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Washington, DC, Nov. 14, 2019 — Information about the largest commercial grazing program on the planet is hard to come by and requests for even the most basic data are ignored, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Consequently, the amount of damage inflicted on Western landscapes and the amount of taxpayer subsidy the livestock industry receives is limited to data available prior to the Trump administration.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s commercial grazing program covers more than 150 million acres across 13 states, an area the size of California and Utah, combined. Earlier this year, BLM lowered its monthly grazing fee to $1.35, down from $1.41, for each “Animal Unit Month”, i.e., a cow with a calf, or five sheep or goats. This $1.35 AUM fee is the lowest allowed by law – a law enacted in 1978. BLM is preparing to announce its fee rate for 2020.
PEER’s attempt to obtain an explanation for how these ultra-low fees were calculated and updates on previous reports of widespread overgrazing leaves unanswered questions about –
- Livestock allotments failing to meet BLM’s own Standards for Rangeland Health reflecting minimum quality of water, vegetation and soils, as well as the ability to support wildlife. The last available reports indicate that 30 million acres, an area the size of New York State, are experiencing range health failure due to overgrazing;
- BLM’s fee is supposed to be based on “fair-market value” yet the current all-time low fee is a fraction of what private owners, states, and even other federal agencies charge; and
- The BLM fees cover only a small portion of what it costs the agency to administer its grazing program but the precise extent of the current subsidy to industry is unknown.
“By all indications, BLM’s livestock grazing program is landscape malpractice on an epic scale,” stated PEER’s Advocacy Director Kirsten Stade, noting that commercial livestock grazing is also a major climate change agent, releasing millions of tons of carbon annually and more than one third of all human-induced methane. “American taxpayers are subsidizing a program that is driving desertification, destruction of riparian areas, and introduction of invasive species.”
Despite the program’s size, BLM has shrunken the cyberspace accorded to it, demoting commercial livestock grazing from a program to a sub-program on its website, sharing equal billing with “reindeer grazing in Alaska.”
“BLM’s lack of institutional candor is reducing much of the American West to terra incognita,” added PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins who filed the organization’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “What is new is that BLM no longer tries to explain, let alone justify, what it is doing to our public lands.”