Fiscal Costs of Public Lands Grazing

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported the federal government spends at least $144 million annually managing private livestock grazing on federal public lands, but collects only $21 million in grazing fees—for a net loss of at least $123 million per year.

The GAO admited its report is incomplete because several agencies, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, which spend millions of dollars mitigating grazing effects such as soil erosion, weed incursion, and water pollution, did not provide estimates of their grazing related costs to the GAO. Other programs that benefit both private and public lands ranchers, such as the “Livestock Compensation Program,” were also not included in the total subsidy to public lands ranchers.

Considering the additional direct and indirect costs not included in the GAO report, economists have estimated that the federal public lands grazing on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands may cost as much as $500 million to $1 billion annually.

Discount Grazing Fees

Federal grazing permittees pay a very low fee to graze public lands (usually $1.35 per animal unit month), far less than the average fee charged on western state and private lands, and not even enough to pay for the federal grazing program. The GAO reported that the BLM would need to charge $7.64 per AUM to recoup its program costs, while the Forest Service would need to charge $12.26 per AUM to cover expenditures.

Adding insult to injury for American taxpayers, the majority of BLM and Forest Service grazing fees are not deposited to the U.S. Treasury, but instead are diverted to the "Range Betterment Fund" to pay for fencing, water developments, and related infrastructure to support continued livestock grazing.

WildEarth Guardians and partners have petitioned the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior to update the formula used to assess the annual grazing fee to cover more of the costs of the grazing program.