THE FOREST SERVICE WESTERN GRAZING FEE
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How is the Forest Service western grazing fee calculated and why is
The Forest Service
calculates fees in different
according to different regulations covering different areas. In
eastern States fees are set by reference to market rates, and in some instance
by competitive bidding.
In 1978, the Public
Rangeland Improvements Act (PRIA) established a fee formula on an experimental
basis for National Forest and BLM grazing operations in sixteen western
states, to “prevent economic disruption and harm to the western livestock
industry.” It is difficult to see how the fee would have much significance
for the industry as grazing on western public lands accounts for less than
4% of national livestock production (Power 2002).
in the fee was linked to “annual changes in the cost of production.” The
formula starts from a base value based on market rates in the base year
of 1967. This base fee is adjusted annually thereafter by factors
that track annual changes in forage value, prices paid for beef and costs
of production as published annually by the National Agricultural Statistics
Service. When the experimental period expired in 1986, President Reagan
directed the agencies to keep using the formula by Executive Order.The
fee on National Grasslands is set at slightly higher levels using a similar
The western National
Forest grazing fee formula is flawed as it deducts annual increases in
rancher costs twice but adds annual increases in beef prices paid to ranchers
only once (GAO 1991a, Torell et al. 2001). Thus, the fee fails to track
changes in market rates, and has barely risen above the regulatory minimum
since its inception. In 2003, the grazing fee is at the minimum of $1.35
per animal unit month or AUM (taking effect on March 1), while the National
Agricultural Statistics Service reports
that average market rate in
the sixteen western states in 2002 was $13.50/AUM. Market rates vary from
a low of $7.30/AUM in Arizona to a high of $20.90 in Nebraska. An “animal
unit month” is equivalent to a cow and her nursing calf, or five sheep
feeding for one month on federal land.
In 1994, the BLM
and Forest Service jointly proposed to reform the fee formula in Rangeland
Reform '94 (USDI and USDA 1994). A new base rate was proposed of $3.96/AUM
for the base years 1990-1992 with annual adjustments based solely on changes
in forage values, and a cap of 25 percent change per year. This reform
was predicted to greatly increase cost recovery for the U.S. Treasury.
Ultimately, the fee reform was never adopted.
The BLM published
a decision not to adopt the new formula, while the Forest Service published
Proponents of the
current formula argue that public rangeland is not as high quality as private
rangeland, thus accounting for the disparity in fees. However this argument
neglects to account for the fact that on both private and public lands
the fee is calculated per AUM rather than per acre. Lesser value forage
requires a larger tract of land to sustain the animals for the same period
of time. Thus, to a large extent, variation in forage quality is covered
by basing fees on occupancy by livestock, not area.
Costs to run cattle
on public lands are higher on average than costs on private lands. Private
ranchers spend up to $40 more per head of cattle than public lands ranchers
(USDI and USDA 1994).
who do not have public permits often sublease public lands (legally in
some cases on BLM lands, but usually illegally) at market rates several
times more than what the permittee pays. This indicates that public rangeland
is comparable to private, unirrigated rangeland and is undervalued by the
present fee formula (GAO 1986).
Q: What is the scale of grazing on National Forests and Grasslands in the
western section of the US National Forest system is divided into six administrative
regions across 16 states:Northern (northern ID, WY, ND); Rocky Mountains
(SD, eastern MT, CO, NE, KS); Southwestern (AZ, NM, OK & TX National
Grasslands); Intermountain (NV, UT, southern ID, western MT); Pacific Southwest
(CA); Pacific Northwest (OR, WA). Approximately 95 million acres respresenting
65% of the entire National Forest system area is grazed by livestock in
In this area there
are approximately 7,242 permits issued for 1,224,000 cattle, 6,111
horses or burros and 2,515,720 sheep for a total of 7,891,457 AUMs (Year
This represents 99% of
all livestock grazing permitted on all U.S. National Forests or Grasslands.
77% of grazing is on National Forests and 33% on National Grasslands.
National grasslands represent 26% of the area of the western National Forest
Grazing use and land area
is distributed among the six western regions as follows:
% of all grazing
The Rocky Mountain
and Southwestern regions are the most heavily grazed regions, carrying
50% of all grazing on only 30% of total Forest System land area.
