What’s getting more expensive? Everything but grazing fees.

Fees to ranch on public lands will remain the same despite dizzying inflation felt by consumers.

 

Cattle graze along the Snake River-Mormon Basin Back Country Byway, Oregon.

Inflation may be at a 40-year high, but the cost of grazing on public lands is lower now than it was 40 years ago, in 1981. Last week, the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service announced federal grazing fees for 2022: Just $1.35.

Grazing fees dictate how much ranchers pay for each “animal unit” — one cow and calf, one horse or five sheep — per month. This year’s fee — just $1.35 per animal unit — keeps the grazing costs at the same rate since 2019, when Trump’s BLM lowered the fee from $1.41. Fees apply to roughly 18,000 BLM grazing permits and leases and 6,250 Forest Service permits; income is funneled to rangeland betterment funds, the U.S. Treasury, and the states where the grazing occurs.

The formula used to calculate fees, implemented by the 1978 Public Rangelands Improvement Act, includes private grazing land lease rates, beef cattle prices and the cost of livestock production, which is driven by things like gas and equipment. Right now, grazing fees are as low as they can possibly be: A 1986 executive order from President Ronald Reagan prevents grazing fees from dropping below $1.35. Under the current law, grazing fees cannot increase or decrease by more than 25% each year. Fees have ranged from $1.35 to $2.31, with an average of $1.55.

 

Consumer Price Index is a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Consumer Price Index is one of the many measures that track inflation trends overtime.

If the 1981 grazing fee of $2.31
had merely kept up with inflation,
the fee would be $7.46 in 2022
.

The total inflation rate from 1981 to 2022 is 281.15%.

Grazing fee reform is occasionally considered by Congress and has been proposed by past presidents, but to no avail. An Obama administration proposal in 2015 would have boosted fees to $2.50 in an attempt to close the gap between how much money grazing fees bring in compared to the cost of maintaining rangeland. Conservationists say fees are far too low given the ecological consequences of livestock grazing, while many ranchers oppose any increase to their operating expenses.

The stagnant cost of grazing livestock on public lands comes at a time when prices for other goods and services are soaring in the United States. According to the Labor Department, consumer prices increased 7% between December 2020 and 2021, the largest year-over-year inflation since 1982. Core inflation, which excludes energy and food prices that fluctuate frequently, rose 5.5% over the past year, the most rapid increase since 1991.

Note: This story was updated to correct the 1981 grazing fee, adjusted for inflation at today's rate, and to correct the graph's vertical access description from inflation trends to Consumer Price Index.

Kylie Mohr is an editorial intern for High Country News writing from Montana. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor. See our letters to the editor policy. 

 

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