Federal Grazing Fees

Grazing permittees/lessees pay a small fee to graze federal public lands. In 2010, the grazing fee on most Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service lands is $1.35 per animal unit month (AUM; a measure of the amount of forage necessary to sustain a cow and calf for one month). The fee was also $1.35 per AUM in 2009 [News Release ] and 2010.

Grazing fees paid by ranchers are insufficient to cover the direct and indirect costs of livestock grazing on BLM and Forest Service lands. The Government Accountability Office reported that public lands grazing on BLM and Forest System lands cost taxpayers at least $132.5 million in FY 2004 (BLM $58.3 million, Forest Service $74.2 million), while the agencies only recovered a combined $17.5 million in grazing fees (of which $8.8 million was deposited into "range betterment" funds used to support continued grazing, and only $3.7 million was deposited in the Treasury).

If grazing fees were to recoup the costs of livestock grazing on BLM and Forest Service lands, the BLM would need to charge $7.64 per AUM and the Forest Service would have to charge $12.26 per AUM (GAO 2005).

Federal Grazing Fee Rulemaking Petition

In November 2005, the Sagebrush Sea Campaign joined the Center for Biological Diversity and partner organizations on a petition to the U.S. Departments of the Interior and Agriculture to request a new rule to increase the grazing fee on BLM and Forest Service lands to cover the costs of their grazing programs. The current fee fails to recover even 15 percent of the known direct and indirect costs of administering grazing on BLM and Forest Service lands, which include vegetation management; restoration of riparian and upland habitats; range developments; resource monitoring; and salaries and overhead expenses for range management personnel. The low fee also does not repay the ecological costs of public lands grazing: impaired watersheds and water quality; increased flammability of forests; proliferation of invasive species; degraded wildlife habitat; and species imperilment. The ecological costs alone expose the exorbitantly high costs of renting public lands forage that supplies only two percent of the total feed consumed by beef cattle in the 48 contiguous states.

Update (January 18, 2011):
Obama Administration Refuses to Reform Public Lands Grazing Fee. After a five year delay, the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture finally responded to conservationists' request that they reform the artificially low fee federal agencies charge for livestock grazing on public lands. Claiming higher priorities, both departments declined to address the outdated grazing fee formula. News Release

Update (June 10, 2010):
Conservation Organizations Sue Federal Government for Failure to Respond to Grazing Fee Rulemaking Petition. The Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and Oregon Natural Desert Association sued the Departments of Interior and Agriculture to compel them to respond to a 2005 rulemaking petition that seeks to increase the fee for livestock grazing across 258 million acres of federal public land. News Release

Rulemaking Petition: Petition for Rulemaking to Amend Grazing Fee Regulations to Reflect the Fair Market Value of Federal Forage [Cover letter ]
Media Release: Conservationists Petition Federal Government to Increase Grazing Fee (Nov. 8, 2005)

New York Times Obama Admin denies petition to raise grazing fees on public lands (1/19/11)
Letters from the West (blog) Low grazing fees lie at heart of calls for reform (2/7/08) 2008 grazing fee
Arizona Daily Star Grazing fees drop, but plan's in the red (2/9/07) 2007 grazing fee
Jackson Hole Star Tribune Feds reduce grazing fees (2/4/06) 2006 grazing fee
Daily Herald (Provo, UT) Conservationists petition for increased livestock grazing fee (11/12/05)