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Cattle & Grazing Issues
(Released May 1998)


Review Article

This month, we continue with our Agricultural reports, concentrating on cattle and grazing issues, an important area, given that millions of federal acres are let out to livestock grazing every year. Two of the largest federal agencies, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest System, manage 164 million acres and 95 million acres of rangeland respectively.

Our first report is an introductory Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report: Grazing Fees: An Overview (May 21, 1996). The report addresses the contentious issue of grazing private livestock on public lands. Environmentalists generally want some measure of "fair market value" of grazing fees to discourage overuse and deterioration of federal rangeland; ranchers want low fees to maintain their operating costs.

The next report, a CRS Issue Brief called Grazing Fees and Rangeland Management (January 20, 1998), gives the historical dynamics of the issue of free range versus fee range. The report also references recent court rulings and a recent bill addressing the issue: the Forage Improvement Act of 1997. Interior Secretary Babbitt's proposed rangeland rules including a doubling of grazing fees over three years are also examined.

The last report, Survey of Grazing Programs in Western States (January 30, 1996) gives a state-by-state account of grazing practices in sixteen western states. It covers the amount of available acreage, number of permits, and fee structure of each program. Furthermore, qualification requirements, amount of range improvements required and amount of subleasing allowed are delineated. And lastly, state position on water rights, wildlife allowances, protection of riparian lands, public access for other uses, and the existence of civilian advisory boards for oversight are examined.

The Congressional Research Service is an arm of the Library of Congress and is no way affiliated with the CNIE, CSA or any other organization.

© Copyright 1998, All Rights Reserved, CSA


CRS Reports

Grazing Fees: An Overview


Charging fees for grazing private livestock on federal lands is a long-standing but contentious practice. Generally, livestock producers who use federal lands want to keep fees low, while conservation groups and others believe fees should be raised to approximate "fair market value." The Clinton Administration pursued an increase in fees for nearly two years; however, congressional objections forestalled an administrative increase. Legislative interest in grazing fees and rangeland management continues in the 104th Congress, primarily in response to the Administration's issuance of new rangeland rules in August 1995. The Senate passed S. 1459 in March 1996, which would replace the new rules and establish a new grazing fee formula that would apparently increase fees by approximately 25-35%. The House Resources Committee marked up S. 1459 on April 25.

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Grazing Fees and Rangeland Management


The Bureau of Land Management (BLM, Department of the Interior) and the Forest Service (Department of Agriculture) manage approximately 70% of the 650 million acres of land owned by the federal government and many of these lands are classified as rangeland. Both agencies have well-established programs permitting private livestock grazing. The Administration issued new, controversial BLM rangeland management rules effective in August 1995, two years after similar rules were first proposed. Supporters contend that the Administration's new rules are a step forward in sound resource management, but some believe they may not go far enough to protect rangelands and riparian areas. Many in the ranching community have opposed the new rules, believing that they will ultimately reduce private livestock activity on federal lands, and will increase operating costs.

Efforts were made in the 104th Congress to override the new regulations. The 105th Congress is again considering legislation that would override current range regulations and change the grazing fee formula. H.R. 2493 was ordered to be reported (as amended) by the House Agriculture Committee on September 24 and by the House Resources Committee (as amended) on October 8. (It was reconsidered and again ordered to be reported on October 22.) As reported, the bill would have codified and altered some grazing management definitions found in current regulations, directed more consistent and coordinated grazing management by the Forest Service and BLM, enacted a new grazing fee formula, and altered other range management procedures. Many of these provisions are similar to those contained in S. 1459 of the 104th Congress, although many of the most controversial provisions of that bill have been dropped.

H.R. 2493 was amended on the floor to eliminate definitions on allotments and base property. Some felt these definitions might be construed to create property rights in federal range permits. The provisions on access across private lands, and those on resource advisory councils, also were dropped, together with most of the provisions on subleasing. Provisions addressing compliance of grazing agreements with applicable laws and charging higher grazing fees to foreign individuals or corporations were added. The bill also directs consistent and coordinated grazing management by the Forest Service and BLM (except for the National Grasslands), establishes a new grazing fee formula, and addresses monitoring. The bill passed the House October 30, 1997, by a vote of 242-182.

Several recent court rulings have also addressed federal grazing management. On June 12, 1996, a federal district court struck down several of the new BLM regulations and upheld others. The court affirmed in part the Secretary's decision to implement the 1995 regulations and reversed it in part, enjoining the Secretary from enforcing the regulations the court set aside. The case is now on appeal to the 10th Circuit, has been argued, and should be decided soon. Other cases have addressed the issuance of grazing permits or leases where grazing activities may conflict with state water quality standards or protection of endangered species. The impact from these cases is less clear.

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Survey of Grazing Programs in Western States


This report sets out in chart form a survey of grazing programs on state-owned lands in 16 western states. It presents information on acreage, numbers of permits or leases, and fees for state grazing programs. It also contains information on state policies relating to various features such as non-use, range improvements, and subleasing. The Report is based on telephone interviews with state grazing program officials.

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