On Wednesday, July 11, Nebraska’s Senator Ben Nelson introduced a taxpayer fairness bill to end the substantial federal subsidies that an elite number of livestock producers receive, saving American taxpayers about $1.2 billion. His bill requires that the Secretary of the Interior work in conjunction with the Secretary of Agriculture to set livestock grazing fees on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Forest System public rangelands at rates comparable to those found on nearby private grazing lands.
“The facts are clear. Two percent of ranchers are getting a benefit that 98 percent of other grazing ranchers have not been able to get. They pay far less than the market value for the right to graze on public lands,” said Senator Nelson. “This isn’t fair to the taxpayer, and this isn’t fair to the other 98 percent of cattle grazers who have to compete in the marketplace.
“The State of Nebraska charges over $20 dollars a head of calf to graze on state land. Why should the federal government charge $1.35?”
The senator has also offered his grazing fee bill as an amendment to the Small Business Tax Credit Bill currently before the Senate. If adopted, the amendment would help defray the legislation’s costs.
The Government Accountability Office has estimated that just two percent of American ranchers hold animal grazing rights to National Forest System public rangelands. The grazing fees charged by the federal government on the rangelands are far below market value, at times up to 95% lower than the market fees charged for grazing on state- and privately-owned lands, fees that 98% of grazing ranchers have no choice but to pay.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture Statistics Service, the State of Nebraska charged a state land grazing fee of $27.30/animal in 2011. The $1.35 figure cited by Nelson was published in a United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on Livestock Grazing-Related Federal Expenditures. Among the GAO report’s findings are:

·                   In 1934, the monthly public rangeland grazing fee was $1.23/animal.

·                   In 2007, the monthly public rangeland grazing fee was $1.35/animal.

·                   From 1980 to 2004, BLM and Forest Service grazing fees fell by 40 percent.

·                   From 1980 to 2004, the market price on grazing fees rose by almost 80 percent.

·                   The government collects nearly $21 million/year in grazing fees on public rangelands.

·                   The government puts about $144 million/year into the maintenance of public rangelands.
“Let’s go through some numbers. All the grazing fees on federal lands add up to about $21 million dollars,” said Nelson. “But it costs the federal government $140-some million dollars to take care of those lands. In other words, there is a shortfall of $120 million dollars coming from two percent of ranchers. If I’m one of the 98 percent, I’m going to say ‘that’s not fair.’ That’s why this is a matter of tax fairness.”
Nelson noted that the suppressed grazing fees deny Nebraska funds badly needed for infrastructure projects and education. He highlighted how a sizeable portion of the Forest Service’s collected grazing fees are allocated back to states that house public rangelands.
“In the Forest Service grazing program, 25% of the grazing fees are remitted back to the affected states for use on roads and schools as a payment in lieu of taxes, since counties and cities can’t levy property taxes on that land,” Nelson said. “So, these artificially-lowered grazing fees mean less money is going to states for roads and schools. This bill ensures that tax dollars currently going towards the two percent are redirected into Nebraska’s roads and schools.”
“I have yet to have heard anybody defend this practice by saying that it’s fair – to the 98 percent, or to American taxpayers,” said Nelson. “$1.35 per cow is too darn low.”

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