Cheap grass


Grazing fees aren’t exactly bringing home the bacon … er, beef … for the feds. As we pointed out earlier this year, in the past 40-plus years the fee to graze a cow and calf on public land has gone up a measly 12 cents: from $1.23 to $1.35.

That increase hasn’t even come close to keeping pace with inflation and, not surprisingly, the paltry fee is doing little to fill federal coffers. According to a 2005 Government Accountability Office report, grazing fees in 2004 added up to just one-sixth of the amount spent managing grazing on public land. (Then again, perhaps we should just be thankful that the fee in 2010 isn't cheaper than the year before.)

Now, a coalition of environmental groups represented by the Center for Biological Diversity are suing the departments of Interior and Agriculture to get them to up the ante, calling the federal grazing program "as fiscally irresponsible as it is ecologically harmful." It's a demand they've been making for a long time. In 2005 the groups petitioned the agencies to embark on a rulemaking process to "establish a fair and just fee for livestock grazing on certain federal lands" in the West. The petition has, so far, elicited no response; the new lawsuit is intended to compel one.

In another legal battle over grazing, this one focused on its environmental impacts, a federal judge in Oregon ruled this week that cattle in an Oregon national forest were damaging threatened steelhead habitat, pointing out that "this court has repeatedly found the grazing program to be insufficiently protective of listed fish species." According to the Associated Press, the ruling could influence a new steelhead biological opinion due next year.

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