CITIZEN GROUPS SUE FOREST SERVICE OVER GRAZING FEE
February 26, 2003
Eight citizen groups are suing the U.S. Forest Service for failing to reform the fee charged for grazing livestock on National Forests in the Western US. The 2003 grazing fee of $1.35 per month for a cow and her calf is one tenth of market rates and is the minimum allowed by regulation.
The extremely low grazing fee fails to cover the basic administrative costs of the federal grazing program. In October 2002 the Center for Biological Diversity released a report showing that the federal grazing program costs taxpayers $124 million at a minimum, and likely as much as $1 billion annually in subsidies and other costs after subtracting fee receipts.
Over ten years ago, the US Departments of Agriculture and Interior and the General Accounting Office established that the formula used to calculate the fee is mathematically flawed, as it subtracts increases in the costs of production twice. As a result the fee has barely risen above the $1.35 minimum, while market rates on equivalent private ranchlands have increased to almost 10 times greater.
The Forest Service proposed to reform the fee formula in 1994, but never announced a final decision on the reform, and kept on using the flawed formula.
"The Forest Service charges about as much to run a cow on public lands as it costs to feed a pet hamster. The U.S. taxpayer is being fleeced by this bargain basement sale of public resources." stated Peter Galvin, Conservation Biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity. Galvin added "Livestock grazing on public lands is one of the major causes of species endangerment in the U.S."
Joining the Center in this action are American Lands Alliance, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Committee for the High Desert, Forest Guardians, Oregon Natural Desert Association, the Nevada Outdoor Recreation Association and Western Watersheds Project.
Bill Marlett, Oregon Natural Desert Association said that: "Low grazing fees coupled with big federal deficits means that monitoring and mitigation of cow-damaged rangelands will go neglected. It's not just the American taxpayer who gets the shaft, but the streams, soils and wildlife on all of our Western public lands."
Katie Fite, Conservation Director of the Committee for the High Desert, added: "The livestock industry claims that public lands ranchers have to invest more time and resources on federal lands than on private rangeland. This may be true in some cases, but USDA research in the mid 1990s showed that costs for private land ranchers average about $40 a cow higher than for public lands ranchers - exactly the opposite of what industry claims."
Charles Watson, of the Nevada Outdoor Recreation Association added that: "The low fee has encouraged overgrazing, massive erosion and invasion by noxious vegetation, leading to the huge fires that have destroyed millions of dollars of private property in the West in recent years. The Forest Service has known about the flaw in the fee formula for years. It's high time they fixed it."
The lawsuit, which requires the Forest Service to make a final decision on the reform of the grazing fee formula, was filed in Federal District Court in Washington D.C. today, Wednesday Feb 26, and will be argued by Eric Glitzenstein of Meyer and Glitzenstein.