The rangeland is certainly suffering, but the reason is a historically devastating drought exacerbated by the overgrazing of cows and sheep
Before his stand-off last week with the Federal Government—staged, aptly, during tax time—Bundy was a Nevada rancher who illegally grazed his cattle for 20 years on thousands of acres of public land, owing $1 million in unpaid grazing fees.
But when The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which oversees the land, showed up to remove his 900 cattle, a modern-day whiskey rebellion broke out. Dozens of mounted Bundy supporters advanced on a handful of BLM agents in SUVs, guns at the ready, carrying banners. The BLM retreated and returned Bundy’s cattle, minus several killed during the round-up.
Dramatic as this was, the Bundy-BLM dustup shouldn’t obscure the underlying issue that’s at stake here for taxpayers: the huge costs of the grazing program into which Bundy refused to pay.
Across the west, the BLM and U.S. Forest Service manage 13.3 million AUMs (Animal Unit Months) on 250 million acres of public land. One month of grazing one cow/calf combination or five sheep (the definition of an AUM) costs $1.35—a fee that’s 92% below the present-day cost of $16.80 per month to graze livestock on private land. The direct loss to taxpayers, by contrast, is huge: at least $123 million a year. Indirect but related costs push the total to as much as $1 billion, all to produce less than 3% of the nation’s beef supply.
The ultimate losers in this equation are wild horses and the increasingly shrinking western lands they roam that belong to the public. To create space for this taxpayer-funded cattle program, the BLM deploys helicopters, rounding up 8,255 wild equines in 2012 and 4,288 in 2013. The roundups cost an average of $750 per head. Some equines are adopted out for $125; the others are warehoused at a cost of $1.35 a day. Total cost for last year’s Wild Horses and Burros program: $71.8 million…(CONTINUED)