Agencies reduce grazing fees for federal land

Two federal agencies are cutting the fees that ranchers and other land managers pay them to graze their animals on public land.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Agriculture Department’s Forest Service announced Wednesday that the fees would be $1.35 for each month that an animal unit — one cow and calf, one horse, five sheep or five goats — grazes.

That’s a cut from last year’s $1.41 per animal unit, and it’s the lowest that federal law allows.

The Trump administration said the fee represents a commitment to agriculture.

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“The BLM and Forest Service are committed to strong relationships with the ranching community and work closely with permittees to ensure public rangelands remain healthy, productive working landscapes,” Brian Steed, the top official at the BLM, said in a statement.

The fee takes effect March 1 and applies to the 18,000 grazing permits managed by the BLM and 6,500 managed by the Forest Service.

The Public Lands Council, a part of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association that advocates for ranchers’ access to federal land, welcomed the decision.

“Ranchers across the West trust the formula and the process, which ensures fair and equitable access to forage on federal lands. With the fees in place for the 2019 grazing season, ranchers can focus on what they do every day: contributing to rural economies and serving as stewards of America's natural resources,” Bob Skinner, the group’s president, said in a statement.

Conservation groups criticized the change, saying the fees were already far too low to pay for managing the lands.

“BLM’s own records reveal that much of the sagebrush West is in severely degraded condition due to excessive commercial livestock grazing,” Kirsten Stade, advocacy director at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said in a statement. “Lowering already ultra-low grazing fees only encourages more abuse of public rangelands.”