Grazing Fee Drops in 2017, Further Undervaluing Public Lands

LARAMIE, Wyo. – The public lands management agencies announced the grazing fee for federal allotments today, which the federal government has decreased to a mere $1.87 per cow and her calf (or 5 sheep) per month, known as an Animal Unit Month, or AUM.

“This has got to be the cheapest all-you-can-eat buffet deal in the country,” said Erik Molvar, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “Our public lands are a national treasure that should be protected for future generations with responsible stewardship. It makes no sense to rent them to ranchers for below-market prices to prop up a dying industry that degrades soil productivity, water, wildlife habitat, and the health of the land.”

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 an overwhelming deficit. This year’s fee is a a decrease of 11 percent from last year’s fee of $2.11 per AUM 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 falls far below 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 subsidy to public lands livestock grazers just got bigger,” Molvar said. “It’s a totally unjustified handout that persists for purely political reasons, with little or no benefit to Americans.”



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  1. rork Avatar

    Most folks east of Kansas would be delighted if there were no public land grazing at all. That’s true about several other types of subsides too (e.g. cane sugar). And I’m just talking about the economics, not the protection of land.

    1. Mark L Avatar
      Mark L

      So I’m guessing some people’s solution is to
      make the lands private so they can charge more…(insert irony here). Of course, by then a NEW administration would have to address that issue

  2. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Hmmmm. I wonder if this now means that ranchers will ease up on their calls for predator killing, now that their expenses have just been reduced? Doubtful. They’ll want all that and more.

  3. N Mccormish Avatar
    N Mccormish

    What was the justification given for further meddling in the free market in which the majority of livestock enterprises have to pay market rates for grazing fees? Why weren’t they raised rather than lowered?

    The few getting these significant subsidies are further supported by expensive(and generally pointless) predator control programs, discounted services for controlling weeds etc., and substantial federal and state cost-sharing programs for fencing and water infrastructure.

    It’s also true cattle are often much larger now (and gain weight faster) than when the AUM baselines were established, so a 1200-1500 lb. cow with a 500 lb. calf is being charged almost nothing. The AUM is based on a 1,000 lb. monthly unit. Unless this is accounted for, it’s easy to overstock, wihch means those cattle are eating more and creating more environmental impacts than the same number would have a generation ago. Those impacts include things of interest to all citizens, and include water quality, soil and vegetation health and transitions, widespread dispersal of known environmental toxins through manure, and even the imposition of more numerous salt and modern composite blocks, some which artifically attract wildlife.

    Consider: in my part of Colorado, an average private AUM charge is $20-25 (one cow/calf pair per month, unfairly skewering the private market competition by $18-23 per pair, per month. Since the net profit margins on grazed cattle are low (some studies show profit of only around $50/head annually), the scale of our government’s market competition interference comes into clearer focus.

    Without massive public lands grazing subsidies, these few but strident for-profit businesses would fail. And as cattle prices drop, the temptation naturally rises to put more into subsidized grazing if possible. However, access to permits is highly constricted and again, the furthest thing from an even playing field for livstock business owners.

    The reason this system continues is because we allow it and some find it profitable, not because of a great nationwide love of chousing cows all over creation (though admittedly, this has its own non-monetary rewards, been there, done that).

    Even more troubling is the federal hiring freeze, which will further hinder already minimal oversight of grazing impacts on public lands, alongside what seems to be widespread top-down intent to order federal employees to withold information from “we, the people” who pay their wages. Overall production is only a small percentage of our national livestock production — sources vary but all are under 5%. How much of the beef and sheep who spend time growing on public lands is exported for private profits?

    How many times and ways does it have to be shown the current system is beyond broken, and those reponsible do not bear the true costs?

    It’s clear we must seek (and find) better, less costly and more sustainable models for food production. If our new administration is truly intent on less regulation, supporting free enterprise, and giving power back to “the people”, they could make an impressive start by eliminating the grazing program altogether and saving the nearly $250 million this subsidy loses us all each year. Barring that, the only honorable path is to charge fees equivalent to the private market plus the externalized costs foisted onto unwilling and often unknowing taxpayers — who gain nothing but rising expenses and rising costs of beef at the grocery stores.

    It seems we can start with demanding a full accounting of costs, and bulletproof justifications for the grazing fee rates.

    (rant over!)

    1. Nancy Avatar

      + 1 N Mccormish.

      Just this morning I had a rancher tell me that the Forest Service wasn’t doing enough to manage public lands where they graze their cattle. Like why couldn’t they get in there and clear out all that deadfall so it was easier to move their cows around AND there would be more grass.

      I sent her an article on cheap grazing fees and also mentioned how important it is to the ecosystem, that there is deadfall. Will dig up a few articles on that subject and pass them along.

        1. N Mccormish Avatar
          N Mccormish

          Nancy, did you ask this person why they look at forested mountains and somehow expect to see groomed pastures, for almost free? You might also suggest she read Wallace Stegner’s “Beyond the 100th Meridian” for some useful background on appropriate appreciation of scarce resources.

          Regardless of one’s politics or source of income, surely we can agree that the situations that necessitated the Taylor Grazing Act cannot and should not be repeated, even within the strictures of modern laws. What worked before won’t work forever, and probably not for long. We HAVE to rethink and reform public lands grazing policies ASAP.

          1. Nancy Avatar

            Actually when she described having to work their way around all the deadfall, I said “well you do realize its not a park? its forest land”

            She married into a ranching family and not at an early age, so there’s room for positive debate/discussion here. Unfortunately, she and her husband, are little more than hired hands since the ranches are run more like a corporation.

            I dug out my old paperback copy of Stegner’s Beyond the Hundredth Meridian. May read it again and mark some chapters and see if she would like to read it.

            1. N Mccormish Avatar
              N Mccormish

              This is hopeful, since folks on the ground really can make small but significant changes, even when using a grazing permit. Simple things like fencing off springs, moving cattle out of an area faster, not grazing the same places at the same time each season, where to locate salt (and how much), reducing stocking rates, and even just taking photos and educating oneself about soil, water, and plant health can be a great start. There are a lot of groups now promoting Holistic Grazing and similar methods — while not a cure all and some are controversial, if non-grazing is not an issue they do point to the potential for improving practices with a modicum of thoughtfulness, even if one is just an employee. Consider that improving conditions over time will make all those resources more resilient over time, and for more than just livestock. The alternative is nothing but the too-familiar “race to the bottom” which serves no good purpose (hence my questioning the REDUCTION in grazing fees, which reduce ability to address grazing practices while encouraging adding more livestock to already compromised public lands).

  4. Craig Avatar

    $1.87/AUM is give away grazing. It is highly unfair to those of us that have no access to Federal land. $1.87 is the equivalent of getting your forage for less than $4/ton. We make up our forage short fall by buying hay at $120-140/ton. Absentee landowners on either side of us lease their land at $22/AUM. On our south boundary there are those $1.87/AUM cows on FS land. And in the past 14 years not one lessee has lifted one finger to help maintain that fence. I send letters all the time to senators and congressmen complaining about the unfair competition. Their reply is “I hear you”, but nothing is ever done.

  5. Kyle Avatar

    More welfare for the beef industry. All these rugged individual types are blind to the history of the West and how everything they rely on is subsidized and has been from the beginning.

    This continuing program, which has been reviewed over decades, shows the complete hypocrisy of the Chaffetz crowd, and their twisted obsession with poor management. So if all this land is “returned” to the states, will they be allowed to peg the permit to fair market value? That’ll clear out the competition.

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