Local ranchers to see reduced costs for grazing permits | SkyHiNews.com

Local ranchers to see reduced costs for grazing permits

A cow sticks its head out from a thicket along Highway 40 on Monday morning.
Bryce Martin / bmartin@skyhinews.com

A recent decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior to lower fees assessed on federal grazing permits could lead to reduced costs for some ranchers in Grand County starting this year.

In mid-February officials from the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, announced a federal government plan to reduce grazing fees on federally managed lands in 2019. Federal agencies that assess grazing permit fees charge a monthly fee, called an animal unit month or head month, based on the number of livestock that will be on a given segment of land during a one-month period.

Previously, the federal government charged grazing permitees $1.41 per animal unit month. Starting March 1, that amount was lowered to $1.35 per animal unit month, the lowest possible fee that can legally be assessed by the federal government for grazing leases on public lands.

According to officials from the BLM, a 1986 executive order signed by President Ronald Reagan restricts federal grazing fees from dropping below $1.35 per animal month unit. Likewise, that same executive order limits any changes to the grazing fee structure to no more than 25 percent of the previous year’s fee.

Grazing fees are calculated based on three factors, including current private grazing land lease rates, beef cattle prices and the cost of livestock production.

“In effect, the fee rises, falls or stays the same based on market conditions,” stated officials from the BLM.

The change in fee structure could be significant to local ranchers and others who hold grazing permits on federal lands in Grand County.

There are at least 65 current total grazing permitees in Grand County, according to the BLM, with 61 being on BLM-managed portions of federal land within Grand County. Officials from the BLM did not have data regarding the number of livestock that graze on BLM land in Grand County immediately available. The remaining four are within the Arapaho National Forest in Grand County. Those four are permitted to graze 304 yearling calves and 320 cow-calf pairs.

Figures, however, do not include any potential grazing permitees on the small portion of Routt National Forest that is located on Grand County’s northwest end.

Officials from the Routt National Forest did not respond to Sky-Hi News’s request for comment.

The cost of an animal unit month, or head month, is the same across the board for all federal agencies and all lessees regardless of the livestock grazing on public lands. However, because various forms of livestock consume grass at different rates, the federal government does not treat all livestock equally. For purposes of assessing grazing fees the federal government treats as equivalent one cow and her calf, one horse, five sheep or five goats.

The BLM, which is part of the Department of Interior, is one of 10 federal entities that contract with ranchers and other livestock producers for grazing permits on federally managed land. Though a Government Accountability Office report from the previous decade notes that over 98 percent of all lands that the federal government uses for grazing are managed by the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service.

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