New budget proposes to increase federal lands grazing fee

Apr 12, 2013

President Obama’s recent budget proposal added fuel to the fire for producers already wondering about future pasture plans, with most drought stricken states already curtailing public lands grazing, in some areas by as much as 70 percent.

According to the Public Lands Council (PLC) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), President Barack Obama’s proposed budget, unveiled last Wednesday, includes an increase in the public lands grazing fee assessment that would put many family ranches out of business.

Dustin Van Liew, PLC executive director and NCBA director of federal lands, said increasing the grazing fee through an arbitrary tax is unwarranted and is further evidence that the president and his administration are out of touch with production agriculture and rural economies of the West.

“This proposal came as no surprise to us—it’s a repeat of last year’s arbitrary fee increase proposal, only this time includes not only Bureau of Land Management permittees but also the U.S. Forest Service. Judging by the president’s plan to levy a 74 percent tax on the grazing fee and make extreme cuts in BLM and USFS range funding, we think it’s safe to say this administration does not understand American agriculture. Federal lands ranchers are and always have been willing to pay a fair price to graze livestock on public lands. They willingly invest significant amounts of money to manage and improve the range,” Van Liew said.

“The current grazing fee is fair. In fact, most public lands ranchers already pay market price for their federal forage, when considering factors such as added regulatory costs, increased predation, ownership and maintenance of water rights and improvements and the difficulties of managing livestock in rough, arid rangelands. Arbitrarily increasing the grazing fee via a tax will do nothing more than impose unnecessary costs on the ranchers working every day to produce safe and affordable food and fiber.”

The President’s $3.8 trillion budget included $1.2 billion in appropriations for BLM for fiscal year (FY) 2014. The request represents a $32.6 million or 2.9 percent increase over the agency’s congressionally enacted FY 2012 budget.

Specifically, the president’s budget calls for the BLM and USFS to impose a $1 per animal unit month (AUM) increase above the grazing fee to cover administrative costs. Van Liew said that ranchers should not bear the burden of paying for “bureaucratic administrative costs” that are out of their control, including costs such as attorneys fees paid from agency budgets to radical enviro-litigators. He added that the president’s budget outline is just a proposal and that it is up to Congress to determine final budgetary allocations.

“The president’s lack of understanding for the federal lands grazing industry, as evidenced by his proposed 74 percent tax on federal land ranchers, is extremely disappointing. Effectively increasing the grazing fee during these times of economic uncertainty will unnecessarily increase burdens on livestock producers and hamper their ability to create jobs and generate economic growth in their communities. We are not going to stand by and let that happen,” Van Liew said.

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land for conservation, energy development, and recreation according to reports.

Government officials appear to be seeing dollar signs attached to BLM public lands, considering in 2012 it generated $4.6 billion in revenues, returning more than four dollars for every dollar spent according to BLM reports. BLM Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze told reporters that the BLM generates an estimated $151 billion in economic output for the nation and supports more than 756,000 jobs through extractive and recreational uses of public lands.

Under the President’s proposed budget for FY 2014, the BLM, which has about 10,250 full-time employees, will also focus on other areas according to a BLM press release, including:

• A program increase of $7.1 million for renewable energy planning, environmental studies, and geothermal management.

• An increase of $6 million for the BLM’s National Conservation Lands that comprise the 27 million-acre National Landscape Conservation System through America’s Great Outdoors (AGO).

• A $1.1 million increase for the agency to collaborate with AGO partners to advance community-based, landscape-scale conservation efforts in the desert Southwest, the Crown of the Continent (northwest Montana), and the northern Great Plains grasslands.

• An increase of $2.8 million for expanded youth programs and partnerships, including an increase of $1.5 million for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).

This would add to the $1 million base NFWF budget that is currently dedicated to advancing the youth initiative through Youth in the Great Outdoors.

• An increase of $3.5 million for implementing the Secretary’s Western Oregon Strategy for resource management on the economically critical Oregon and California lands, managed by the BLM for forest diversity and sustainability. The funding request includes $1.8 million aimed at increasing timber volumes offered for sale while stepping up surveys of rare and endangered species and facilitating recovery of the northern spotted owl.

• A $1.7 million increase for the preparation of six new Western Oregon Resource Management Plans announced by the Secretary in February 2012.

• A $48.9 million for BLM land acquisition, an increase of $26.6 million over the 2012 enacted level. The request includes $16.3 million in mandatory funding. Among other things, the total request would underwrite eight projects associated with hunter or angler access in seven states.

• An increase of $15 million over the 2012 enacted level to enhance habitat for the Greater Sage-grouse through continued land-use planning efforts and habitat restoration projects.

• An increase of $2 million for the Wild Horse and Burro Program to support continued efforts to reform the program and carry out a longterm management strategy.

Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor