| For immediate release: February 6, 2006
Contact: Greta Anderson, Range Restoration Director, Center for Biological Diversity (520) 227-9275
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT LOWERS PUBLIC LANDS GRAZING FEE FOR 2006 DESPITE MASSIVE PROGRAM DEFICIT
TUCSON, Ariz. – The federal government announced last week that the 2006 fee for livestock grazing on public lands will drop nearly 13 percent from last year. Even as the cost of living for the average American goes up, subsidies to public lands ranchers will lower operating costs and raise profits for this special interest group. The fees set for the next grazing season are $1.56 per AUM, the estimated amount of forage consumed by one cow and her calf.
“It’s outrageous that the grazing fee formula does not somehow keep up with inflation. The cost-benefit gap of the public lands grazing program just got larger,” said Greta Anderson, Range Restoration Director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Ranchers pay less to feed their cows than the rest of us spend each month on pet food.”
Last fall’s Government Accountability Office (GAO) report showed that the federal grazing program operates at a deficit of at least $123 million annually and estimated that in order to cover costs, the BLM would have to charge $7.64 per AUM and the Forest Service would have to charge $12.26. Independent economists have estimated that the costs may be closer to $500 million annually. In either case, the BLM and Forest Service grazing fees are far cheaper than fees charged on comparable private rangeland, on state trust lands throughout the West, and even on other federal lands such as those managed by the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The grazing fee subsidy for public lands ranchers is a reflection of a flawed and outdated fee formula. The formula, set by the Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978, calculates the fees based on the amount of forage required to sustain one “animal unit” for one month (AUM). The formula has long been recognized as flawed, and the Secretaries of the Department of the Interior’s and the Department of Agriculture’s “Rangeland Reform” project of 1994 proposed altering the formula and setting a new base rate. However, Congress declined to accept the changes, and taxpayers have been left carrying the burden of paying for public lands ranching ever since.
There is an ecological burden as well, since livestock grazing can spread non-native species, degrade habitat for wildlife, imperil rare species, damage water and air quality, and change fire regimes on western lands. The grazing fee does not even begin to cover the costs of restoring altered landscapes, recovering species, or managing weed infestations.
The Center for Biological Diversity was joined by other conservation groups in submitting an Administrative Procedures Act petition in November 2005, requesting that the fee formula be changed to something that more closely approximates cost recovery. Neither Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton nor Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns has responded.
The fee petition can be viewed at: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/programs/grazing/GrazingFeePetition.pdf
The GAO report exposing the budgetary shortfalls of the grazing program can be viewed at: