Grazing fees will increase

Rangeland improvements face federal budget ax

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Grazing fees on public land will increase this year, but the Rangeland Improvement Program that those fees help fund could go away.

In 2004, the Rangeland Improvement Program funded $128,000 worth of improvements in the Bureau of Land Management's Little Snake Resource Area, which encompasses most of Moffat and Routt counties and parts of Rio Blanco County. The proposed federal budget seeks to cut the program.

The program's projects are designed to improve the health of ranges where cattle graze. Projects included fence construction, well and spring developments, and vegetation changes, such as brush-beating decadent sagebrush.

Ranchers suggest the projects to the BLM. After prioritizing the projects and deciding which ones are most affordable and feasible, the BLM provides the materials for the projects. Ranchers provide the labor.

If Congress approves President George W. Bush's proposal to cut the Rangeland Improvement Program, ranchers might not receive that service anymore, BLM rangeland management specialist Andrea Miller said.

"They would have to fund more of their own projects," Miller said.

The Rangeland Improvement Program is part of the Taylor Grazing Act, approved by Congress in 1930. In part, the act established grazing districts on public land. Fifty percent of the grazing fees that ranchers pay to graze cattle on the land currently return to the grazing district to fund improvements.

In grazing allotments outside of the districts established by the Taylor Grazing Act, 50 percent of grazing fees are distributed to the county where the grazing occurs. The other 50 percent go toward range improvements.

Counties still will receive their funds, but the range improvement money will be diverted elsewhere. Miller said she's heard the money still may be available for range improvements, but she stressed that nothing was certain. The BLM and ranchers would have to "compete with the pot that's available," she said.

Moffat County Commissioner Darryl Steele, who ranches east of Maybell, was concerned about the effect the potential cut would have on Northwest Colorado.

"This isn't pork barrel stuff. The money is actually generated by grazing fees to go back to range improvements," Steele said.

Regardless of whether or not the program is eliminated, grazing fees are going to increase as of March 1.

Grazing fees will increase to $1.79 per animal unit month, up from $1.34 per animal unit month. An animal unit month is the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month.

Grazing fees are calculated using a base value set in 1966 of $1.23 that is adjusted according to three factors: current private grazing land lease rates, beef cattle prices and the cost of livestock production. Based on the formula, the 2005 fee rose primarily because of an increase in beef cattle prices in 2004.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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