In Defense of the Ranchers

Ranchers across the country enjoy what is deemed a permit value (Tassell et al.).  The permit value is the advantage of using undervalued public lands for grazing.  The premise behind this value lies in the aggregate value of land managed by the BLM.  Averaged across 16 states, the permit value is expected to even out when applied nationally.  This, however, does not provide each state its due value because the sagebrush steppe of Nevada does not carry the same forage value as that of the northern great plains of Wyoming.

The calculated forage value based off of the grazing fee formula from the Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978 assumes that ranchers have means to numerous alternative forage sources and leasing alternatives (Tassell et al.).  With roughly 85% of the state claimed for federal lands, ranchers do not retain access to multiple suppliers.  Nevada’s submission to the overreaching federal government grants it 12.5% of the Taylor Grazing Act Section 3 receipt distributions (Bureau of Land Management).  This is designed to return some of the lost tax revenue that the federal lands would provide.

While the state receives Nevada specific receipts, the Rangeland Betterment Fund receives 50% of both Section 3 and Section 15 receipts (Bureau of Land Management).  Revenue distributed to Nevada returns a portion of the tax income that was withheld because of federal ownership.  Revenue designated to the Rangeland Betterment Fund is expected to cover the maintenance and monitoring of these federal land.  However, the burden of upkeep costs is passed along to the ranchers.  These costs when totaled with the grazing fees surpass that of private land leases in 2010, $34.58 and $32.03 per AUM respectively (Burns & Schick).  With the federal government supplying 85% of the land, there is no access to multiple suppliers which forces disgruntled ranchers to submit to higher expenses.

Nevada, as a sagebrush environment, does not receive the same cost advantage of the undervalued grazing fees.  The abundant prairie grasslands of Wyoming, for example, would have a greater marginal benefit from the lowered fee.  State level regulation is perceived to remove the excess financial burden currently weighing on the active 2,135,701 AUMs.


Section 3 of the Taylor Grazing Act requires ranchers to operate from a privately owned base of operations adjacent to public lands (Bureau of Land Management).  The mandatory travel expense causes inherent increases in production costs.  In 2010, travel expenditures were three times higher for public land ranchers than private lessors while herding and lost animal costs were each almost twice as expensive (Burns & Schick).  Maintenance, too, falls to the ranchers.  Currently, ranchers are forced to take on the fees for fences and water which are generally covered under private leases.  The benefit of the undervalued grazing fee is unable to cover these costs for the lower forage value of the Nevada ranchers.



Bureau of Land Management

Comparison of forage value on private and public grazing leases by Larry W. Van Tassell, L. Allen Torell, Neil R. Rimbey, and E. Tom Bartlett

Controversial Federal Grazing Fees Not A Great Deal For Anyone by Jes Burns and Tony Schick






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