fees Still a Sweetheart Deal for Private Industry, Agencies Abashed at Having to Raise It

Boise, Idaho – Amid significant recent controversy over the national public lands grazing program, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service announced today the 2016 fee for grazing livestock on public allotments. At a mere $2.11 per cow/calf pair (AUM), it is clear that the government plans to keep up the heavy subsidies for this extractive industry. Despite this ongoing giveaway, it appears this year that the agencies are trying to lay low about the fee increase and have declined to issue a press advisory announcing this year’s rates, unlike previous years when the announcement was made public in January.

“We have been hearing a lot about the problems of public lands management,” said Travis Bruner, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “Really it’s the taxpayers who are the ones getting a raw deal regarding grazing. In addition to losing valuable ecological function, wildlife habitat, and scenery, Americans are effectively supporting a very narrow welfare program for the benefit of western livestock operations. The BLM and Forest Service charge far lower than fair rates and still seem embarrassed this year to bring them up.”

Two hundred and twenty million acres of public lands in the West are used for private livestock industry profits through the management of approximately 22,000 grazing permits. The low fee leaves the federal program at a deficit of at least $120 million dollars each year. This year, the fee was raised to $2.11 per AUM, the maximum allowed in an annual increase, but still far less than the average cost for private lands grazing leases.  The fee is calculated using a decades-old formula that takes into account the price of fuel and the price of beef, and this year’s fee doesn’t even reach the level of $2.31 per AUM that was charged in 1980. Additionally, the fee doesn’t cover the cost to taxpayers of range infrastructure, erosion control, vegetation manipulation, and government predator killing – all indirect subsidies that expand the program’s total deficit.

“The deep pockets of the federal government have kept the livestock industry’s public lands grazing program running,” said Bruner, “which is an irony that anti-government ranching zealots seem to miss when they advocate ‘giving back the land.’ But maybe the public has now had enough of supporting this ungrateful industry and enough ranchers will tear up their permits to convince the government to end the program altogether.”







  1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    Land grabbers say that state lands produce more revenue per acre than U.S. public lands, but then the states charge a much higher grazing fee. Those in Congress who yell about any increase in the grazing fees are the very same rural right-wing members who pressure the federal agencies to keep the fees low and peddle the lie that the public lands need to be returned to the states.

  2. alf Avatar

    And of course they and their political toadies also peddle the lies that grazing is beneficial to wildlife, helps control weeds, reduces the risk of wildfire, etc., etc., on and on, ad nauseam.

    1. Scott Avatar

      It can be. But the fact remains that at least 50% of all rangeland/pasture in the US is overgrazed, and a significant % of the rest is undergrazed. So there does seem to be a big problem with us getting it right.

      Personally I blame the whole feedlot production model. If ranchers actually had to fatten animals on forage, they would quickly be forced to change their grazing practices to something that improved biomass in that grazer/grassland biome.

      1. mt Avatar

        I’m puzzled by your use of the term “undergrazed.” I’d like a definition.

    2. mt Avatar

      I have never seen any situation where livestock was used as a “management tool.” This is nothing but welfare ranching, at the expense of the American public and our public lands and public wildlife.

  3. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    “The fee was raised to $2.11 per AUM, the maximum allowed in an annual increase.” Good for them.
    It is time to stick up for the USFS and BLM for enacting this increase. I try to thank any of our public employees when I meet them in the field
    They have to put up with the threat of violence from crackpot ranchers like the Bundys. They have to send their range people out in pairs because of the constant threat to themselves and their vehicles. The people we see out in the field do not make the rules!!
    These people work for us and all they get are threats from armed ranchers and constant criticism from organizations like Western Watersheds.
    Do you guys suck on lemons every morning or or do you only hire people with puckered mouths??????

