The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

July 22, 2010
Is federal cattle grazing too cheap?

cattle.jpgEnvironmentalists have sent a letter to the Obama administration suggesting how the U.S. Forest Service can begin to meet a presidential directive to cut their budget by 5 percent: stop subsidized livestock grazing.

The agency charges just $1.35 cents a month for each cow and calf that graze on its lands, including in the Sierra Nevada. In 2005, the U.S. GAO found the Forest Service loses $69.5 million nationally on its grazing program.

"The fee has failed to keep pace with inflation, failed to cover the administrative costs of operating the program and incentivizes destructive grazing practices on public land," wrote seven environmentalists, including Ara Marderosian, executive director of Sequoia ForestKeeper in Kernville.

Earlier this year, The Sacramento Bee reported on scientific research of retired UC Davis emergency room director Robert Derlet, who has documented serious water pollution in high Sierra meadows. His photo (above) shows cattle grazing just outside the Hoover Wilderness Area on Forest Service land in the eastern Sierra.

Overall, 15,045 sheep and 35,721 cattle grazed on national forests in the Sierra Nevada last year, according to the Forest Service. Total grazing fees came to $168,942;about $3.33 cents per animal, less than the cost of a latte.

The environmentalists' letter also targets the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

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