There is also 11,814
of “free use” permitted, for which no fees are charged, as well as 2,806
of unauthorized use. (U.S. Forest Service, 2000)
Q: What environmental damage results from grazing on Forest Service lands?
Endangered species impacts
According to the
Forest Service study of Flather et al (1994, 1998), livestock grazing is
the most common cause of species becoming listed as endangered in the Southwest
region. Grazing was the second most common cause of all US plant
species becoming listed, second only to urbanization/development.
24% of all species affected occur on National Forest System lands.
In ten US regions
identified as hotspots for species endangerment, grazing was the most common
cause of endangerment in southern Arizona and the Colorado Plateau, third
most common in Nevada and west Texas, and fourth most common in California.
Nationwide it is the fourth most common cause, with agricultural development
and exotic species being the first and second most widespread causes.
Both of these causes are closely connected to livestock grazing.
Most agricultural production is for livestock feed or forage, while weed
invasions are encouraged by livestock (Belsky & Gelbard, 2000).
In the desert Southwest,
Forest Service biologists have been saying that livestock grazing should
not happen on Forest Service lands (letter by ex Forest Service biologist
Leon Fager in Albuquerque Journal 7/10/98).
Livestock compact soils, and create bare ground by trampling
and removing vegetation. In desert areas livestock destroy natural microbiological
soil surface crusts that stabilize soils, prevent weed germination and
fix atmospheric nitrogen.
Soil compaction reduces infiltration of rainfall, and also the
recharge of water tables and aquifers. The rainfall that does not enter
the soil instead flows over the surface. Because the soils have lost
protective cover due to livestock the higher flow of water erodes more
soil than in ungrazed areas. This deposits more sediment into streams
affecting native fish and their insect prey that rely on clean water and
gravel bottoms without fine sediments.
Because of reduced recharge
of water tables, many once perennial desert streams have become dry for
much of the year, while during rainfall events flows are too high and destructive.
Because livestock eat the saplings of trees in streamside areas and eat
the grass and trample streambanks, streambanks quickly erode and channels
have become wide, bare and shallow with seasonally sediment laden water
unlike the deep narrow and shaded channels with perennial clear water found
in ungrazed streams (Belsky, Matzke & Uselman, 1999).
vegetative shifts away from grassland to woody thickets has resulted from
grazing. Soil loss has resulted in long term reduction of productivity
of grasslands. Livestock remove the inhibition by grasses of juniper, pines
and other shrubs which consequently invade and degrade grassland habitat,
in some place creating hyperflammable thickets of pines. Livestock
have also destroyed the natural fire cycle that maintained grasslands by
removing the fuel for frequent cool, grassfires that helped to keep woody
vegetation in check. (Reviewed by Belsky & Blumenthal, 1995)
Even grazing at
light or moderate levels causes significant impacts on wildlife and habitat
in the arid West. Jones, (2000) reviewed over 50 studies of arid western
ecosystems found significant reductions in rodent diversity, vegetation,
soil crusts, soil stability. Many other authors report significant negative
impacts to wildlife by livestock and ranch developments.
In a comparative
study of grazing exclosures on National Forest streams in the Pacific NW,
Rhodes & Green, (2001) found that grazing as presently managed was
preventing stream habitat from reaching the salmonid habitat objectives
in the Forest plans.
Gila Trout Recovery
Two million dollars
were spent on Gila trout recovery efforts prior to 1993, and $1 million
was projected to be spent between 1993 and 2000. Since cattle graze on
the great majority of the Gila trout’s former range, the recovery program
has been limited to introducing and protecting tiny, unsustainable populations
in small headwater streams. These “emergency room” populations are extremely
expensive to sustain. “The species is in greater peril of extinction today
than when recovery efforts started because the [recovery] team wants to
avoid controversial issues such as domestic livestock grazing.” (Ohmart,
In settlement of
a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity to protect eight
species of threatened or endangered native fish and an endangered songbird
in 1998, the Southwest region of the Forest Service agreed to fence livestock
out of 330 miles of rivers and streams, after recognizing the profoundly
damaging impact the livestock have on sensitive streamside and instream
habitat for endangered species (Arizona Republic 4/18/1998 p. B5).
