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Lowered Federal Grazing Fees Delight Ranchers But Dismay Environmentalists

Judy Fahys/KUER News
Ranchers will pay less this year to graze their livestock on federal lands, thanks to a formula that counts their rising cost of doing business. Environmentalists say the American public is getting cheated.

Ranchers in 16 western states will see their federal grazing fees go down next week. That’s good for ranchers whose costs have risen, but environmentalists say Americans are being cheated.

The lower fees apply to nearly 25,000 permits on western lands overseen by U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service.

Wyoming rancher Niels Hansen welcomed how the agencies are taking into account the harsh winter and low cattle prices this year. It’s part of a federal formula that adjusts to the changing costs of ranching each year.

“It takes the politics and the emotion and all of that out of it,” he said. “At least it’s an attempt to take into account what people are experiencing.”

The new cost will be $1.41 per month for each cow and calf.

“This latest move represents stripping away what little recompense the American public was getting,” said Patrick Donnelly of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The Trump administration has doubled down on welfare ranching.”

Donnelly says grazing fees are significantly higher on private land than public land. But Hansen said the reason is that private range is often higher quality land with amenities like water that ranchers might have to provide for themselves on federal land.

This piece was produced as part of the Mountain West News Bureau, a journalism consortium of six public radio stations in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Colorado.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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