For Immediate Release, July 13, 2012
Contact: Taylor McKinnon, (928) 310-6713
Senate Bill Targets Destructive Public-lands Grazing Subsidy
WASHINGTON— Calling it unfair and indefensible, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) this week introduced legislation (Senate Bill 3374) to hike the federal grazing fee that applies to 258 million acres of public land — 81 percent of the land administered by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in the 11 western states. The current fee charges the livestock industry only $1.35 to graze one cow and one calf for one month on public land. Nelson’s bill would require the secretaries of interior and agriculture to to set livestock grazing fees on Bureau of Land Management and national forest rangelands at fees comparable to those found on nearby private rangeland, which can exceed $20 per animal per month.
“The grazing subsidy is among America's most upside-down public-lands policies," said Taylor McKinnon, Wildlands Progam Director (formerly Public Lands Program Director) at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Each year this irrational subsidy costs the public hundreds of millions of dollars while encouraging public-lands grazing that pollutes water, erodes soil and destroys wildlife habitat. This bill is a serious, welcome and long-overdue attempt at real reform.”
A 1986 executive order and 1978’s Public Rangelands Improvement Act prohibit the fee from falling below $1.35 per animal unit month, which is only 12 cents more than monthly rates charged in 1966 and roughly the same as a 13-ounce can of dog food. Market rates for grazing unirrigated western private land exceed $10 per animal unit month. There are approximately 23,600 public-lands ranchers, representing about 6 percent of all livestock producers west of the Mississippi River.
In its 2005 report, the Government Accountability Office found that BLM and Forest Service grazing receipts fail to recover even 15 percent of administrative costs and are much lower than fees charged by the other federal agencies, states and private ranchers. The GAO found that the BLM and Forest Service grazing fee decreased by 40 percent from 1980 to 2004, while grazing fees charged by private ranchers increased by 78 percent for the same period. To recover expenditures, the BLM and Forest Service would have had to charge $7.64 and $12.26 per animal unit month respectively. An earlier Center for Biological Diversity report found that direct and indirect costs of public-lands grazing may exceed $1 billion annually.
In 2011 the Obama administration denied an Administrative Procedures Act rulemaking petition by the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups seeking to raise the fee — a decision those groups had to sue the administration to make. The administration instead chose to keep the fee at its lowest allowable legal limit; it has since proposed in its 2013 budget to raise the rate to $2.36 — still far below market or administrative costs.
“We’ve petitioned and sued the Obama administration seeking a fairer fee, but they’ve resisted change,” said McKinnon. “After years of government inaction, it’s refreshing to see a legislator with guts enough to tell the truth and demand a discussion about real reform.”
A copy of the 2005 fee petition can be found by clicking here.
A copy of the legal complaint against the government can be found here.
A copy of the Department of Agriculture’s response can be found here.
A copy of the Department of the Interior’s response can be found here.
A copy of the 2005 GAO report can be found by clicking here.
A report assessing the full costs of public-lands livestock grazing can be found here.
Grazing fees apply to livestock grazing across 258 million acres of western public land administered by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management — 81 percent of the land administered by the two agencies in the 11 western states. There are approximately 23,600 public-lands ranchers, representing about 6 percent of all livestock producers west of the Mississippi River.
The low federal grazing fee contributes to the harm caused by livestock grazing on public lands for two primary reasons: (1) The below-fair-market-value fee encourages annual grazing on even the most marginal lands and allows for increased grazing on other areas; and (2) since a percentage of the funds collected is required to be used on range mitigation and restoration, the low fee equates to less funding for environmental mitigation and restoration of the affected lands.
Livestock grazing is one of the most ubiquitous and destructive uses of public land. It is also a contributing factor to the imperilment of numerous threatened and endangered species, including the desert tortoise, Mexican spotted owl, southwestern willow flycatcher, least Bell’s vireo, Mexican gray wolf, Oregon spotted frog, Chiricahua leopard frog and dozens of other species of mammals, fish, amphibians and springsnails that occur on western public land. Public-lands livestock grazing is also a primary factor contributing to unnaturally severe western wildfires, watershed degradation, soil loss and the spread of invasive plants — as well as annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to that of 705,342 passenger vehicles.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.