This story was first published by High Country News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
Inflation can beWhile the 40-year record is still high, the cost to graze livestock on public lands today is lower than it was 40 year ago. The Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service released the latest federal rate last week: $1.35. Adjusted for inflation, ranchers paid more than five times as much in 1981.
Grazing fees dictate the price per “animal unit”—one cow and calf, one horse or five sheep—per month. This year’s rate, $1.35 per animal unit, is the same as it has been since 2019, when the Trump’s administration lowered it from $1.41. Fees apply to approximately 18,000 BLM leases and grazing permits, and 6,250 Forest Service permit; income is funnelled to range land betterment funds and the US Treasury.
The formula for calculating fees, as used by the 1978 Public Rangelands Improvement ActThis includes private grazing land lease prices, beef cattle prices, as well as the cost of livestock production which is driven by gas and equipment. The current grazing costs are at their lowest point. President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 executive order prohibits the fees from falling below $1.35. Current law prohibits grazing fees from increasing or decreasing by more than 25% each year. Fees have been unadjusted to inflation since 1981 and range from $1.35 – $2.31 with an average cost of $1.55.
Congress may occasionally consider reforming the grazing fee, and it has been suggested by past presidents but without success. A proposal by the Obama administration in 2015 would have BoostedIn an effort to close the gap between the amount of money grazing fees bring in and the cost to maintain rangeland, the fees were raised to $2.50. Conservationists believe the fees are too low considering the ecological consequences of livestock-grazing. Ranchers, however, oppose any increase in their operating costs.
The stagnation in fees for grazing on public lands contrasts sharply with the rising cost of other goods or services. According to the Labor Department consumer prices rose 7 percent between December 2020 and December 2021, which is the largest annual increase in inflation since 1982. Core inflation, which excludes volatile energy and food prices, grew 5.5 percent in the past year, marking the fastest increase since 1991.