Tug-of-War over Federal Lands Leads to Standoff

It doesn’t take much scrutiny to see that domestic grazing is not a viable use of most federal lands. The Forest Service and BLM manage close to 240 million acres of rangelands that produce roughly 12 million cattle-years of feed. While the best pasturelands can support one cow per acre, federal lands require 200 acres for the same animal. This 240 million acres is nearly 10 percent of the nation’s land, yet it produces only about 2 percent of livestock feed in this country, while less than four percent of cattle or sheep ever step on federal lands.

The problem is that decisions are made through a political tug-of-war rather than through the market. One year, Congress passes a law favorable to ranchers; another year, it passes a law favorable to environmentalists. The result is polarization and strife.

If these lands were managed in response to market forces, the agencies would probably shed much of their bureaucratic bloat, but the costs of providing feed for domestic livestock would still be several times the current grazing fee. Ranchers unwilling to pay that higher price would find alternate sources of feed. If some ranchers continued to graze their cattle and sheep on public land and environmentalists didn’t like it, they could outbid the ranchers or pay them to manage their livestock in ways that reduced environmental impacts.

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