Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Grazing fee stays same, rekindles debate

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 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of the Western Watersheds Project based in Hailey, Idaho, said the fee is unrealistically low because it’s set by an outdated formula that allows ranchers to pay far less than they would for grazing on private land.  J.J. Goicoechea, president of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, said conservationists fail to take into account that rancher-funded improvements for pipelines, water troughs and fences also benefit wildlife. Ranchers already are struggling because of drought and wildfires across the West, he said, and they play an important role in rural economies. Studies show each AUM has an overall economic impact of more than $75, he added...more

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