Government Trims Grazing Fees on Federal Lands

Published March 24, 2017

Federal grazing fees charged to ranchers to graze their livestock on millions of acres of land decreased to $1.87 per month for every cow or calf or five sheep on March 1, an 11 percent decrease from the previous monthly fee of $2.11.

The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service reduced the grazing fees just one year after the fees reached their highest level in more than three decades.

Ranchers hailed the new $1.87 fee as an adjustment necessary under current market conditions, which include declining beef prices.

Formula-Based Fees

Livestock grazers say the fee reduces political interference in livestock management on federal lands.

Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, says reducing the fees will help ranchers, but the fee is not set to benefit them; the fees rise and fall according to a formula.

“The federal-lands grazing fee is based upon a formula put in place during the Reagan administration, and from year to year, the fee can rise or fall based upon conditions on the ground,” Lane said. “We’re supportive of this formula because when it’s done properly, you’re not going to see any undue influence from any administration.”

Popular, Good for Environment

Lane—citing a 2015 presentation delivered at the Sixth National Grazing Lands Conference by Mark Brunson, a professor in the Environment and Society Department at Utah State University—says the most popular user experience people have when visiting public lands is seeing cows and cowboys at work.

“[Cowboys and cattle are] iconic, and it’s essential to the visitors’ experience in the West, Brunson’s research shows,” Lane said.

In addition, Brunson’s study found public-lands ranching is good for the environment.

“Brunson’s work demonstrates there’s simply no way to accomplish any of the conservation objectives [conservationists] have for the West without ranchers doing the work they do,” said Lane. “You can’t conserve species, you can’t protect water for wildlife, and you can’t prevent catastrophic wildfires without grazing or the public management ranchers provide.

“Ranchers represent a management cost savings to the federal government of several hundred million dollars a year, and if it were absent, then it would have to be made up through budget increases, massive staffing cuts and freezes, and in some respects, you just couldn’t get it done,” Lane said. “A rancher with some cowboys and a herd of cows on 100,000 acres can do more to conserve that environment, when grazed responsibly and managed properly, than any other possible option.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.