Utah ranchers aren't happy about plans to reintroduce in Congress legislation to raise grazing fees on public lands fivefold.
Cattlemen fear the proposal by Mike Synar, D-Okla., to restructure the grazing-fee formula is a "hidden attempt to remove cattle from public ranges."Synar, however, has no desire to eliminate grazing from federal lands, said spokesman Steve Richardson. The legislation will only align public grazing fees with fair market values in the private sector, he said.
"We realize that grazing can be a valid and valuable use if it's managed properly," Richardson added. "Yet we want to stop grazing at bargain rates."
Although the Synar Amendment overwhelmingly passed the House last year, it was scrapped in a Senate-House conference committee.
Synar's proposal to raise grazing fees to $8.70 an animal-unit month by 1996 has even more congressional support this year because it makes sense for the environment and taxpayers, Richardson said.
"Instead of subsidizing a small segment of the livestock industry, the government needs to be generating more revenue to restore the overall condition of public range lands," he said.
However, Darwin Nielsen, a Utah State University professor of economics and a rancher who holds federal grazing permits, said the Synar Amendment doesn't account for non-fee costs of cattle production on federal lands.
"This is really a package to get us off the land," he said. "It's not a fair assessment."
Nielsen contends the Synar Amendment considers grazing fees as a major cost of raising cattle on public lands, when those fees are actually just a small part of production costs.
He has figured that other costs like herding, veterinary, fencing, water improvements and salting are more expensive than grazing fees.