Idaho considers changing grazing fees

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Idaho lands officials are considering increasing how much ranchers pay to graze on state lands for the first time in more than 20 years.

The Times-News reports that Idaho’s grazing fees are lower than its neighboring states, but the state hasn’t updated its fee formula since 1993.

One way the rate formula could change is to base the fee on the quality of forage in an area a rancher wants to graze in, Idaho Department of Lands spokeswoman Emily Callihan said. Currently, desert cheat grass costs the same as lush, water-fed range.

Idaho Cattle Association President Jared Brackett said ranchers are open to considering the changes, but he warned that if the fees go up too high, ranchers could opt to graze on federal lands, where fees are significantly lower than those charged by the state.

Under the current system, ranchers are charged a fee for each unit of state land that will feed one cow with a calf for a month. The current Idaho grazing rate is $6.98 per unit. Meanwhile, the federal grazing rate is $1.35, where it has remained that price for the past eight years.

In Idaho, the state fee is determined by a number of factors, including livestock production costs and the beef prices index.

“If they raise the rates too high, I think they will have a bunch of people drop out of the program completely,” Brackett said. “. That’s my fear that they get too shortsighted trying to maximize the almighty dollar for one year, that they will sacrifice long-term revenue.”

In fiscal year 2014, the department collected $2.1 million in grazing fees. Of that, $775,000 was netted after paying administrative costs.

Overall, grazing rangeland makes up more than half of department-managed lands but collects the lowest amount of revenue compared with other uses like timber sales, Callihan said.

Brackett said his association is supportive of basing fees off of the quality of forage, but he would like to see more information on what would determine the formula.

The department will collect public input on how to change its grazing rates during the next year, Callihan said.

“We don’t have a particular outcome in mind, even though we have something that we want to put in front of people as a starting point for alternate management,” she said.

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