The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the part of the federal government that gives permits and leases for use of federal land as grazing land. Usually, permits are issued on a 10-year period and can be renewed as long as the lesser continues to meet the requirements of the permit. The BLM grants approximately 18,000 permits in Nevada and leases to ranchers to graze their livestock, which predominantly consist of cattle and sheep (Bureau of Land Management 2016).
As previously mentioned in the History section of this paper, the Bureau’s objectives in its public land administration are characterized by a desire to promote economic growth amongst small, local communities and policies to protect the local flora and fauna. Under the TGA, the BLM manages livestock grazing to maintain public land health based on guidelines developed in the early 1990’s. These conditions for land health were created with input from citizen-based Resource Advisory Councils throughout the western part of the United States. This requires the BLM to perform periodic tests to ensure continued land health and periodic rest from grazing on more fragile regions (Bureau of Land Management 2016). However, these tests are frequently not completed due to underemployment, threats from local ranchers, and the varying nature of ecosystems across the land the department manages (Donahue 30).
In order to perform this task, the BLM was given $79.9 million for fiscal year 2014. In that year, they spent 43% on livestock grazing administration while the remaining funds cover programs for weed management, water development, rangeland monitoring, habitat improvement and vegetation restoration (Bureau of Land Management). In 2014, the BLM received $12.1 million in federal grazing fees. These fees are set using the formula (shown below) created by Congress in the PRIA, which was then updated by an Executive Order in 1986. The formula is determined as follows: the calculated fee (CF) is determined by the 1966 base difference between ranching costs on private lands and public lands discounting grazing fees multiplied by the sum of the Forage Value Index (FVI) plus the Beef Cattle Price Index (BCPI) minus the Prices Paid Index (PPI) of the previous year. That sum is then divided by 100. The FVI is based on grazing rates charged per AUM on privately owned, non-irrigated land in eleven western states (“Grazing”).
The BCPI is based on weighted average annual selling price for beef cattle in 11 western states. The PPI is based on several categories of livestock production costs (“Grazing”). The formula initially included only the FVI but was modified in 1978 to accommodate potential short-term market fluctuations (Torell et al.). Torell et al. critique the implementation of the PRIA fee formula stating that it has failed to keep up with increasing private rates. It mandates that the feed cannot be below $1.35 per AUM and a change in the rate cannot be more than 25% of the previous year’s rate. This income is shared between state and federal governments (Bureau of Land Management 2016).
Because of the continually low grazing fees, the use of the land managed by the BLM has increased as the BLM has changed their permitting process to allow more nontraditional ranchers to receive permits (Hoffman 2009). In 1995, the BLM restructured their permitting process to also allow other groups, including environmental and conservation groups, to obtain land use and grazing permits (Hoffman 2009). Although this change was challenged in the 1995 Supreme Court case Public Lands Council vs. Babbitt, who was the Secretary of the Interior at the time, the Supreme Court said that the TGA did not prohibit the BLM from granting permits to groups that did not engage in the livestock industry, solely that it had a responsibility to give preference to those groups (Hoffman 2009).
Recently, a considerable amount of controversy has arisen over the issuance of grazing permits and the payment of grazing fees. The BLM has been forced to revoke or suspend the permits of a handful of local ranchers, such as Cliven Bundy, who have been illegally grazing their cattle on land for which they do not hold a permit or who have refused to pay the corresponding fees (Regan 2014). Because of this controversy, there have been several violent interactions between the BLM employees and the local ranchers, resulting in threats and even gunfire (Regan 2014). This continued violence has prohibited the BLM from properly carrying out its role in regulating land usage and protecting the land in some parts of Nevada because of the potential risk to their employees.
In 1993, the BLM issued a report titled the Rangeland Reform of 1994 that proposed a policy change that would allow them to increase the grazing fee by 130% in order to more adequately cover the environmental costs of allowing grazing on these public lands (Fennemore et al.). Congress never passed the corresponding legislation and its various amendments, so the BLM continues to use the 1986 formula today. Because of the recent change in the permitting process, there is an increased demand for permits, but the BLM still remains unable to protect and maintain control over the land that it manages. Therefore, the BLM proposes that the TGA be amended to allow them to charge prices more similar to their market equivalents. This would bring in additional revenue to the federal and state governments and provide the BLM with the resources to better manage the land and employ more people to help them control the violent outbreaks with local ranchers. In addition, a portion of this money would go to increased conservation efforts.
The BLM also wishes to initiate a public advocacy and outreach campaign so that the benefits of the BLM’s control over the land and the many resources that the BLM has available to local ranchers could be better understood. The BLM hopes that this would initiate an improved relationship with local Nevada ranchers.
Increasing the cost of using public grazing lands is controversial for many reasons. As seen lately with the outbreaks in Oregon and Nevada, many local ranchers do not believe that the federal government has control over the land and already refuse to pay the minimal grazing fee. Many court cases, such as U.S. v. Bundy or U.S. v Gardner, however, have proven that the federal government does have jurisdiction over these lands (CV-S-98-531-JBR,”U.S. v. Gardner”). In addition, it is possible that raising the fees will put more financial pressure on the local ranchers and the beef industry itself, although public land ranching only makes up 3% of the beef industry.
According the Section 3 of the Taylor Act, 38% of the money collected from the issuance of grazing permits must go into the Federal Treasury and other federal administrative organizations, and therefore, would not benefit the state of Nevada as significantly as it would seems nor would it directly benefit the BLM (Meade et al. 1995).