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For Immediate Release, July 15, 2010

Contact:  Greta Anderson, Western Watersheds Project, (520) 623-1878
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713    
Mark Salvo, WildEarth Guardians, (503) 757-4221

Groups to Obama: Cut Livestock Subsidy to Fix Agency Budgets

TUCSON, Ariz.— Conservation groups sent a letter to the Obama administration today detailing how the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service can meet the president’s June 8 directive to cut 5 percent from agency budgets: reform or eliminate the money-losing, habitat-destroying public lands livestock grazing program.

“Instead of trimming the budget, the agencies should start by cutting their losses,” said Greta Anderson, Arizona director of Western Watersheds Project. “The fee has failed to keep pace with inflation, failed to cover even the administrative costs of operating the grazing program, and incentivizes destructive grazing practices on public land. In a time of budget crisis, it makes good economic sense to address these issues.”

The two agencies charge a paltry $1.35 monthly fee for each cow and calf that the livestock industry grazes on public land in the West. That’s far below private market rates and far short of providing enough revenue to correct the ecological damage caused by grazing.

The Government Accountability Office reported in 2005 that the BLM loses $46.5 million every year administering its grazing program. That’s equal to 5 percent of the agency’s 2011 budget request. The Forest Service loses at least $69.5 million dollars a year on its grazing program, which is equivalent to more than 1 percent of its 2011 budget request.

“Reforming or eliminating the public lands livestock program would save the public’s money, land, watersheds and wildlife,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It makes perfect economic and environmental sense, and it’s something the Obama administration can do quickly and easily.”

In 2005, some of the same conservation groups that sent today’s letter petitioned the government to reform the formula used to calculate public lands livestock grazing fees. Those groups filed a lawsuit in June 2010 after the government failed to respond to the petition.

"Given the massive budget shortfall our country is facing, we can no longer afford to subsidize a small group of ranchers to graze public lands at public expense," said Mark Salvo, director of the Sagebrush Sea Campaign for WildEarth Guardians.

The letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was submitted by Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Ventana Wilderness Alliance. Public Lands Without Livestock and Sequoia ForestKeeper. 

A copy of the letter is available by clicking here.

A copy of the memo is available by clicking here.

A copy of the Government Accountability Office report is available by clicking here.

A copy of the rulemaking petition is available by clicking here.

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