Federal Grazing Fees – The Hidden Subsidy

The following is a guest post by David Parsons, Wildlife Biologist with Project Coyote and The Rewilding Institute

I’m writing in response to Greta Anderson’s 11/23/20 post titled “What does coexistence with large carnivores actually mean?”  Greta highlights the fallacy that “coexistence” between public lands ranchers and wolves is fair to both wolves and ranchers.  Whereas, in actual practice the long-term “existence” of ranchers is favored over the existence of wolves, and is supported by a variety of sources of monetary compensation.  One source she mentions but elects to not elaborate on is the “artificially low grazing fee.”  Few people realize the magnitude this subsidy.

Public lands ranchers pay an “almost free” grazing rate of $1.35 per month for a cow and her calf (animal unit).  I have heard the analogy made that “you can’t feed a hamster for that,” but I don’t own a hamster and haven’t actually verified the truth of that statement.  I do know that it costs more than that to feed my chickens.

However, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average New Mexico grazing fee for private pasture was $20.50 per animal unit in 2019 – over 15 times the federal rate!  Part of the justification for the lower federal grazing fee is to compensate ranchers for any added costs of accommodating other authorized “multiple uses” of federal public lands, such as endangered species recovery and conservation.  It is a substantial pre-paid subsidy that is largely hidden from view by the public.

Let’s assume a rancher is running 1000 head on federal grazing allotments, for which she or he pays $1350 in monthly grazing fees.  The market rate for private pasture would be $20,500.  So, the effective subsidy just from reduced grazing fees alone is $19,150 per month.  Extrapolated to a full year the subsidy is a staggering $229,800 or about $230 for every cow!!  The savings on grazing fees alone should be sufficient to support a crew of range riders and other depredation prevention practices, or simply cover the cost of livestock preyed upon by Mexican wolves.

As Ms. Anderson aptly concludes “[u]nless you are a rancher who is willing to forego removals of wolves for livestock depredations, you aren’t coexisting.”






  1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
    Maggie Frazier

    The grazing fee- which has been pretty much the same for far too many years (or always)plus the many many other subsidies to compensate these livestock producers for what? The fact that they have to SHARE our public lands with native wildlife? I have been really ticked off regarding the absolute destruction of our NATIVE wild horse herds to “compensate” these livestock producers – many of them large corporations & entities (ie., Forbes, Simplot) that are in this particular industry because of the profit they can make by taking advantage of these subsidies. In order to have native status – how many hundreds of years does that take? I think there are smaller ranchers who deserve assistance & likely would be more inclined to co-exist with wildlife & do what it takes to conserve
    habitat. The fact that it is possible for these LEASORS of grazing allotments to use OUR public land as collateral for loans? How is that possible? Could any of us (everyday taxpayers) use a rental property as OUR collateral for a loan? I’m not aware of that possibility. Please, if I have misstated any of the above, please set me straight!

  2. Beeline Avatar

    The fee of $1.35 was designated under the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934. If one adjusts for inflation an Animal Unit Month of forage (about 915 pounds of forage air dried weight) would be worth around 14 or 15 cents currently. It is like a compounding discount upon another discount.

    During 2014 the BLM and USFS combined used 143.6 million dollars to administer grazing programs but only took in 18.5 million dollars in grazing receipts. Tax payers picked up 125.1 million and so it goes.

    Bad for the economy and bad for the ecosystems and death and destruction for our wildlife legacy.

    1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
      Maggie Frazier

      Thats one of the many issues that very few taxpayers are aware of! Unless they wake up & listen to where the money they are giving the government goes rather than just complain it wont change. Even with a new administration, sadly enough.

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