Because fees were inadequate to pay for this protection, the taxpayer had
to pay for the fencing.
Q: Does the Forest Service lack funds needed for restoration as a result
of the low fee?
grazing fee income is divided by regulation as follows: 50 percent to the
Range Betterment Fund which is used solely for construction of range developments
such as fences, cattleguards, tanks, pumps and pipelines by local Ranger
districts; 25 percent to states and counties (some of which may also support
ranching), and 25 percent to the U.S. Treasury.
In a series of studies the General Accounting Office (GAO) showed
that the low grazing fee was depressing funds needed for resource protection
programs, resulting in ecological harm. In a 1988 study the GAO identified
the main limitation on riparian area improvement as the lack of funding
for skilled staff to implement protection programs. The study also detailed
the ecological damage to riparian areas caused by livestock and profiled
22 cases of dramatic recovery after areas were fenced off from cattle (GAO/RCED-88
In another 1988
study “Rangeland management: more emphasis needed on declining and overstocked
grazing allotments” the GAO found a pervasive failure to fulfill the goals
set out by PRIA over a decade before (GAO/RCED –88-80). Both land agencies
reported that over 50% of public rangelands were still in fair or poor
condition, while almost one fifth of rangelands were overstocked, with
potential to degrade further. GAO found much of the data in range
inventories was over 5 years old, and inaccurate for setting proper grazing
levels. The Experimental Stewardship Program set up under PRIA had not
improved range conditions, despite diversion of 50% of grazing receipts
to the Range Betterment Fund. The GAO reported that “there was a
$12.6 million backlog of unfunded range improvement projects” indicating
that grazing receipts were inadequate for the purposes of environmental
In a 1991 study “Rangeland
management: Forest Service not performing needed monitoring of grazing
allotments” the GAO found that Forest Service monitoring duties were widely
neglected due to inadequate staffing to perform “competing responsibilities.”
In the 1991 study
“Rangeland management: Current formula keeps grazing fees low” the GAO
concluded that a principal impact of the low grazing fee was that:
“existing levels of program
management and range improvement are insufficient to perform all important
functions and restore lands damaged by previous grazing activity. Among
the functions we have shown to be receiving insufficient resources are
livestock grazing trespass enforcement, grazing allotment monitoring, allotment
management planning, and riparian area restoration.” (p. 24)
In the Rangeland Reform
Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS 1994) it was disclosed that
“Under the BLM-Forest Service proposed grazing fee…Range betterment Funds
would increase by 82 percent…As a result monitoring of resource conditions
could increase and the agencies could invest in large restoration projects.”
The DEIS noted that “if
the current fee formula is retained, Range Betterment Funds would decline
by 21 percent…[and] livestock use would become increasingly difficult to
Sierra Nevada Forests, CA
review of the Sierra Nevada Framework disclosed that “Public grazing (which
contributes 1% of total Sierra Nevada resource value) is estimated to produce
a deficit return of $7 million due to the high costs of administration
and the fact that public grazing fees are far below those charged by private
land owners.” (U.S. Forest Service Science Review Team, 1998)
Tonto National Forest (AZ)
To mitigate for
destroying riparian habitat around Roosevelt Lake, by raising the lake
level the Bureau of Reclamation spend $2.1 million to fence cattle out
of riparian areas on eleven National Forest allotments around Roosevelt
Lake. This money came out of Treasury funds, not out of grazing fee receipts.
Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest (AZ)
In 1996, the U.S.
Forest Service and the Arizona Department of Game and Fish spent $350,000
to fence cattle out of habitat for the threatened Apache trout. They spent
$100,000 on one allotment alone, which generated only $2,500 per year in
grazing revenue for the Forest Service. Then in 1998 The Forest Service
issued a decision to spend $150,000 on fences, pipelines, and stock tanks
to keep cattle out of habitat for a threatened fish in Eagle Creek. Revenue
from grazing fees is $4,000 per year on this allotment.
