Fair Grazing Fee Bill Introduced

What follows is a press release from Nebraska’s Senator Ben Nelson:

July 11, 2012 —Today, Nebraska’s Senator Ben Nelson introduced a taxpayer fairness bill to end the substantial federal subsidies that an elite number of livestock producers receive, saving American taxpayers about $1.2 billion. His bill requires that the Secretary of the Interior work in conjunction with the Secretary of Agriculture to set livestock grazing fees on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Forest System public rangelands at rates comparable to those found on nearby private grazing lands.

“The facts are clear. Two percent of ranchers are getting a benefit that 98 percent of other grazing ranchers have not been able to get. They pay far less than the market value for the right to graze on public lands,” said Senator Nelson. “This isn’t fair to the taxpayer, and this isn’t fair to the other 98 percent of cattle grazers who have to compete in the marketplace.

“The State of Nebraska charges over $20 dollars a head of calf to graze on state land. Why should the federal government charge $1.35?”

The senator has also offered his grazing fee bill as an amendment to the Small Business Tax Credit Bill currently before the Senate. If adopted, the amendment would help defray the legislation’s costs.

The Government Accountability Office has estimated that just two percent of American ranchers hold animal grazing rights to National Forest System public rangelands. The grazing fees charged by the federal government on the rangelands are far below market value, at times up to 95% lower than the market fees charged for grazing on state- and privately-owned lands, fees that 98% of grazing ranchers have no choice but to pay.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture Statistics Service, the State of Nebraska charged a state land grazing fee of $27.30/animal in 2011. The $1.35 figure cited by Nelson was published in a United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on Livestock Grazing-Related Federal Expenditures. Among the GAO report’s findings are:

• In 1934, the monthly public rangeland grazing fee was $1.23/animal.
• In 2007, the monthly public rangeland grazing fee was $1.35/animal.
• From 1980 to 2004, BLM and Forest Service grazing fees fell by 40 percent.
• From 1980 to 2004, the market price on grazing fees rose by almost 80 percent.
• The government collects nearly $21 million/year in grazing fees on public rangelands.
• The government puts about $144 million/year into the maintenance of public rangelands.

“Let’s go through some numbers. All the grazing fees on federal lands add up to about $21 million dollars,” said Nelson. “But it costs the federal government $140-some million dollars to take care of those lands. In other words, there is a shortfall of $120 million dollars coming from two percent of ranchers. If I’m one of the 98 percent, I’m going to say ‘that’s not fair.’ That’s why this is a matter of tax fairness.”

Nelson noted that the suppressed grazing fees deny Nebraska funds badly needed for infrastructure projects and education. He highlighted how a sizeable portion of the Forest Service’s collected grazing fees are allocated back to states that house public rangelands.

“In the Forest Service grazing program, 25% of the grazing fees are remitted back to the affected states for use on roads and schools as a payment in lieu of taxes, since counties and cities can’t levy property taxes on that land,” Nelson said. “So, these artificially-lowered grazing fees mean less money is going to states for roads and schools. This bill ensures that tax dollars currently going towards the two percent are redirected into Nebraska’s roads and schools.”

“I have yet to have heard anybody defend this practice by saying that it’s fair – to the 98 percent, or to American taxpayers,” said Nelson. “$1.35 per cow is too darn low.”

The GAO Grazing Fee Study can be found here.
The USDA State Grazing Fee rates can be found

Of all the eye-catching stats and information in that press release, this certainly caught my eye:  “In 1934, the monthly public rangeland grazing fee was $1.23/animal.  In 2007, the monthly public rangeland grazing fee was $1.35/animal.”  If only the 2007 price of gas, price of an automobile or the price of a house was as similar to 1934!

4 thoughts on “Fair Grazing Fee Bill Introduced”

  1. Elite public lands ranchers? I don’t think I’ve ever met a public lands rancher who didn’t work one or three side jobs just to get by. I don’t think the issue is as simple as the senator makes it out to be. Still, I’d consider voting for this propoal.

    Maybe $26 per animal per year is the price producers are willing to pay to avoid NEPA, allotment management plans, and the government generally…

  2. Matthew,

    My political intuition was piqued by this.. why Nebraska? Why now? Aren’t there other subsidized industries getting more bucks more worthy of attention in the US? Say perhaps producers of ag crops in… Nebraska?

    Perusing the web, I located this…apparently this is an effort to discredit an opponent of the other party.

    Let me know when Nelson introduces a “Fair Agricultural Prices” bill that eliminates government subsidies to certain, but not all farmers. Dare I ask for a comparison in the size of the federal grazing subsidies compared to other ag subsidies? Just sayin’

    Sen. Ben Nelson on Wednesday renewed his push to increase fees for grazing on federal land — an issue that his fellow Nebraska Democrats have used to attack Republican Senate candidate Deb Fischer.

    Fischer is running against Democrat Bob Kerrey to replace Nelson, who is retiring.

    Her family leases about 12,000 acres of federal land in north-central Nebraska for about $4,700 for seven months, at least $110,000 less than the market rate for private land.

    Nelson said during his weekly conference call with reporters that he was introducing his proposal to bring the fees in line with the private sector as an amendment to a pending small business jobs bill. He also said he would introduce the measure as free-standing legislation.

    His first attempt on behalf of the proposal failed to make the cut of considered farm bill amendments.

    Nelson was asked whether he agreed with a Nebraska Democratic Party television advertisement that describes Fischer as a “welfare rancher” for using the grazing program.

    “If the boot fits, you have to wear it,” Nelson said.

    He said it’s “unfortunate” that the issue has become wrapped up in the campaign season.

    “But the facts are clear that they have received the benefits from the federal government that only two percent of ranchers receive and pay less than the market value for the right to graze on public lands,” Nelson said. “That’s a fact, and that’s a fact that she has to live with and for 20 years-plus that has been going on.”

    Fischer’s campaign has said that negotiating a lease with the government is no subsidy and certainly doesn’t represent “welfare.”

    Fischer and defenders of the grazing program also have highlighted various requirements that come with using the program, such as maintaining fences on the federal land.

    Fischer has taken no public position on Nelson’s proposal.

  3. Ben Nelson is only doing this to try and hurt Deb, not to help others. The only reason that he is not running this time around is because he knows he will loose. Glad to see him gone.


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