Cows vs. RATs


The Forest Service and the BLM have just announced the 2010 fee for grazing one cow and calf on public land.

Back in 1966, the fee was $1.23 per month. For comparison, here are the prices of some common items in 1966 and today:

Item  In 1966   Today
New car $2,650   $23,000
Gallon of gas .32   $3.72
Gallon of milk .99   $2.68
Postage stamp .05   .44
Minimum wage $1.25   $7.25


So given those sorts of price increases, what do you think the 2010 grazing fee is? $5? $10? $15? Nope.

The actual grazing fee for 2010: $1.35. That's right, just 12 cents more than it was in 1966. One dollar and 35 cents for all the forage and water a cow and calf can consume in a month, in our national forests, wildernesses, and BLM land. The same grazing privilege on private land goes for at least $10 - $15.

Eighty percent of the land that the two agencies administer can be leased for such grazing (that's 258 million acres). Yet less than 3 percent of the beef produced in the U.S. comes from cattle on public range.

Meanwhile, other users of public land don't get nearly such a sweet deal. Under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (also known as the RAT, or Recreation Access Tax), agencies charge additional fees for public land use at hundreds of sites (see for a great timeline on the tax). For instance, the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness near my home exacts a $3 fee per person to dayhike, $10 to camp overnight in an unimproved site. (Also see our story "Fed up with paying to play".)

Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) have been trying to repeal the Bush-era policy for years:

“Every tax day we pay to use our public lands, we shouldn’t be taxed twice to go fishing, hiking, or camping on OUR public lands,” Baucus told NewWest.Net (in April). “Paying twice just doesn’t make any sense. ..."

And once Congress has slain the RAT, maybe it finally can move on to the mother of all public-land giveaways, the 1872 mining law.


Compare our national park fees
Feb 01, 2010 05:00 PM
Compare this to the privilege we pay to the tune of $20 a carload to visit our national parks (more if you have a camper or motor home), yet we also pay taxes to visit them.
Here's a novel thought. Eliminate the taxes we pay for national parks and simply charge an entrance or usage fee for those who visit. While this sounds good I'm sure that if something along these lines were to ever be instituted that the entry fee for "OUR" parks would be in the thousands of dollars.
Something has to change.
Feb 02, 2010 06:32 PM
Baucus/Crapo are full of crapo. You pay as many times as you have to and as much as you have to in order to make the concept work. However, the various charges at each sequential toll booth can be altered to suit. But Todd is right. The less popular parks would have to charge in the thousands to pay the bills. The guvmint bends over backwards for the dirtbag ranchers in our area paying $1.35 a month precisely because they are dirtbag ranchers. They are not ADM and their corporate ilk, and our country suffers from the delusion that we should help all these poor, rural souls who make a few thou or up to a hardscrabble living a year from their 20-100 cows. Hey, buck up their range costs to the private rates and watch how many of them have to scatter to the cities to find real jobs that actually contribute to society. Yea, sure, there are jobs a-beggin' for applicants there in the cities, right? Might as well give the rural folks their welfare on the ranches where they now are as force them into cities and give them welfare there. No win-win here.
Don't pay?
Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder
Feb 02, 2010 10:55 PM
Whenever possible, there's that option. Let the Forest Service get more money from either ranchers or logging companies.
Rec Fees are a necessary evil
Duane Poslusny
Duane Poslusny
Feb 04, 2010 10:21 AM
I would love to see general taxes completely pay for all public lands. But, in this world of political fights over balanced budgets and deficits, not to mention the conservative ideology of "starving the beast," public land agencies will never get a proper budget.

I have seen first hand the benefits of a recreational user fee, that funds local projects. Here is the tale of two Ranger Districts:

I worked as a seasonal wilderness ranger for a very heavily visited Forest District outside Provo, UT. That district had a $6 user fee to the main canyon. That fee paid for a 10 person Trail Crew, 4 person Wilderness Crew, 2 person dispersed Recreation Crew, and 3 Forest Protection Officers, and many more people outside my division.

Just over the ridge was the Salt Lake District that charges no user fee. The Salt Lake District received just as many or most likely more visitors each year. The Salt Lake District only has a 2 person trail crew who mostly coordinate Volunteers, a 4 person Wilderness crew paid for by the Salt Lake City public utilities, and has less personnel in every other division. A good portion of work in the Salt Lake district is done by volunteers and non profits, because there is a lack of funds.

