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Grazing Fees Raised For Public Lands

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Sheep graze on BLM land at Fort Ord in California. | Photo: Bureau of Land Management

The federal government has raised the amount it charges ranchers to graze cattle and other livestock on public land. The fee was raised by the maximum legal amount per year over 2014, but it's still a sweetheart deal for ranchers who use our public lands.

As of January 30, ranchers who graze their livestock on land managed by either the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service must pay $1.69 per month to graze a cow and calf on public lands. That same fee applies to a single horse, as well as to groups of five sheep or goats. The fee for 2014 was $1.35.

Ranchers who lease grazing on state- or privately owned lands routinely pay several times that amount per "animal unit" per month, but the increase is likely to be controversial anyway. The West is no stranger to controversies over grazing fees, as evidenced by the short-lived support for Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who has refused to pay the meager fees for decades.

The feds are prohibited from raising or lowering the fees for grazing on public lands by more than 25 percent, which makes this jump from $1.35 to $1.69 -- the first such increase in nearly a decade -- the maximum allowable by law.

That doesn't mean the fees for 2015 are the highest they've ever been, though. In 1993, under the direction of Clinton-appointee Jim Baca, the BLM attempted to raise the monthly grazing fee to just under $4.00. That was still very competitive with fees for grazing on private and state lands, even in 1993, but the move was controversial and is thought to have cost Baca his job less than a year later.

That may be part of why the BLM and U.S. Forest Service announced the fee increase on Friday, traditionally the weekday on which potentially controversial news is broken by government agencies to reduce public attention. But at least one group involved in grazing politics noticed: On Sunday, the group Western Watersheds Project commented on Facebook that they felt the increase was "still a pittance, but better than the last eight years!"

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