FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Cowboy Welfare 

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The Federal Government just reduced its grazing fee to $1.35 an AUM for ranchers with grazing privileges on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service lands. Grazing on other public lands According to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service is often higher as is grazing on private lands that typically runs $22.60 an AUM or more.

Furthermore, the price of grazing privileges on public lands has not kept up with inflation. The current formula for setting grazing fees was established in 1966 when the cost per AUM was $1.26. If you adjust for inflation, the minimal cost should be $9.47.

Compounding this already subsidized cost is that since 1966, the average cow and calf are considerably larger, and require more forage. As a result, an AUM or the amount of vegetation needed to sustain a cow and calf in 1966 is now considerably less, but most grazing allotments have not been adjusted to reflect these changes in the size (appetite) of cattle.

Due to failure to keep up with inflation, the price paid to graze on public lands is estimated by one 2015 study to be more than a billion dollars annually and covers only 7% of the real costs of administrating these lands.

The ranching industry claims that BLM and FS lands are not as productive as private lands; thus such comparisons are unfair. However, the fee paid for private leases is often adjacent to BLM and FS lands of similar productivity.  An even more telling comparison is that National Wildlife Refuges are not constrained by the grazing formula used for BLM and FS lands, and grazing fees on wildlife refuges are often similar to those on private lands.

The livestock industry likes to suggest that private land leases provide more amenities for their operations like better water sources, move livestock promptly or fence maintenance that they “required”- in theory–to do on public lands. Of course, one of the problems with private livestock utilizing public lands is that many of these requirements are not met.

Plus, one is left asking, if grazing is on public lands is such a lousy deal, why ranchers across the West fight so hard to maintain the current grazing prices and system. They aren’t doing the public any favors.

But these dollar figures ignore the real cost of livestock grazing on public lands and expenses that are not reflected in the miserly fee paid by ranchers.

For instance, if cows trample a salmon spawning streambank, the public picks up the cost of restoring the salmon or the stream. It is these ecological costs that are the real subsidy.

According to the BLM’s figures on Rangeland Health, the agency claims that 10,480 allotments (72%) of the allotments it has reviewed have met these standards. That is 55% of the total allotment area, while 16% of allotments (29% of entire allotment area surveyed) have failed standards due to livestock grazing. But like many statistics the BLM uses to prop up the livestock industry, these statistics distort the truth.

The BLM uses questionable accounting methods to obscure the truth.  Its figures include allotments in its assessment that are “improving” or “moving towards’ the Rangeland Health standards. Given that a significant majority of BLM lands are either stable or declining conditions, but stable in poor to fair condition (fair meaning up to 50% of the key forage plants that should be there are non-existent) the real story is that most of our federal public lands are not properly functioning.

Beyond the fact that a majority of all our public lands are currently degraded by livestock owners using them for private profit, the mere presence of domestic livestock has many other impacts (i.e., costs) that are not part of the “Rangeland Health” assessment.

The presence of domestic livestock tramples biocrusts which prevents soil losses and inputs carbon into soils. Biocrusts also limit the spread of cheatgrass, an invasive grass that burns readily and is one of the primary reason or massive range fires. Livestock are a significant source of water pollution around the West. Livestock are consuming forage that would otherwise support native herbivores from grasshoppers to elk. Disease from domestic animals like sheep can be transferred to wild bighorn, resulting in the decline or loss of entire herds of wild sheep. Fence collisions constitute a significant cause of mortality for low flying sage grouse, and also hinder migration for other wildlife like pronghorn.

In short, the West’s welfare ranchers get a massive subsidy by grazing public lands. Though the $1.35 an AUM is easily one of the most easily identified subsidies, it is dwarfed by the real ecological costs.

More articles by:

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

July 14, 2020
Anthony DiMaggio
Canceling the Cancel Culture: Enriching Discourse or Dumbing it Down?
Patrick Cockburn
Boris Johnson Should not be Making New Global Enemies When His Country is in a Shambles
Frank Joyce
Lift From the Bottom? Yes.
Richard C. Gross
The Crackdown on Foreign Students
Steven Salaita
Should We Cancel “Cancel Culture”?
Paul Street
Sorry, the Chicago Blackhawks Need to Change Their Name and Logo
Jonathan Cook
‘Cancel Culture’ Letter is About Stifling Free Speech, Not Protecting It
John Feffer
The Global Rushmore of Autocrats
C. Douglas Lummis
Pillar of Sand in Okinawa
B. Nimri Aziz
Soft Power: Americans in Its Grip at Home Must Face the Mischief It Wields by BNimri Aziz July 11/2020
Cesar Chelala
What was lost when Ringling Bros. Left the Circus
Dan Bacher
California Regulators Approve 12 New Permits for Chevron to Frack in Kern County
George Wuerthner
Shrinking Wilderness in the Gallatin Range
Lawrence Davidson
Woodrow Wilson’s Racism: the Basis For His Support of Zionism
Binoy Kampmark
Mosques, Museums and Politics: the Fate of Hagia Sophia
Dean Baker
Propaganda on Government Action and Inequality from David Leonhardt
July 13, 2020
Gerald Sussman
The Russiagate Spectacle: Season 2?
Ishmael Reed
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Perry Mason Moment
Jack Rasmus
Why the 3rd Quarter US Economic ‘Rebound’ Will Falter
W. T. Whitney
Oil Comes First in Peru, Not Coronavirus Danger, Not Indigenous Rights
Ralph Nader
The Enduring Case for Demanding Trump’s Resignation
Raghav Kaushik – Arun Gupta
On Coronavirus and the Anti-Police-Brutality Uprising
Deborah James
Digital Trade Rules: a Disastrous New Constitution for the Global Economy Written by and for Big Tech
Howard Lisnoff
Remembering the Nuclear Freeze Movement and Its Futility
Sam Pizzigati
Will the Biden-Sanders Economic Task Force Rattle the Rich?
Allen Baker
Trump’s Stance on Foreign College Students Digs US Economic Hole Even Deeper
Binoy Kampmark
The Coronavirus Seal: Victoria’s Borders Close
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Power, Knowledge and Virtue
Weekend Edition
July 10, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Lynnette Grey Bull
Trump’s Postcard to America From the Shrine of Hypocrisy
Anthony DiMaggio
Free Speech Fantasies: the Harper’s Letter and the Myth of American Liberalism
David Yearsley
Morricone: Maestro of Music and Image
Jeffrey St. Clair
“I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade
Rob Urie
Democracy and the Illusion of Choice
Paul Street
Imperial Blind Spots and a Question for Obama
Vijay Prashad
The U.S. and UK are a Wrecking Ball Crew Against the Pillars of Internationalism
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post and Its Cold War Drums
Richard C. Gross
Trump: Reopen Schools (or Else)
Chris Krupp
Public Lands Under Widespread Attack During Pandemic 
Alda Facio
What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Inequality, Discrimination and the Importance of Caring
Eve Ottenberg
Bounty Tales
Andrew Levine
Silver Linings Ahead?
John Kendall Hawkins
FrankenBob: The Self-Made Dylan
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Deutsche Bank Fined $150 Million for Enabling Jeffrey Epstein; Where’s the Fine Against JPMorgan Chase?
David Rosen
Inequality and the End of the American Dream
Louis Proyect
Harper’s and the Great Cancel Culture Panic
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail