RENO, Nev. — The federal grazing fee will stay at the minimum allowable level for a seventh consecutive year, a development that has rekindled a longstanding debate in the West between conservationists and ranchers.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service officials last month said the fee of $1.35 per animal unit month will remain in effect this year for ranchers who hold some 26,000 grazing permits on public lands in more than a dozen Western states.
The formula used to determine the grazing fee, set by Congress in 1978, is based on market conditions, including private grazing lease rates, beef cattle prices and the cost of livestock production. An AUM is the amount of forage a cow and her calf can eat in one month.
Katie Fite, biodiversity director of the Western Watersheds Project based in Hailey, Idaho, said the fee is unrealistically low because it’s set by an outdated formula that allows ranchers to pay far less than they would for grazing on private land.
The fee falls well short of covering government costs to manage grazing, she said, and taxpayers end up footing the bill.
According to a Government Accountability Office report in 2005, grazing fees generated less than one-sixth of the expenditures needed by the government to manage grazing on public lands in 2004.