New Fees Follow Study Finding Grazing Program Cost Taxpayers $1 Billion Over Past Decade

February 2, 2015 - WASHINGTON— The Obama administration just announced the 2015 fees it will charge livestock operators who graze cows and sheep on 229 million acres of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service. While the new fee, $1.69 for a cow and her calf to forage on public land for one month, is an increase over the 2014 fee of $1.35, it’s a fraction of the rates that non-irrigated private land owners charge. The BLM and Forest Service grazing fee is limited by law and cannot go below $1.35 per animal unit month (AUM) or increase more than 25 percent in any given year.

“The Obama administration just guaranteed that taxpayers will continue taking a huge financial hit in the grazing program on public lands,” said Randi Spivak with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The federal fees benefit a very small percentage of livestock producers while taxpayers, wildlife and watersheds bear the full costs.”

A new analysis released last week found U.S. taxpayers have lost more than $1 billion over the past decade on a program that allows cows and sheep to graze on public land. Last year alone taxpayers lost $125 million in grazing subsidies on federal land. Had the federal government charged fees similar to grazing rates on non-irrigated private land, the program would have made $261 million a year on average rather than operate at a staggering loss, the analysis finds.

Economists on behalf of the Center prepared the study, Costs and Consequences: The Real Price of Livestock Grazing on America’s Public Lands.

“Even under the new fee, livestock owners will pay less to graze their animals on publicly owned land in 2015 than they did in 1981. This damaging and expensive grazing program has been broken for years and needs to be fixed. Taxpayers, and the land we all own, deserve better,” said Spivak.

The gap between federal grazing fees and non-irrigated private land rates has widened considerably, according to the study. The 2015 fee is just 8 percent of what it would cost to graze livestock on private grazing lands. In 1981, when the federal fee first went into effect, it was 23.79 percent of non-irrigated private rates.

“The fees for grazing on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands needs to be seriously reevaluated,” said Christine Glaser, an economist with GreenFire Consulting and author of the report. “Over the past three decades the fee formula has clearly decoupled public grazing fees from the development of private, state and other federal agencies grazing fees. Bottom line, this formula shields public lands ranchers from grazing rate increases that every other livestock operator has to live with.”

There are about 800,000 livestock operators and cattle producers in the United States. Of those, fewer than 21,000 — or 2.7 percent of the nation’s total livestock operators — benefit from the Forest Service and BLM grazing programs in the West.  

“The Public Rangeland Improvement Act subsidizes a small segment of the livestock industry,” said the study’s co-author and former Interior Department economist Chuck Romaniello. “There needs to be a discussion as to what the appropriate level of that subsidy should be, including if there should be a subsidy at all.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
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