Public lands grazing fee remains at lowest legal level

/ In The News, News

Privately owned cattle block the path of a trailer carrying captured wild horses at Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory during a 2016 roundup. RTF file photo.

The grazing fee for the privately-owned livestock that dwarf the number of wild horses allowed on public lands will remain at its lowest possible legal level, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this week.

As it has been since 2019, the grazing fee for 2022 will remain at $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 increase or decrease more than 25 percent from the previous year’s level, under the executive order.

An Animal Unit Month is the amount of forage needed to feed a cow-calf pair, one 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 fee will apply to about 18,000 grazing permits and leases administered by the BLM and 6,250 permits administered by the U.S. Forest Service across 16 Western and Midwestern states.

The federal public lands grazing fee is only a fraction of that charged to graze livestock on private land. In 2020, private lands fees averaged $20.60 per Animal Unit Month across 17 Western and Midwestern states, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

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 2019 was 7,569,820 Animal Unit Months (AUMs). That’s the equivalent of 630,818 cow-calf pairs annually.

The BLM-set “Appropriate Management Level,” or population target, for wild horses and burros is 26,785, or 321,420 AUMs. In March 2021, the agency estimated the actual number of wild horses and burros on BLM-managed lands to be 86,189 animals.