Senate adoption of the Synar amendment would be good for America and good for Utah. The amendment would, over a period of five years, increase grazing fees on federal public lands to a level that approaches their true cost to taxpayers, or "fair market value." The gradual elimination of the massive subsidy to the livestock industry would go a long way toward establishing equity amongst multiple uses on public lands.
The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are responsible for managing vast tracts of public lands in the American West. The lands are managed under the principle of the multiple use thatgives equal priority consideration to such uses as grazing, recreation, plants and wildlife and cultural values.Public land permittees (those who graze livestock on public lands) account for less than 2 percent of the livestock producers in the United States, and only 7 percent of the livestock producers in the 16 Western states.
In 1991, the BLM anticipates receipts of roughly $15 million from grazing fees. During the same period, costs to administer this giveaway amount to more than three times that, or roughly $47 million. In the Forest Service, over the past five years, receipts totalled only 28 percent of the grazing program's costs.
The imbalance between receipts and costs in both agencies is confirmed in a 1986 study by the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee, which found that fees cover only about 35 percent of the costs of the federal grazing program.
Simultaneously, grazing administration by both the Forest Service and BLM has been seriously deficient in the protection of other multiple use values such as wildlife, native plants, cultural resources, recreational programs, etc.
The Synar amendment, which could generate up to $325 million over the next three years, was attached to the 1991 Interior Appropriations Bill. The bill passed the House by a comfortable margin of more than 100 votes and is now before the Senate.
The livestock industry is fighting this proposal at every step. They argue an Oklahoma congressman with little or no public land in his district should not be interested in public land management.
This is akin to arguing that since Fort Knox is located in Kentucky, Utahns should be unconcerned with the federal treasury. By law, the subject lands are public lands and every American has a right to participate in decisions regarding their management.
Of the roughly 9,000 livestock producers in Utah, less than one-fourth graze livestock on public lands. A substantial number of these livestock operators are so-called "hobby ranchers," whose main source of income is derived from other ventures.
The Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Utah reports that the livestock industry generates less than 1 percent of the total annual earnings in the state. Thus, the vociferous objections to the Synar amendment are from a tiny, vested and vocal minority who have operated on the vast majority of our public lands at our expense.
The public's subsidy to the livestock industry extends far beyond what the public would recover through adoption of the Synar amendment. Numerous other taxpayer-funded programs act as hidden subsidies to this industry.
Vegetation treatment (chaining of pinyon-juniper forests) and animal damage control programs (killing of predators and other non-target wildlife) already cost state and federal taxpayers in excess of $60 million annually. Their purpose is largely to eradicate plant or animal species that might threaten livestock grazing.
In addition, the grazing program has other considerable and unquantifiable costs. In many areas, grazing has degraded water quality below state and federal standards for designated end users.
Native populations of wolves and grizzly bears have been extirpated; black bears, cougar and coyotes are under siege by animal damage control activities; and bighorn sheep are threatened by diseases transmitted by domestic sheep.
Landscapes of luxuriant bunchgrasses have been transformed by grazing into monocultures of sage. Watersheds have been scarred by the chaining of old growth pinyon-juniper forests to temporarily increase livestock capacities. Biological diversity on public lands has been greatly compromised.
Wildlife, native ecosystems and watersheds are not only important values in their own right, but they generate enormous benefits to Utah's economy. The Utah Division of State Lands and Forestry reports that tourism, Utah's leading industry, is responsible for roughly $2.2 billion of statewide benefits. By comparison, livestock grazing generates only $260 million.
Times are changing in Utah; land management must also change. The Synar amendment would create the foundation for equitable land management.