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Obama’s Proposed Budget Moves In the Right Direction On Grazing Fee

For immediate release – February 16, 2012

Contacts: Brian Ertz, Western Watersheds Project, 208.830.2120
Jon Marvel, Western Watersheds Project, 208.788.2290

Increased Fees to Graze On Public Land Still Doesn’t Cover Costs

Hailey, ID – President Obama’s proposed 2013 budget for the Department of the Interior included a tiny bit of good news for western public lands: a $1 increase in the fee charged for livestock grazing on Bureau of Land Management allotments. The fee, which covers each “Animal Unit Month,” (‘AUM’ – the equivalent of a cow/calf pair or five sheep) has been $1.35 for the past five years. Western Watersheds Project, a longtime critic of the artificially low fee, applauded the measure.

“An extra dollar per cow/calf pair per month isn’t going to balance the large deficit the grazing program creates,” said Brian Ertz, Media Direct of Western Watersheds Project. “Still, the Obama Administration is moving in the right direction, requiring the parties who benefit from the program to cover the cost instead of the American taxpayer. The industry will complain about unfair taxation, but it’s the American public and the native wildlife that have been bearing the costs of the program all along.”

Indeed, the Government Accountability Office’s 2005 report describes the entire federal grazing program running at a $123 million dollar annual deficit just in administrative costs. The report estimated that the BLM would need to collect at least $7.64 per animal unit month to cover the costs. The $1 pilot-program fee increase would mean the program still operates in the red.

“We don’t think the Obama Administration could set the fee high enough to cover the true costs to the land: imperiled species, impaired water quality, destroyed soils,” said Ertz. “Nonetheless, we’re glad that the new fee proposes to cover more of the administrative cost.”

The average grazing fee on equivalent, non-irrigated private lands in the West was $15.90 per AUM in 2007. Many corporate ranches that take advantage of the low fee are able to turn around and lease their own equivalent private land at a much higher $15.00 per cow/calf pair to other ranchers.

The Obama Administration had previously rejected a petition to change the grazing fee formula, claiming it had higher priorities.

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