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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rancher Cliven Bundy reveals the farm welfare issue - smart ranchers should tell him to mind his own business

When will ranchers circle their wagons around the dangerously recalcitrant Cliven Bundy, for the purpose of telling him to mind his own business?  An informative article in the blog Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) explains a little about the lot I don't know, regarding grazing rights for cattle that feeds on federal land.  After reading the blog, sent by a follower who lives in Bangor, ME, the information, as I understand it, means that rancher Bundy has drawn undue attention to the issue of cattle grazing fees.  In fact, Bundy owes the government a huge amount of money, because he refuses to pay the fees, while his cattle have been eating for free. Truth be told, if the federal government Bundy complains about sold the land to ranchers, the cost of feeding cattle would go up, meaning food prices would go even higher and, thereby, put at risk the entire US cattle farming business. Why? It turns out, cattle grazing fees are less of a cost to ranchers than the money needed to own and maintain private grazing land. 

Here's the blog titled Western Welfare Queens April 18, 2014:

Americans often look at the men and women who earn their living off the land in the west as rugged individualists. That may be true, but look a little closer at their books and many are less Marlboro Man and more Fat Cat. Under their weathered veneer is a public subsidy cowboy living high on the hog because of sweetheart deals including water, mining, crop insurance, grazing, livestock disaster, and other subsidies from Uncle Sam. There’s too much to cover in one Wastebasket, but since the issue of federal land management and grazing in the West was in the spotlight this past week we’ll look at that.

Grazing on public lands came into the fore recently when federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents seized Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s cattle to settle the more than $1 million in fines he has racked up since 1993. The fines are a result of Bundy grazing his cattle on BLM lands where grazing is prohibited, land for which he didn’t have one of the 18,000 federal permits in the west.

Leaving aside the whole armed standoff and ridiculous constitutional questions that Bundy boosters raised (yes, they are federal lands, they were before Nevada became a state and Nevada gave up any claim to them to become a state; furthermore state law has a litany of provisions regarding the intersection of grazing and federal land) this latest incident highlights the problems with the nation’s grazing rules for federal lands.

Federal grazing rules are outdated, too generous, and don’t even come close to covering the costs taxpayers bear in maintaining federal grazing lands.

While the Forest Service has charged private cattlemen a fee to graze on public lands for 108 years, BLM is a relative newcomer – charging only since 1936. Supposedly BLM annually takes livestock prices, cost of cattle production, AND private grazing fees into account when setting the price. That’s hard to figure whengovernment data pegs private grazing fees at roughly $18 per Animal Unit Month (AUM represents the amount of forage (e.g. grass) a cow and her calf need for a month) throughout the west over the past two years. In Nevada the average private grazing fee was $15 per AUM. Yet this year the BLM fee is set at $1.35 per AUM.

These highly discounted rates come about because current rules enshrine the cost ranchers paid to graze on private lands in 1966, $1.23 per AUM, as the starting point for fees. This year’s $1.35 per AUM represents a whopping 12 cent increase over the last 48 years. And part of that is only because a 1986 Executive Order set a floor of $1.35 for the grazing fee. Even though the costs to graze on private land have increased substantially since Lyndon Johnson was president, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) found that in the 28 years since the 1986 Executive Order the annual fee has been set at the floor 16 times and has never exceeded $2.00, topping out at $1.98 in 1994. Simply taking inflation since 1966 into account the fee should be at least $8.97.

The fees charged for grazing permits fall far short of the cost taxpayers incur for opening these lands to ranchers. In 2005, the Government Accountability Office estimated that federal grazing fees covered a little more than 13 percent of overall program funding in fiscal year 2004, a pattern confirmed by the Congressional Research Service in their analysis of fiscal year 2009 spending. Certainly there are differences between private land and public land in quality, but there are also a variety of federal programs such as Wildlife Services (killing wolves and other predators) that also benefit ranchers.

The federal grazing program is a sweetheart deal for ranchers so it’s not surprising ranchers want to use that land. If you think about it, if they owned that land, they would have to maintain it and pay taxes on it. Having taxpayers subsidize your grazing fees is a much cheaper way to go. The vast, vast majority of ranchers using public lands are law abiding, responsible citizens. It’s just that the law gives them a trough full of subsidies at taxpayer expense.

Question from Maine Writer:  Does Fox News ever research anything the network reports, or do their incendiary reporters just accept yellow journalism as being good for their right wing ratings?  Since Republicans and right wing extremists are vocally opposed to all the US government supports, except , of course, for the Constitution according to them, then it seems to me Fox News should be on the side of investigative journalism, to find out how much money tax payers are investing in subsidies for cattle grazing.
Instead, Fox News reporters are hanging out like vultures on a battle field just frothing at the prospect of reporting on ranchers rights versus the federal government.  In fact, the real story is ranchers rights versus tax payers rights!
An even better idea is for the US Congress to cut grazing rights subsidies, instead of veterans benefits earned on the battle fields of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although Fox News clearly takes advantage of it's right to free speech under the Constitution, the fact is, the network violates the do no harm rule of journalism, ie, "report the news, don't create it".

Meanwhile, as Fox News buzzards circle the cattle grazing fields, looking for government conspiracies to improve ratings, the hard working, smart and compliant ranchers, who benefit from paying grazing rights fees, should take Bundy out to the range barn. That's the place where Bundy can get an education, from his peers, about what's at stake when tax payers figure out how much money we're pouring into their welfare system.

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