Protecting endangered species and wild places through
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October 31, 2005
Contact: Greta Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity 520.623.5252 x 314;


Washington will release a report later today on federal lands’ grazing that estimates budgetary shortfalls in public lands grazing programs exceed $123 million annually, which amounts to at least $1.23 billion every decade. The BLM and the Forest Service, which manage most public lands livestock operations, lost at least $115 million in 2004. The GAO report acknowledges that this conservative figure does not account for all direct costs and it notes that some agencies do not specifically track grazing expenditures.

“We appreciate that the GAO looked into this budget shortfall, but even these figures underestimate the true cost of public lands livestock grazing,” said Greta Anderson, botanist and range restoration coordinator for the Center for Biological Diversity. “This report fails to account for the full ecological costs of public lands livestock grazing: depleted soils, degraded and polluted waterways, and impaired habitat for wildlife. If we are going to continue to allow ranchers to use our lands, it would be better to spend more money protecting these resources and to recover more of the costs by collecting reasonable fees.”

Numerous government programs are subsidized by taxpayer dollars, but in the case of public lands grazing, only a select few benefit from this largesse. Whereas other federal subsidies are available to the greater American public, only a few public lands ranchers benefit from cheap federal forage and the artificially-low grazing fees. The GAO report shows that the BLM and Forest Service grazing fees are far below fees charged on comparable private rangeland, on state trust lands throughout the west, and even on other federal lands such as those managed by the National Park Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The report shows that the current grazing fee is set below fair-market value. Most public lands ranchers pay $1.79 per month for each cow-calf pair, compared to ranchers on comparable private lands who pay an average of $13.30. The current fee fails to recover even one-fifth of the costs of grazing on BLM and Forest Service lands, and taxpayers are making up the difference.

Unfortunately, the budget deficit created by livestock grazing is not really new. In 1994, Congress issued Rangeland Reform, a study that explored the shortfall and recommended raising the grazing fee to help cost recovery. These changes were never adopted. In 2002, the Center for Biological Diversity issued a report by economists entitled “Assessing the Full Cost of the Federal Grazing Program” which revealed the discrepancy between costs and revenues in the federal grazing program, and also attempted to estimate the costs incurred through ecological damage. This report estimated the true cost of public lands ranching was closer to $500 million annually ( ). The current GAO report reveals some of the same insight into budget deficits. Federal agencies should be charging fair market value for public lands’ resources.

“Grazing is an expensive and wasteful use of our spectacular public lands. Such a small percentage of our beef comes out of the western rangelands that if it public lands livestock grazing ended today, the consumer wouldn’t even notice a difference,” said Anderson. “However, eliminating livestock on public lands would make an enormous difference in the recovery of imperiled species, in water and watershed quality, in the abundance and health of wildlife, and in the overall aesthetic experience of BLM and National Forest lands. The value of these benefits has yet to be figured into the equation.”


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