Ranchers across the West, where the federal government owns extensive swaths of forest and rangeland, commonly pay fees to the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management to allow their cattle to graze on public property.
Typically, ranchers own farms that are adjacent to “allotments” of federal land that they’v been permitted to graze — often for generations — as long as they follow rules for preserving riparian areas and wildlife habitat.
Critics of this system claim the ranchers are “subsidized” because the grazing fees are lower than what would normally be paid on private ground.
Ranchers counter that they’re expected to shoulder the cost of fences, water structures and other improvements, which effectively bring the cost of grazing on federal land up to par with renting private pastures.
How federal agencies decide to manage these grazing allotments is a regular source of tension between the bureaucrats who set policies, the ranchers whose income depends on allotments, and environmentalists who call for stronger protections.