Friday, January 28, 2011
A Failed Push to Raise Fees Begs the Question: Is Public-Lands Grazing Helpful or Harmful?
The Obama administration recently rejected a petition from several environmental groups asking to raise the fees for ranchers whose animals graze on public lands. But the fight’s far from over. Currently, ranchers can pay $1.35 for each cow or calf eating grass on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. A report from the Government Accounting Office, however, shows the actual cost of administrating public lands grazing is about $7 per animal. According to Taylor McKinnon, the public lands director for the Center for Biological Diversity, taxpayers shouldn’t have to supply the $115 million gap between what’s paid by ranchers and what grazing costs the public. His organization is among those petitioning the federal government. But ranchers and the BLM say, if managed, livestock grazing is beneficial. Kim Baker is president of the Montana Cattlemen’s Association. She said she and most ranchers rotate their cattle to make sure they’re not overusing an area. “Ranchers have always been good stewards of the land,” she said. “We understand that if we destroy an area, it takes a long time to rebuild it.” If grazing fees were raised, Baker said it would hurt ranchers. “When you’re grazing in the forest, I gotta tell you, it’s not just like taking your cattle out to an irrigated meadow,” she said. Baker said ranchers who graze their cattle on public lands deal with rough terrain, weeds and wolves. A higher cost wouldn’t be worth it for most, she said...more