Western Watersheds Project has relentlessly pursued a fair grazing fee on federal public lands. In 2003, as part of our comments on the Bush Administration’s proposed changes to BLM grazing regulations (regulations that have since been overturned and repeatedly tossed out by the courts), we suggested that the agency reform the fee formula, a reform that had been proposed many times since the formula was established under the Public Rangelands Improvement Act (PRIA) of 1978. They did not take our recommendations.
In 2005, we joined with other conservation organizations in submitting an Administrative Procedures Act petition asking the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture to address the grazing fee formula. Having gotten no answer by 2010, we filed a lawsuit against the government to compel their response.
In 2012, the Obama Administration responded to our concern by proposing to assess a $1 fee to supplement the insufficient fee set by the PRIA while the Department of Interior promulgates a rule-making process aimed at recovering the costs of the federal grazing program. Because this step is a part of the Obama Administration’s Proposed 2013 Budget, it will need to survive Congress prior to taking effect.
While this move comes nowhere near what is needed, it does signal a step in the right direction. The current grazing fee formula is flawed, fails to cover the costs of administering the federal grazing program by a wide margin - a margin even wider when one considers the ecological costs incurred by this land use practice. And yet, year after year, the taxpayers make up the difference between what commercial livestock operators pay and what it cost American taxpayers to graze public land.
WWP will keep fighting for a fair fee, one that keeps up with inflation and grazing fees on private and state trust lands around the West. If our public lands must withstand grazing abuse, at least let’s get the money to restore them into the public coffers.