    1. Rich Avatar


      At the same time the cow calf pairs and sheep are tromping on our public lands virtually free for several months, humans often have to pay anywhere from $5 to $30 or more just to go for a day hike on those same lands, dodging cow dung and sheep trampled landscapes. While we can try to make lemonade out of that lemon, it does leave a bitter aftertaste. I too appreciate the guys and gals in the field when they are making a good effort to protect our lands. However, I feel we need to keep the pressure on Congress and those agencies that develop and enforce the rules that are supposed to protect our public lands.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    The employees of the BLM are not the enemy. They have to endure tremendous political pressure from public land ranchers. There are a significant number, probably most though, who accept the welfare system that has emerged.

    They should recognize that despite accepting the dominance of the rancher welfare system, they can never do enough. The public land ranchers hate them and increasingly threaten their physical safety.

  5. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    If a rancher in Idaho doesn’t like what the BLM or USFS range managers do, he gets on the phone and calls Idaho Rep Raul Labradork(who is leading the Mormon charge to steal our public lands) and Labradork will call the public employees boss and chew him out and threaten to have him fired or transferred. Physically threatened by ranchers, pressured by wildlife advocates, and economically threatened by Labradork, the public employee will take the path of least resistance and give in to the ranchers.
    I stopped in at the Mountain Home USFS ranger district office last week and while asking about wolf sightings in the district, I discovered that the receptionist was a former biology student of mine. (35 years ago)
    During our conservation, she said how nervous every one in the office was because of the Bundy takeover of the Malheur refuge. They are concerned that the same thing could happen to their office and district buildings. The Bundys (God told us to come to Oregon) and their supporters (Like fellow Mormon Raul Labradork) have made targets out of all of our federal employees.

    1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

      Conversation rather than conservation

  6. Mal Adapted Avatar
    Mal Adapted

    Another day of the MNWR occupation, another $10 to WWP.

  7. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    This is an old article, but I thought the tone was rather amusing. It’s about the Mexican wolf, but it is really about ‘the favorite nephew of their Uncle Sam’ (ranching) generally:

    1. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines

      According to official statistics, 142 wolves have been removed from the wild in the past 10 years by the agency in charge of their recovery. Seventy of them were captured or killed because of conflicts with ranchers.

      From this old article. Has anything changed? Probably not. Makes you wonder about what really happened to those two wolves who mysteriously died during the annual count. 🙁

      So while I understand that government employees are catching hell from both sides; I simply cannot accept the “I was only following orders” excuse for killing wildlife that the public entrusts them to protect.

      I hope we’ll hear more about what happened to these two wolves. They look so much different from the more northern grey wolves with that beautiful long ruff, I cannot abide the idiotic commentary that says they are not a separate species.

  8. Mark brown Avatar
    Mark brown

    I am so sick of uneducated hillbilly white supremest wanting to take up arms against the government.They think that they have some God given right to public lands. They could care less about the environment or native species.

  9. Theo Chu Avatar
    Theo Chu

    Another cost that is rarely mentioned is the $millions of gasoline tax dollars that are used to build and maintain right-of-way fences along public roads that bisect national and state lands used for livestock grazing.

    1. Cody Coyote Avatar
      Cody Coyote

      Dunno how it works in your state, but in my Wyoming, Agriculture gets exempted from paying the Fuel Tax ( at least the state portion ) along with no sales tax on farm equipment, fertilizer and agrichemicals , etc etc.

      1. WM Avatar

        A sales tax exemption for new and used farm equipment and fertilizers/chemicals/seed, etc., is given in most states. Same for gasoline tax exemption (since the equipment is not used on roads for which the taxes are supposed to be used).

        And, importantly, let’s not forget all those crop subsidies that the farmers in the Midwest and elsewhere get for keeping land out of production, cost sharing for water delivery and irrigation sprinklers, risk of loss on crops from weather events or disease, as well as crop specific price supports – all offered by the federal government and contained in the farm bill.

