The grazing fee for the privately owned livestock that dwarf the number of federally protected wild horses and burros has been cut to its lowest possible level, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Wednesday.
The fee will be $1.35 per Animal Unit Month on land managed by BLM and $1.35 per Head Month on land managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
That compares to a fee of $1.41 in 2018, $1.87 in 2017 and $2.11 in 2016.
The grazing fee is calculated based on private grazing land lease rates, beef cattle prices and the cost of livestock production. Congress established a formula in 1978 that has continued under presidential executive order since 1986.
The fee cannot fall below $1.35 per AUM or fall more than 25 percent from last year’s level, under the executive order.
An Animal Unit Month is the amount of forage needed to feed a cow, one domestic horse or five sheep for one month. A Head Month is a month’s use and occupancy of range by one weaned or adult cow with or without calf, bull, steer, heifer, horse, burro, or mule, or five sheep or goats.
The federal public lands grazing fee is only a fraction of that charged to graze on private land. Private land fees stood at about $20 per animal per month in 2016, for example.
A 2015 Center for Biological Diversity study estimated that the costs to U.S. taxpayers for public lands grazing amounted to more than $1 billion over a decade.
Of the 245 million acres of public lands administered by BLM, livestock grazing is authorized on 155 million acres. By comparison, wild horses are restricted to 26.9 million acres.
Even there, BLM allocates the majority of forage to private livestock, not wild horses.
Authorized livestock use on BLM lands for 2016 was 12 million Animal Unit Months. That’s the equivalent of 1 million cow/calf pairs. By comparison, authorized wild horse use on BLM lands was 320,580 AUMs.
The grazing fee applies to nearly 18,000 grazing permits and leases administered by the BLM and nearly 6,500 permits administered by USFS in 16 Western states.