What is the cost of extinction?
The American public is woefully uninformed about the entrenchment, expense, and ecological harm of this land use.”
Reposted from The Wildlife News
The taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for grazing either.
by GRETA ANDERSON on APRIL 16, 2014 · LEAVE A COMMENT · in ADVOCACY, B.L.M., CATTLE, FOREST SERVICE, GRAZING AND LIVESTOCK, NEVADA, PUBLIC LANDS
Let’s talk a bit about the public lands grazing fee that Cliven Bundy refused to pay.
The Forest Service (FS) has been charging fees to graze private livestock on federal lands since 1906 and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been charging fees since 1936. In 1978, Congress established a fee formula in the Public Rangelands Improvement Act (PRIA), and the grazing fee has been set according to this formula ever since.
The problem is, however, the formula is flawed. PRIA requires the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to see a fee annually that is the estimated economic value of grazing to the livestock owner. The formula uses a base of $1.23 per AUM, established from the fair market value of grazing lands in 1966, and adjusts it annually according to 1) the charge for leasing private grazing lands, 2) the sales price of beef cattle, and 3) the cost of livestock production, including such factors as the cost of gasoline. Sadly, though PRIA only intended for a trial run using this formula, the formula was extended indefinitely by an Executive Order in 1986 under President Reagan. Efforts to revise the fee formula have been rejected.
The formula is flawed first because it uses $1.23 as the base rate, the base rate of private lands grazing in 1966. In real dollars, adjusting for inflation, this would be $8.97 today. Private lands lease from a low of $9 per AUM in Arizona to $33.50 per AUM in Nebraska. Under any measure, the base rate undervalues the public lands, but the problems with the formula are compounded by its double-counting of ability-to-pay factors. The result is that the fee has been exceedingly low year after year, and hasn’t risen above the minimum fee of $1.35 per AUM since 2007. The year that Bundy stopped paying his grazing fee is was just $1.86 per AUM, and it’s never gone above $2.31.
Just imaging getting a whole month’s worth of cow food for that amount of money. Now you know why the ranchers are so attached to the screaming deal they are getting with their public lands permits. The lower the bottom line, the higher the profits.
Problem is, the costs to taxpayers of just having the land managers administer the program have continued to rise and the grazing fees don’t even begin to cover it. According to the Government Accountability Office in 2005, the grazing fee isn’t nearly sufficient to cover the costs of managing public lands grazing, and American taxpayers subsidize the program with at least $1.23 billion every decade, not counting the additional costs of species recovery, range infrastructure, soil loss, weed infestations, increasing wildfires, and bacterial contamination of water supplies.
In Mr. Bundy’s case, the costs are much higher. When Bundy stopped paying grazing fees in 1993, he would have owed less than $3500.00 each year for his herd of 150 mama cows year round. He refused to pay because he wanted to run more cows than the BLM would permit, and he has since racked up a debt of nearly a million dollars in fees, fines, and penalties. That doesn’t count the legal expenses incurred by BLM to get the courts to order Bundy off, nor does it include the costs of last week’s failed roundup. The Bunkerville conflict has cost taxpayers untold millions for the sole benefit of one rancher who refuses to budge.
Make no mistake: Bundy isn’t the only rancher ripping off the American public. Every public lands livestock permittee is banking on federally-funded range infrastructure like solar wells and fences and benefitting from federally-funded wildlife killing that targets native predators like wolves and coyotes for the sake of livestock safety. Many permittees benefit from drought payments and disaster payments, seek handouts for “restoration projects” that are really just reseeding the forage species their cows stripped in the first place. And most livestock operations occur at the peril of endangered species, whether it’s the Mojave desert tortoise being nutritionally starved or Greater sage-grouse eggs being broken by clumsy hooves. What is the cost of extinction? The American public is woefully uninformed about the entrenchment, expense, and ecological harm of this land use.
Let’s have that conversation instead. It isn’t about one rancher and his debt to BLM; it’s about all 22,000 public lands permittees and their debt to all of us.