        See, the thing is if we are going to pee on “welfare ranchers in the West” we ought to just pee uniformly on all of agriculture wherever it is throughout the US. The Midwest is where the big money is spent on corn and the like. So, does it really make a difference if the subsidy comes in the form of cash payments from the federal government, OR in the form of ridiculously low grazing fees?

        You can’t do one without looking at the other in terms of equity for agriculture, at least that is the argument in Congress.

        1. JB Avatar

          “See, the thing is if we are going to pee on “welfare ranchers in the West” we ought to just pee uniformly on all of agriculture wherever it is throughout the US.”

          The logic in this statement is: because tax breaks for one kind of [agricultural] practice are bad, tax breaks for all kinds of practices are bad. This argument relies on a logical fallacy (hasty generalization). Put simply, it simply is not true that tax breaks for agricultural practices are uniformly costly or beneficial.

          That is, if we adopt the position that policy is “good” to the extent that it provides benefits to society and “bad” to the extent that it has costs for the society, then it is clear that agricultural tax breaks are not uniformly good or bad; rather, they vary. They should be judged based upon that variance.

          1. WM Avatar


            You missed the context. That is the argument in Congress (stated in the second paragraph). Do you really think legislators in the West would support budgets (or laws) that support the subsidies that largely benefit mostly the Midwest and the East only, without any sort of parity or support for subsidies in the West (recognizing that some farmers in the West also benefit from these farm programs but to a much less degree because of the soil and lack of reliable moisture that prevent high yield crops that grace the fertile Midwest)?

            1. JB Avatar


              To my knowledge, there is (fortunately) no theory of ethics that judges the rightness of an action based upon what legislators from the Western U.S. will support.

              And do you seriously have the audacity to suggest that the Midwest is favored over the West when it comes to federal tax breaks?


              1. WM Avatar

                I do have that audacity to a degree. I thought we were talking about AGRICULTURAL subsidies. You have broadened the topic most significantly -federal jobs in the reference you cite (notice the biggest piggest pigs at the trough are Hawaii, AK, followed by those horrible Western states with all that federal land). And, look at Maryland (wow!). The presumption is those federal workers are actually doing something to earn those wages, though on certain days I wonder (having worked for the federal government long ago).

                Of course the deep south is right up there too.

                I bet you find Con-Agra, ADM, Cargill (or the huge corporate ag mega-farms that sell to them that get those farm bill subsidies).

                And a column worth looking at is Federal Funding as percent of State Revenue. Ohio is ranked at 34th most reliant. Not many federal jobs but getting money from something. I would suggest it may come from farm bill agricultural subsidies. There is probably a reference out there that ranks that with greater detail.

                Wait – •$7.79 billion in subsidies 1995-2012.
                $5.23 billion in commodity subsidies.
                $1.34 billion in crop insurance subsidies.
                $844 million in conservation subsidies.
                $382 million in disaster subsidies.
                That’s right BILLIONs.

                1. JB Avatar

                  So you think there should be equality in agricultural subsidies, then? We shouldn’t consider that the Midwest has (a) better soils, (b) a longer growing season, (c) a wetter climate more conducive to agriculture, and (d) a MUCH greater proportion of its lands in direct agriculture? We should just toss all of those points out because poor Westerners don’t think it’s fair? Are you serious? I know you enjoy making arguments for arguments sake, but good grief.

                  [extreme sarcasm] Hey, you know what else isn’t fair. All that money the Feds are spending on fighting fires in the West! I’m going to write my legislator and tell him that he should not support any more money for fighting fires in Western states until Ohio gets the same amount!

                2. JB Avatar

                  [sarcasm cont.] You know what? I did a bit of internet research and it turns out that federal disaster subsidies are not evenly distributed!? Turns out that those states that are prone to drought, fire and floods get more than those that aren’t prone to such disasters. (The injustice!!!) Thank you, WM for bringing to my attention this important issue of spatial inequality. I’m going to work tirelessly to ensure that Ohio gets its share of the federal disaster aid (even if we don’t have any disasters), and I promise in return that we will send our share of the agriculatural subsidies to Idaho and Utah, so that they can grow corn and soybeans for the nation…in a high altitude desert.

