Public Land Livestock Fees Hit Rock-Bottom

Rancher subsidy for using public grass reaches greatest amount allowed by law-

News from Western Watersheds Project

WASHINGTON―The U.S. Interior Department has reduced fees for grazing cattle and sheep on federal public lands to the minimum allowed under federal law, $1.35 an animal-month. Yesterday’s announcement applies to grazing in national forests and on public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management.  

The 41-year old formula has been a boon for livestock operators whose animals graze on federal public lands, but a large proportion of BLM grazing land fails to meet the BLM’s own rangeland health standards. The new $1.35 monthly fee, down from $1.41 a month, is for each cow with a calf, or five sheep or goats. A large proportion of BLM grazing allotments are failing to meet Rangeland Health standards. 

“BLM’s own records reveal that much of the sagebrush West is in severely degraded condition due to excessive commercial livestock grazing,” said PEER’s Advocacy Director Kirsten Stade. “Lowering already ultra-low grazing fees only encourages more abuse of public rangelands.” 

Costs to administer the grazing fee program exceed the money collected, resulting in taxpayer subsidies of about $100 million per year. Grazing fees were initially based on a “fair-market value” set at $1.23 per AUM in 1966. If the federal government adjusted the fee annually to keep pace with inflation, the current rate would be $9.47. In addition, cattle sizes have increased markedly over the years: In 1974, an Animal Unit Month provided forage for a cow weighing 1,000 pounds; today the average slaughterweight for an adult cow is 1,400 pounds.  A report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service shows the average monthly grazing fee for livestock leases on private lands in 16 western states was $22.60 per animal unit.  

“These rock-bottom prices don’t even cover the cost of administering the permits, so the American taxpayers are footing the bill for a massive welfare program that degrades our public lands,” said Erik Molvar of Western Watersheds Project. “Even with the low fees, our western mountains and basins are typically so arid or fragile that federal land managers have to sacrifice the health of the land to authorize grazing levels that are profitable for commercial livestock operations.” 

Half of the federal grazing fees pay for “range improvements” on public lands. These include fences, corrals and cattle troughs that benefit and subsidize livestock operations while causing further environmental degradation. Barbed-wire fences are a major cause of death for sage-grouse and scientists have termed the denuded areas around livestock troughs “piospheres,” which become hotspots for the spread of invasive weeds.   

“Federal grazing policy caters to a tiny fraction of the livestock industry and the fees don’t begin to cover the costs,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Indirect costs include the killing of important native predators, such as wolves and bears, and trampled landscapes and rivers. It’s a bad deal for wildlife, public lands and American taxpayers. The federal grazing program is long overdue for an overhaul.” 

The fee structure charged to livestock operators on America’s public lands has remained unchanged since Congress passed the 1978 Public Rangelands Improvement Act (PRIA). A three-tier formula dictates federal grazing fees based on market indicators but is not indexed to inflation. A 2015 study by the Center for Biological Diversity, Costs and Consequences, the Real Price of Livestock Grazing on America’s Public Lands, found that federal grazing fees were just 7 percent of what it would cost to graze livestock on similar state and private lands.  

“Federal agencies should be charging fair-market value for commercial livestock grazing on western public lands, and only allowing livestock at levels and in places where major environmental impacts can be prevented,” said Chris Krupp of WildEarth Guardians. “With the fee formula set by statute, Congress must step in to reform public lands grazing. It must revise the PRIA’s fee formula as the first step in ending a subsidy that damages more public lands than any other federal program.”




  1. Frank Krosnicki Avatar
    Frank Krosnicki

    Fear not,Congress will step in……well after our public lands and waterways are devastated. Wolves, bears, cougars, sage grouse, coyotes and wild horses will be in or very near extinction. This devastation will make for a flurry of campaign talk and promises that will not be kept while the greenback will continue to buy whatever big money wants. We, the real people, need to wake up, toss the real swamp dwellers out, insist on term limits and campaign funding changes, and vote, not for the loud repeat offenders, but for the “regular” citizens who want to serve and make a real difference.

  2. idaursine Avatar

    ^^This is my fear too. Do you think these ridiculously low fees will make ranchers any more tolerant of the low losses they experience from predation? Doubtful. They have every advantage. I wish the public would speak out more.

  3. Bruce Bowen Avatar
    Bruce Bowen

    If one corrects the grazing fee of $1.35 for inflation back to 1934 when the Taylor Grazing Act was passed we find it worth only 10 cents.

    The regulatory authority of the U.S. government has been purposely undercut on a large scale. The anti-regulatory propaganda over the last 30+ years has literally paid off. Federal workers in the USDA and Depart of Interior are now nothing but slaves that are basically being rewarded for permitting the discount sale of public resources through glitzy, paperwork rubber stamp operations.

    Perhaps some of the readership recall that the state of Wyoming had a law which prohibited people from photographing public lands. This was obviously to keep persons/groups from getting evidence of land abuse which could then potentially be used in court. That law has been recently over turned but others are likely on the way. The fact that the boys in Wyoming had the nerve to do this should worry all of us.

    As the regulatory power of the executive branch continuous to be stripped by rich, immoral, corporate entities, the biological dominoes will continue falling faster and faster. If the religious right wingers get their way, they will ban the use of names like sage grouse and bison in our kids text books in order to hide their gross greed, hypocrisy and murderous intent. That is if we survive much longer.

    The dark ages have returned. 411 ppm CO2 and climbing.

    1. Frank Krosnicki Avatar
      Frank Krosnicki

      Well stated Bruce.
      The only word I disagree with is “religious” right wingers. Here in Colorado, our newly elected all Democratic legislature and Governor is seriously considering a “red flag” bill which , if passed, takes away our rights to own or possess a weapon of any kind, as well as confiscation of our Conceal Carry Permits for up to a year , with no court trial, based on anybody’s opinion about our mental state.
      They are also seriously close to passing a National Popular Vote Bill which gives our Electoral votes to the popular vote winner in a Presidential election, thereby potentially diminishing my vote in a national election. The point here is to carefully vote for the person who will care more for our rights, the environment, and our constitution regardless of political party membership.That will require a lot more work by voters than what we currently spend selecting politicians.

  4. John R Avatar
    John R

    Cattle are overgrazing much of our ecologically sensitive public lands to the detriment of our natural heritage, pushing native species out. Grazing fees for cattle on public lands adjacent to national parks (within 5 miles)should be set higher to discourage the number of cattle degrading and eroding the landscape thus allowing native species to flourish.


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Ralph Maughan