An Obama administration proposal would more than double fees.
What the public land morons don’t know is that there is such a thing as private property rights in public lands. And, one of the biggest problems is that it is a “split estate” meaning that somebody may own the water, another may own the minerals, still others may own the timber and the lowly rancher owns the grazing rights. This was well established by the Hague case.
So, the ranchers’ “grazing fee” is not a “fee” at all nor is it “rent” paid to the FedGov Feudal landlord. It is, simply, a tax on property (the grazing rights). How would you like it if the ad valorem taxes on your home suddenly doubled?
BTW, when I pay my real estate taxes, I write “Quit Rents” in the little “For” block. Under Feudalism the peasant could “buy back” his obligation to serve his Feudal Lord. That was known as “quit rents.”
So far I have never had one of the States affirmative discrimination (err action) tokens challenge me on it. Just like the authors and editors at High Country News, they just have no sense of history. — jtl, 419
Twenty years ago, fees for ranchers grazing livestock on federal public lands were a major political issue, the subject of regular national debates between conservationists and ranchers. The fee program brings in far less money for the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service than the agencies spend on maintaining rangeland. But thanks to the power of the livestock lobby, proposals to raise grazing fees have been stymied in political controversy for decades.
Now, the Obama administration is trying again — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has proposed an additional administrative fee of $2.50 per animal unit month (the forage needed to sustain one cow and calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month).
The fee would provide $16.5 million in 2016 for the BLM — a $13.5 million net gain, considering a proposed $3 million decrease in rangeland management funding. Currently the BLM spends over seven times as much money on rangeland management and improvement programs as it collects in grazing fees; that’s $89 million versus $12 million. (The rangeland programs include things like permit administration, weed management, water development and vegetation restoration.) Income from the new fee would go toward rangeland health efforts, as well as help address a massive backlog of grazing permit renewals.
Jewell’s proposal would bump the feds’ income from grazers by 148percent, but, because it’s a separate administrative tax, it doesn’t violate the requirement that the baseline grazing fee (for the BLM, $1.69 per AUM this year) can’t increase by more than 25 percent annually. The move, which Interior has attempted in similar forms since 2012, appears to be a last resort to get around bitter political resistance to baseline fee increases. But the attempt has been repeatedly thwarted — stripped from Obama’s budget before being passed each fall.
If the fee were to pass — an unlikely scenario, since it has to push through committee, including the Natural Resources Committee, chaired by conservative Utah Republican Rob Bishop — it would have a huge effect on Western ranchers. “If expenses for your business go up over 100 percent, that’s a big impact,” says Utah Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Brent Tanner. And in Tanner’s state, most ranchers use at least some federal land to graze their cattle, so would be affected by the new fee.
Yet conservationists have long cited the grazing fee as far too low, considering the ecological cost of livestock on public lands. The formula takes into account private land lease rates, beef cattle prices and production costs like gasoline and equipment. Thus, ranchers are supposed to pay more when conditions are good and less when conditions are worse. But that’s not what’s happened since the fee was implemented with the 1978 Public Rangelands Improvement Act. The rate crested the two-dollar mark just once, in 1981, and was at the legal minimum ($1.35) every year from 2007 to 2014.
Grazing fees on public land were always meant to be lower than those on private land because the former often provides poorer quality forage and ranchers usually have to maintain their own fencing and irrigation infrastructure. When grazing fees were established, they were supposed to increase over time, trailing private rates. But the opposite has happened, and the gap between public and private land lease rates has increased over time. “The 2015 fee is just 8 percent of what it would cost to graze livestock on private grazing lands,” reads an economic study conducted on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity. “In 1981, when the federal fee first went into effect, it was 23.79 percent.”
So why aren’t public land grazing fees naturally going up? That can be traced to how cattle prices and cost of production figure into the fee formula; adding these two elements to the formula did not improve its ability to predict annual forage values, says a 2001academic paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Range Management. “In fact, adding these two indices ruined the predictive ability of the formula and… grazing fees have fallen further and further behind the private land lease rates through time.”
Part of the reason that grazing fees have provoked such fury from politically conservative ranchers is that they’re imposed by the federal government. And yet the BLM funnels 12 percent of its income from fees back to the states they came from. (For lands outside of grazing districts, it’s 50 percent.) The rest of the income goes to a rangeland betterment fund and the U.S. Treasury. For the Forest Service, 25 percent goes back to the states and 50 percent to rangeland betterment.
Some conservationists, like John Horning from WildEarth Guardians, think that working with ranchers to retire grazing permits altogether may be a more realistic way to protect rangeland health than increasing fees, which at the moment, is a political non-starter. “There are two things that have eclipsed (the grazing fee debate),” Horning says, “the public lands movement, which is all about acres of protection; the second is climate change. Grazing is just barely on the radar.”
Tay Wiles is the online editor at High Country News.
A Handbook for Ranch Managers. In keeping with the “holistic” idea that the land, the livestock, the people and the money should be viewed as a single integrated whole: Part I deals with the management of the natural resources. Part II covers livestock production and Part III deals with the people and the money. Not only would this book make an excellent basic text for a university program in Ranch Management, no professional ranch manager’s reference bookshelf should be without it. It is a comprehensive reference manual for managing the working ranch. The information in the appendices and extensive bibliography alone is worth the price of the book.
You might be interested in this books supplement: Planned Grazing: A Study Guide and Reference Manual.