                3. WM Avatar


                  A lot of the businesses or employees that make money off those fires, droughts, hail and other disasters in the West are from outside the West. As a young man on a project fire (while working for the USFS) I once had an overhead team out of Florida and Georgia. I had a mop up team, that ran fireline with a pumper I was responsible for, with a BLM liason officer out of Alaska (with a crew of 30 Aleut Indians). A lot of the tools everybody used were manufactured by Ames/Truetemper (axes, shovels, Pulaskis), piss pumps w/ bladders, or chainsaws, Caterpillar dozers, meals-ready to eat, paper sleeping bags. Tough to figure where things were manufactured but best I can tell alot was NY, PENN, WI. Caterpillar, of course, has its largest manufacturing footprint in Illinois. MRE’s I think came out of some southern states.

                  Crop Disaster Insurance – well, Hartford CT, and NY seem to play big roles in that financial industry. Wells Fargo dba as “Rural Community Insurance Co.” is the largest, QBE, followed by ACE and XL (they are out of Bermuda but have US ownership. And a whole bunch more. The government subsidizes the premiums paid by farmers. Crop insurance is a big book of business for those insurers.

                  Where are all those wheat combines, fancy tractors with the A/C and a sound system, and the stuff they pull manufactured? Mostly the Midwest, I think, but sold or leased to those scumbag government freeloaders farmers in the high desert West.

                  You seriously think any Midwest or East Coast Congressman with business interests in his/her district or state (in the case of Senators) is going to close down an area of the country where their constituents can sell products of all sorts?

                  This subsidy of arid agriculture and public lands grazing in the West is a lot more complicated than some like to make it.

                4. WM Avatar

                  You may find this short video illuminating regarding the crop/disaster insurance issue, and payments once made directly to the farmer, now to buy the insurance with federal dollars. Be thinking where these insurers are located and who owns them:

                5. JB Avatar

                  You’re equivocating, WM.

                  I grow tired of you sitting on the sidelines taking pot shots at everyone else’s arguments without every making one of your own. “This subsidy of arid agriculture and public lands grazing in the West is a lot more complicated than some like to make it” isn’t an argument, it’s an excuse for why the status quo doesn’t change–and a poor one at that. Stop making excuses for the status quot and start taking a stand–else your part of the problem.

                  Here (below) is an argument (in its complete form) for why subsidies directed at agriculture should not be uniformly distributed.


                  (1) Whereas, the production of food resources for the human population is good for society.

                  (2) Whereas, the lands within the United States vary considerably in their ability to produce agricultural goods.

                  (4) Whereas, the production of food through agriculture can result in ecologically deleterious consequences (hereafter, costs).

                  (5) Whereas, the federal government should support efforts to produce food to feed the human population.

                  (6) Whereas, the federal government should seek to avoid deleterious ecological consequences wherever and whenever possible.

                  (7) Whereas, federal governmental resources are limited.

                  (8) Whereas, the federal government should expend resources such as to maximize their benefits to society, while minimizing their costs.

                  Conclusion: Therefore, federal governmental resources directed at promoting agriculture should be allocated disproportionately toward geographic areas where they are likely to result in the greatest societal benefit (i.e., production of food), and minimial costs.

                  You might refer to this as an argument for minimizing waste of federal resources. In fact, with very few modifications the same argument could be used to show why a disproportionate amount of federal resources aimed at disasters should go to states where disaster risk is high.

                  BTW, I would have thought this is all common sense?

                6. WM Avatar

                  Sorry JB,

                  I can’t make a tight little argument such as yours – heck I can’t even agree with some of your premises without kicking out a bunch of Midwest/Plains states from future subsidies. When the sediment flow, fertilizers, pesticides etc. from Midwest farmlands that make their way to the Missouri/Mississippi River systems get counted you have just blown out your #2 and #4 premises. Add to that the degradation and depletion of the Ogalla Aquifer (at least for NE, OK and SD and your argument is toast.

