Public Lands Under Private Pressure
Few have profited more or longer off of American taxpayers than livestock operators who graze the public lands of the American West. Tens of thousands of square miles have been managed essentially as grazing estates for a small minority of “permittees” – individuals or corporations holding federal grazing permits.
Similar land-grab and rip-off schemes are taking place by different industries in the U.S. and around the world. Remember, wild places and wild animals are held in the public trust. They are not here for private enrichment against the public will. The ironic twist to the example below is that an entire industry has been brainwashed to support a public lands give-away that gives a few corporate ranches in the West a competitive advantage against an entire industry. This competitive edge comes at the expense of all taxpayers (subsidies), including cattle producers in the midwest and eastern U.S. who will never graze one single cow on public lands.
As the example demonstrates, the corporate welfare on America’s public lands is so lucrative, one rancher sold his benefits on the private market for millions of dollars. The scheme dates back to the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM, known at the time as the Grazing Service) placed millions of acres into grazing allotments. Over ensuing generations of politics influenced regulations, so that permittees pay a trivial fraction of market demand per animal.
The standard unit of measure is an “animal unit per month (AUM) – a cow plus calf or 5 sheep. To graze livestock on private land today in Montana costs $21 per AUM, but permittees pay $1.35, an imbalance typical for the public lands throughout the West. The difference, marks a unique welfare system carefully kept away from public scrutiny.
The BLM alone has 155 million acres in grazing allotments, and the U.S. Forest Service grazes another 95 million acres of national forest land.
The imaginary free market moves forth with another form of welfare at taxpayer expense. It’s assumed that the welfare will be permanent (ranches have been sold as if public lands under permit were a fixed part of the ranch itself. It is not uncommon for US citizens to be run off of their own public land by permittees).
We now have an indefensible, covert setup involving wealthy permittees, protective legislators and governmental bureaucrats, and the result is a $500,000,000-one billion dollar per year taxpayer victimization and the ongoing degradation of a fragile, arid environment for which domestic livestock are biologically unsuited. It is a scenario so firmly in place that the bulk of the environmental community, by paying for control of permits, and by lobbying for buyout legislation, has simply caved in to the rotten political state of affairs.