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Citizen Groups Sue Forest Service Over Grazing Fee

Date
February 26, 2003
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Santa Fe, NM – Eight citizen groups are suing the U.S. Forest Service for failing to reform the fee charged for grazing livestock on National Forests in the Western US. The 2003 grazing fee of $1.35 per month for a cow and her calf is one tenth of the market rate and the minimum allowed by regulation. The extremely low grazing fee fails to cover the basic administrative costs of the federal grazing program. The 2003 grazing fee, which takes effect March 1, applies to 16 states on western public lands administered by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Over ten years ago, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior and the General Accounting Office established that the formula used to calculate the fee is mathematically flawed, as it subtracts increases in the costs of production twice. As a result, the fee has barely risen above the $1.35 minimum, while market rates on equivalent private ranchlands have increased almost tenfold. The Forest Service proposed to reform the fee formula in 1994, but never announced a final decision on the reform, and continues to use the flawed formula.

“Backward economic policies-like rock-bottom fees to graze livestock on public lands-cause environmental damage,” said John Horning, Executive Director of WildEarth Guardians. “The fact that ranchers are icons of rugged individualism and the free market is ironic because they benefit from more protectionist economic policies than any other interest group. The grazing fee is just one in a long list,” Horning said.

In addition to WildEarth Guardians, other groups filing the suit include the Center for Biological Diversity, American Lands Alliance, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Committee for the High Desert, Oregon Natural Desert Association, the Nevada Outdoor Recreation Association and Western Watersheds Project.

In October 2002, the Center for Biological Diversity released a report showing that the federal grazing program costs taxpayers $124 million at a minimum, and likely as much as $1 billion annually in subsidies and other costs after subtracting fee receipts. “The Forest Service charges about as much to run a cow on public lands as it costs to feed a pet hamster. The U.S. taxpayer is being fleeced by this bargain basement sale of public resources,” stated Peter Galvin, Conservation Biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity. Livestock grazing on public lands is one of the major causes of species endangerment in the U.S,” added Galvin.

The lawsuit, which requires the Forest Service to make a final decision on the reform of the grazing fee formula, was filed in Federal District Court in Washington D.C. today, Wednesday Feb. 26, and will be argued by Eric Glitzenstein of Meyer and Glitzenstein.

Grazing Fees – An Overview, Congressional Research Service Report 96-450