                  You can come up with whatever syllogism you like, implied or stated premises noted, and it won’t be worth a hill of beans (pun intened) because politics don’t typically run on logical arguments. It’s all about power and horse-trading.

                7. JB Avatar

                  “Add to that the degradation and depletion of the Ogalla Aquifer (at least for NE, OK and SD and your argument is toast.”

                  See WM, here’s the value in making decisions based upon logic, reason and clearly stated premises–you don’t get come in an shit on someone’s argument with vague allusions to something that may or may not be happening somewhere because you talked to a guy. If you don’t like one of the premises of my argument, tell me how, precisely it is incorrect. Else, you’re just blowing hot air. (Let me see if I can make this simple for you: I maintain that (and I realize this this will come as a shocker) federal subsidies for agricultural should go disproportionately to geographic areas where it is easier to grow the things we eat. I await your well-reasoned argument to the contrary.)


                  “You can come up with whatever syllogism you like, implied or stated premises noted, and it won’t be worth a hill of beans (pun intened) because politics don’t typically run on logical arguments. It’s all about power and horse-trading.”

                  Ah yes, the ‘your logic and reason don’t matter because people aren’t logical and reasonable’ argument. Tell me, WM, is this how you want the world to work? Money and power win over logic and reason? Because your statement implies that it is.

                  So then, if you truly believe that logic and reason don’t matter, why collect data at all? Why use science? Why argue? I mean if you really believe that logic ‘don’t mean a hill of beans’, why not remove public funding for universities, science, and scientists altogether? If logic and reason don’t matter, why put on a show (it’s pretty damn costly to be logically and science-based)?

                  If power and ‘horse trading’ are all that matters, we could decide policy questions via arm wrestling…or professional wrestling… or who has the most money, or the longest dick? If we’re going to be arbitrary, why not own it.

                  How is it that with all your experience and education you never learned that there’s a difference–often a gulf–between what is and what should be?

              2. WM Avatar


                We have talked about that source before on this forum. Ohio has in the top 20, farms that are knocking down $2m/year in federal subsidies.

                And in state rankings the big boys are all the Midwest – Iowa alone took $14 billion for the same period, followed by TX, IL, NE,MN, KS, AR, and IN at $7.3 billion – mostly Midwest corn belt states.

                1. WM Avatar

                  Sorry – Iowa is $16.4 Billion, not $14 B.

                  It really drops off after you get out of the Midwest and big states like TX and CA.

                  And, ID is at $1.7 billion ranked 27th. So even ID’s dry land wheat, corn and barley farmers are getting subsidies, as Ralph points out below.

                  If we were to multiply all those cows on public lands x the comparable grazing at competitive private rates (minus the nominal Taylor grazing Act rate which they pay) I wonder how much it might be?

                  I’d like most of those cows gone off FS and BLM lands too over time, but I wonder if the Congressional will is there to do it with all the horse-trading and leverage the Westerns states have vis a vis all of subsidized agriculture.

                2. Immer Treue Avatar
                  Immer Treue

                  Corn: Feed corn and ethanol…?

              3. WM Avatar


                Sorry I don’t have time to respond today, but I will try to get back to your criticism regarding logical constructs in the next day or two. Cheers.

        2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
          Ralph Maughan


          All over the U.S. ranchers and farmers too have always been highly subsidized by the government. Here in Idaho one of my state representatives who is one of the few Democrats*, likes to joke that it would be “easier” for the legislature to just declare that all the farmers owe no state tax. He means easier than dealing with the maze of tax exemptions they get that effectively reduce the tax of many of them, perhaps most, to nearly zero.

          *Note. There are 3 Democrats in the Idaho Legislature from Eastern Idaho. All three represent my multi-member legislative district in Pocatello.

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