Coconino National Forest (AZ)
In 1995 the Forest
Service issued a decision to spend more than $600,000 on a livestock management
plan for the Apache Maid grazing allotment. The expense was primarily on
fencing to keep cattle out of sensitive riparian areas. In 1999 another
decision was made to spend $223,000 on fencing, and other development to
prevent streambank degradation in Oak Creek, Dry Creek, and Jack’s Canyon
on Windmill allotment, which brings in a maximum annual revenue of $5,141
Gila Basin Allotments (AZ and NM)
In 6/25/98 Rep. Joe Skeen
(R-NM) spearheaded a Treasury appropriation of $400,000 to fence cattle
from streams on National Forests in the Gila River basin to implement protection
of threatened fish habitat. Grazing fee receipts were completely inadequate
for the cost of meeting the species protection needs. The Gila National
Forest in its 2000 report states that funding is insufficient for monitoring
and protection needs.
Cibola NF (NM)
In Jan 2002, the Mountainair
District Ranger withdrew a proposed action for thinning, prescribed burn
and erosion control actions to rehabilitate range damaged by livestock
because there were not enough Range Betterment Funds to pay for these projects.
Q: How much more funding could be available if the fee were reformed as
the Forest Service proposed in 1994?
fee formula proposed in Rangeland Reform would result in a fee for 2002
of $5.76 as opposed to the $1.43 set in that year.
If the Forest Service
is correct that no decrease in demand would result from this fee increase,
year 2002 income from grazing receipts would have increased from $11.3
million, to $45.45 million, a fourfold increase.
Q: To what extent does the low fee affect ranchers on non-federal lands?
profit from illegal subleasing of Forest System lands at market rates to
other ranchers who do not have permits.
A 1986 study by both BLM and Forest Service examined 47,918
individual grazing permits throughout the West and documented more than
1,000 cases of illegal subleasing. (USDA Forest Service and USDI Bureau
of Land Management, 1986). Sometimes the permittees can get a return of
more than 15 times what they pay for the permit by subleasing at market
rates (Stein & Sahagun, 1989).
Federal permittees enjoy an unfair competitive advantage due
to the low grazing fee. Rangeland Reform compared livestock operators with
and without federal grazing permits, finding that “nonpermittee net costs
are about $40 per cow higher than permittee costs” (DEIS Exec. Summ p 29).
Public lands account for less than 4% of all livestock in the
entire US (Power 2002). Nevertheless hardship placed on non permittees
due to beef underpricing by permittees could become significant at the
local scale, forcing smaller operators out of business who are fully exposed
to market pricing.
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patterns in the United States, 42 pp. USDA Forest Service, Ft Collins.
C. T., Knowles, M. S. & Kendall, I. A. (1998). Threatened and endangered
species geography:characteristics of hotspots in the coterminous United
States. Bioscience 48, 365-276.
National Forest. (2000). Annual Monitoring Report for Implementing the
Gila National Forest Land Management Plan Fiscal Year 2000. US Forest
Service, Silver City, NM.
R. D. (1996). Historical and present impacts of livestock grazing on fish
and wildlife resources in western riparian habitats. In Rangeland Wildlife
(ed. P. R. Krausman), pp. 245-279. Society for Range Management, Denver.
T. M. (2002). Taking stock of public lands grazing: an economic analysis.
In G. Wuerthner and M. Matteson (eds).Welfare Ranching: the subsidized
destruction of the American West , pp. 263-270. Island Press, Washington
J. R. & Green, M. J. (2001). A comparison of the condition of salmonid
habitat attribute conditions within exclosures and in grazed reaches: an
assessment of the compatibility of grazing with the attainment of salmonid
habitat objectives. Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Portland
OR. Stein, M. A. & Sahagun, L. (1989). Controversial BLM grazing program;
ranchers turn a profit by subletting U.S. land. In Los Angeles Times,
Home Edn. Part 1, p. 1., Los Angeles CA.
Forest Service Science Review Team. (1998). Sierra Nevada Science Review,
149 pp. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station.
Forest Service and USDI Bureau of Land Management. (1986). Grazing fee
review and evaluation final report 1979-1985: A report from the secretaries
of agriculture and interior. USDA Forest Service and USDI Bureau of
Land Management., Washington DC.