Lawsuit Targets Harmful Public-lands Livestock Subsidy

For Immediate Release

Environmental Justice Groups
Contact: 

Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713
Greta Anderson, Western Watersheds Project, (520) 623-1878
Mark Salvo, WildEarth Guardians, (503) 757-4221

Lawsuit Targets Harmful Public-lands Livestock Subsidy

WASHINGTON - Today the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds
Project, WildEarth Guardians, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and
Oregon Natural Desert Association sued
the Departments of Interior and Agriculture to compel them to respond
to a 2005
rulemaking petition
that seeks to increase the fee for livestock
grazing across 258 million acres of federal public land.  

"The federal grazing program is as fiscally
irresponsible as it is ecologically harmful," said Taylor McKinnon,
public lands campaigns director for the Center for Biological
Diversity. "In responding to our petition, the government must now
choose between correcting and continuing the subsidized destruction of
America's public land."

The current grazing fee does not recover even the
administrative costs of operating the program, leaving U.S. taxpayers to
pay the difference. The fee also falls short of paying for the
environmental problems this land use causes, and instead enables high
levels of livestock grazing that harm ecosystems, degrade watersheds,
and cause species decline. In 2010, the government charges just $1.35
per month to graze one cow and calf on public lands administered by the
U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, which is the lowest
possible rate under the current fee formula.

"Given the massive budget shortfall our country is
facing, we can no longer afford to subsidize a small group of ranchers
to graze public lands at public expense," said Mark Salvo, director of
the Sagebrush Sea Campaign for WildEarth Guardians.

Although the Administrative Procedures Act requires the
government to respond to rulemaking petitions, the Departments of
Interior and Agriculture have not responded to plaintiff's 2005
petition. Today's lawsuit seeks that response. 

"Our public lands are worth far more than cheap forage
for private livestock operations," said Great Anderson, Arizona director
of the Western Watersheds Project. "The agencies should take this
opportunity to set an appropriate value for livestock use of these
lands, which provide habitat for plants and animals, clean our air and
water, and provide recreational opportunities for millions of
Americans."

The conservation organizations are represented by
attorney Marc Fink of the Center for Biological Diversity and attorney
Matt Kenna of Durango, Colorado.

To see a copy of today's complaint, click here.
To see a copy of the Center's report on assessing the
full cost of public-lands livestock grazing click here.

Background

Livestock
grazing
is one of the most ubiquitous and destructive uses of
public land.  It is also a contributing factor to the imperilment of
numerous threatened and endangered species.  Those species include the desert tortoise, Mexican spotted owl, southwestern willow flycatcher, least Bell's vireo, Mexican gray wolf, Oregon spotted frog, Chiricahua leopard frog, and dozens of other
species of imperiled mammals, fish, amphibians, and spring snails that occur on western public
land. Public lands livestock grazing is also a primary factor
contributing to unnaturally severe western
wildfires
, watershed degradation, soil loss, and the spread of
invasive plants - as well as annual greenhouse gas
emissions
equivalent to that of 705,342 passenger vehicles.

Grazing fees apply to livestock grazing across 258
million acres of western public land administered by the Forest Service
and Bureau of Land Management - 81 percent of the land administered by
the two agencies in the 11 western states. There are approximately
23,600 public-lands ranchers, representing about 6 percent of all
livestock producers west of the Mississippi River.

The low federal grazing fee contributes to the adverse
impacts caused by livestock grazing on public lands for two primary
reasons: (1) the below-fair-market-value fee encourages annual grazing
on even the most marginal lands and allows for increased grazing on
other areas; and (2) since a percentage of the funds collected is
required to be used on range mitigation and restoration, the low fee
equates to less funds for environmental mitigation and restoration of
the impacted lands.

A 2005
report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office
found that the
Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service grazing receipts fail to
recover even 15 percent of administrative costs and are much lower than
fees charged by the other federal agencies, states, and private
ranchers.  The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the
Bureau and Forest Service grazing fee decreased by 40 percent from 1980
to 2004, while grazing fees charged by private ranchers increased by 78
percent for the same period.  To recover expenditures, the Bureau and
Forest Service would have had to charge $7.64 and $12.26 per animal
unit month, respectively.

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