The drought is hurting Colorado agriculture, including rural cattlemen and the Division of Brand Inspection.
To cope with low funds, the State Board of Stock Inspections, which governs the division, plans to increase its fee structure in February.
The good news, Moffat County Cattlemen's Association Vice President Mark Voloshin said, is the price hikes are slight.
"There's no question the brand board is very mindful of the impact this will have on ranchers," state Department of Agriculture spokesman Jim Miller said.
Although branding services are an expense to cattlemen, they aren't a high one, Voloshin said.
The increase comes in response to declining revenues for the Division of Brand Inspection. With only 2.4 million head of cattle in the state, the cattle population is at its lowest point since 1966. The decline primarily is due to the drought that has lasted the past five years.
In 2001, 3.15 million head of cattle were in Colorado. The record was set in 1997 and 1998, when cattle totaled 3.25 million head.
Yet the effect hasn't been felt as much in Northwest Colorado, Voloshin said. Cattlemen here have had to cut their herds, but not as deeply as cattlemen in the other three corners of the state.
This is the first time the brand board has been able to set its own fee structure. Previously, the Legislature had to approve each fee hike with a bill.
But the Legislature exempted the brand board from the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, which limits annual government spending growth. Like the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the brand board's revenue will no longer be figured into the state's annual revenue, Miller said.
The brand board's new independence also is good news, Voloshin said, because board members understand their revenue needs better than most members of the Legislature.
The Division of Brand Inspection is responsible for five principal regulatory responsibilities. Inspectors and office staff record livestock brands; verify ownership of livestock before a sale, movement beyond 75 miles, and slaughter; license packing plants and livestock sale business; license domestic elk facilities; and investigate cases of lost or stolen livestock.
Most cattlemen consider the brand board an ally, Voloshin said.