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.


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