A recent article in the Deseret News (Oct. 20) titled "Time to end livestock subsidy" referred to the Synar Amendment, which was attached to the 1991 Interior Appropriations Bill, only presented one side of an issue.
The writer suggested that by raising grazing fees on public lands from $1.81 per animal unit month to $8.70 per AUM during the next three years, these increases would generate up to $325 million for the federal treasury.There are a few facts that indicate that this will not be so. Most ranchers who graze on federal lands will be forced to liquidate and so there will be no revenue from grazing these lands.
Livestock grazing is only part of the total range program. According to the Department of Interior, livestock grazing accounts for 60 percent of the total rangeland management costs and the federal grazing fee covers these real costs. The remaining 40 percent represents costs associated with management that would be necessary to fulfill legislative requirements even if no livestock grazing were allowed on federal lands.
The grazing fee represents only 15-20 percent of the true costs to graze cattle on federal lands. Permittees pay many rangeland improvements. They also must provide riders to distribute the cattle on the range to eliminate overgrazing and to protect riparian areas.
Permittees provide and distribute salt to strategic areas to better utilize the forage away from those riparian areas. The efforts put forth on water and spring development, installation of water troughs, maintaining fence lines away from highways and salt distribution also greatly benefit the wildlife and big game animals.
Cattle also harvest a renewable resource. This is the same principle as the process of mowing a lawn. When it is mowed on a regular schedule it grows back, but if it isn't mowed, it grows to a certain height, and then becomes semi-dormant, overrun with weeds and ceases to grow.
Sportsmen who enjoy hunting deer and elk should realize that cattlemen are the best allies they have. One wildlife management authority recently said in a Public Lands Council Meeting, "Cattle are the best alternative for wildlife. If cattle ranchers are forced off the public lands, they will not be able to survive with only private base property and will likely sell out for development or other uses not compatible to wildlife."
Many grazing allotments are managed under a rest-rotation program, generally a three-pasture program. Each year, one of those pastures has a complete rest from domestic grazing. Deer and elk, however, have access to those rested areas and use much of the forage year around.
Yes, hunters and concerned range management advocates should appreciate cattlemen for managing the range; it not only provides forage for cattle four months of the year but also big game herds, which have increased by as much as 800 percent over the past years, with resources year-round.
Comments have been made to the effect that livestock grazing is highly subsidized. A report of the U.S. Department of Forest Service 1989 indicated that $123.7 million was expended on recreation with receipts of $34.3 million; $47.4 million was expended on wildlife and fish with no receipts; and $19 million was expended for livestock grazing with receipts of $8.7 million.
The federal grazing fee is not a subsidy. Permittees pay a user fee set by a fair formula to use federal lands. This formula is based on production costs, the price of beef, private lease rate and is calculated annually from these figures for the 16 Western states.
Grazing permits are an integral part of several thousand diversified family farm operations in Utah, and the livestock produced on these "split estate" operations generate enough revenue each year that many rural communities in Utah will virtually become ghost towns if ranchers can no longer afford unjustifiable high grazing fees.
Regardless of whether permittees represent 2 percent or 40 percent of the livestock producers, they should be treated fairly and not forced to bear the brunt of an arbitrary fee increase simply because they are a minority.
The Synar/Darden Amendment is not about income to the United States treasury. It is yet another thinly disguised, back-door effort to push livestock grazing off the Western public lands by making grazing economically prohibitive for ranchers.
As our nation faces economic uncertainty and a deepening recession, this is not the time to put rural Western agriculture at risk or force consumers to pay exorbitant prices for the purchase of imported beef.