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

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published, subject to condensation, and none acknowledged. Please fax letters to (617) 450-2317 or address them to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.

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