West's Federal Grazing Fees

The editorial "Utilizing Public Lands," March 1, does not make clear the difference between public and private lands in the West, nor the function of the federal land-grazing fee.

In a typical private lease, a livestock rancher buys, for one price, complete control of and exclusive access to a self-sufficient production unit such as a complete ranch or a fenced, watered pasture.

In contrast, the federal grazing fee buys only one component of that production unit - the grass.

The development of the federal land ranch unit, together with the costs of "multiple use management" and public access, represent production costs not encountered in a private lease.

Private rangeland rates are more expensive than public land because private grazing pastures are the equivalent of a furnished apartment - stocked with amenities - that is reserved for paying customers only.

Public rangeland, on the other hand, is virtually unfurnished and requires ranchers to provide their own water, fencing, and roads. In fact, by the time they are done making improvements, federal permittees often pay more than the private lease rate to create a comparable range on federal land. Joe Etchart, Glasgow, Mont. President, Public Lands Council

The author of the Opinion page article "Clinton Must Keep Promise to Protect Public Lands," April 8, claims that the grazing fees on public lands are too low and that as a consequence, vast areas have been stripped of their native shrubs and abused.

Yet the environmental issue is not how much the fees are, but how many cattle are on the land. Low fees don't overgraze - too many cattle do.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) tells ranchers how many animals per acre they can put on a particular section of public land. If the fees were 10 times what they are now, it wouldn't help a bit if the BLM is incorrect in their stocking rate. This is the issue that the environmentalists should examine. Frates Seeligson, San Antonio

The editorial "Dust-Up in the West," April 5, about President Clinton's compromises on grazing fees, only highlights the wisdom of his decision.

While a hike in grazing fees would be a hardship on ranchers, it would deplete the national debt relatively little, compared with eliminating Social Security entitlements, for example. Clinton's compromise is an example of enlightened reason. Nora Lewis, Basin, Wyo.

We are outraged that President Clinton has consented to continue federal handouts for the rape of our public lands by the cattle, timber, and mining industries. These subsidies were introduced in the late 1800s under the guise of incentives to "conquer the West." They were destructive and costly then, and they are devastating and exorbitant now.

Clearcutting of ancient growth forests by the timber industry destroys wildlife habitats, prevents replenishment of groundwater supplies, and promotes climatic upheavals. Extraction of precious minerals denies vital resources to our future generations. The loss of income from these national resources contributes to the national debt we are dumping on our children.

Short-term profits by powerful special interests winning over long-term needs of our nation could be dismissed as "corrupt politics as usual." This particular case of corruption is being perpetuated by the very president who won our votes by promising to end it. Alex Hershaft, Bethesda, Md. President Farm Animal Reform Movement

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