Do I believe ranchers and timber companies should pay a more fair fee? Absolutely. However,until the American people can convince their congressmen that public lands need adequate funding, then a direct tax in the form of user fees are a necessary evil.
Recreation Access Tax
Jeff Nichols
Jeff Nichols
Feb 04, 2010 10:41 AM
I have to agree with Duane Poslusny. Of course ranchers should pay more for using our public lands, and there are lots of fragile lands that should be protected from grazing altogether. But these access fees actually do get used on site for all kinds of worthwhile repairs and management. As for using the fee revenues to "limit access," some campgrounds were poorly sited and should be closed. In a perfect world the national forests, parks, and BLM would get adequate direct funding. And I should have a pony --
Grazing fees
Wayne Hare
Wayne Hare
Feb 10, 2010 07:09 AM
I just read the announcement[…]/NR_01_29_2009.html
and the 'explanation' behind determining how the the grazing fees are set. I'm surprised that the official 'explanation' didn't just say something like, "We the Congress of the United States have been instructed to keep grazing fees ridiculously and artificially low for the benefit of the cattle industry and to hell with the American tax payer. They will just have to learn to enjoy being bent over." Truth in advertising, so to speak.
Govt ought to Pay folks
Mark Wright
Mark Wright
Feb 11, 2010 11:55 PM
To log ( hunt and pluck ) and graze.

Not much inticement to graze fed grounds.
Pretty much a money losing deal putting stock on fed ground.
Takes WAY more labor, more fuel used, hard on equipment and horses.
Higher livestock disappearance rates / losses etc.
Rough land and not much in the way of water on most of it.

Sure the non knowing compare supposed private lease rates...BUT on private land you get what you pay for. Easier running, better for stock, developed water, decent gains etc.

Quite frankly 95% of Fed grounds are not worth anything from a profitable grazing standpoint.

Most of the Fed lands are Saved to DEATH. That has resulted in a broad non healthy enviro state because of such.

Govt should PAY the recreational users to come use Their lands, too.

Keep in mind this is a govt which keeps aquiring more and more land ( govt owns approx 40% of ALL land which is the usa ).

The People are the govt ( ironically we fail to see this fact ).
Thus perhaps those people should be PAID to use ( which actually thus IMPROVES the enviro state )the lands.

Mar 02, 2010 04:53 PM
The government owns all land in the US. Try not paying taxes, or fighting an emminent domain battle. The government simply lets you live on it so long as it suits them, and you pay them for the privilege.
Fees, grazing and otherwise
Tom Ricketts
Tom Ricketts
Apr 05, 2010 01:49 PM
Don’t buy this load of crap that recreation fees are a “necessary evil”. The reason recreation fees continue to proliferate while grazing fees remain stagnant is because one has a powerful lobby in D.C. Recreational users are a defenseless target.

As long as we are trading polemics, please indulge me. I worked in recreation for the USFS on the west slope of the Colorado Rockies. One of the sweetest places on our ranger district was a small lake with a primitive campground. Pack it in, pack it out was the rule, and if you didn’t keep a clean camp the local bruin population had their own way of making you pay the consequences. The forest service powers that be decided to make the place a fee area and turned over the management to a concessionaire.

The first hint that things were changing was the installation of garbage cans in an area notorious for bear activity (fees=services). At first, at least, they were not even animal proof cans. So much for the “management” being considered other than the collection of money.

Additionally, the access road to the lake has experienced a dramatic increase in impacts. The most obvious is the off road driving and the associated clearing of vegetation to create far more dispersed campsites than in pre-fee days. People still want to camp near the lake, but don’t want to pay the fee. And last summer, friends were nearly driven out of the campground by contractors beginning a new construction project. The whole experience of the place continues to change, obviously not for the better. Welcome to camping 21st century style.

The forest service has now decided that if a recreational facility doesn’t pay its way then get rid of it. Grazing privileges, and many other commercial uses are not subject to such scrutiny. When it comes to user fees, nothing less than the commercialization of OUR public lands is at stake!