My friend Sylvan is pretty amazing. She's a stay at home supermom to her little girl Reata, ties beautiful cinches, manages she and her husband's ranch in Montana, and is one smart girl to boot! She has been thinking of a way to explain grazing rights and fees to the public who think "The government subsidies those welfare ranchers with $1.35 grazing fees." I know we are preaching this to the choir here, but I feel that it is worth sharing!
Grazing Rights on Federal Lands
by Sylvan Walden
I have come to realize that most of the people living in the U. S. don’t understand the ownership layers of the so called “public” lands (federal lands) and how that relates to grazing leases. So I will try to explain it in simple, non-legal terms.
Each parcel of land comes with several layers of ownership. These layers may be all owned by one person or owned by separate people. There is the person who actually owns the land surface (in this case, the federal government). Then there is the person or people who own the water rights (i.e. the right to use the water originating on that land), the mineral rights (i.e. the right to use the oil, gas, coal, etc. that originates underneath that land’s surface), and then there are the GRAZING RIGHTS (i.e. the right to use the herbaceous plant material growing on that land). The land and these various rights can be owned as one or bought and sold separately.
When federal lands have grazing permits, that means a private individual has paid fair market value for those grazing rights and they are PRIVATELY owned by that person even though they are on federal lands. The federal government does not own those grazing rights. The person who owns the grazing rights pays “grazing fees”, which are basically a property tax on the ownership of those grazing rights. This structure would be a lot like owning a house within the city limits compared to owning one outside the city limits. You pay city taxes and have to follow city zoning laws even though you own your own house and lot. If you lived outside the city (i.e. owned the land surface and the grazing rights) you wouldn’t have to pay those city taxes (grazing fees) or follow the city zoning laws (rules and regulations about how you use your permit).
Often you hear people claim that the “cheap” grazing fees are a government subsidy for the owners of grazing rights. You need to remember that they are more of a tax on a private property (similar to city taxes) and not actual fees for a grazing leases or rent of a pasture and grazing rights owned by someone else. To charge the going lease rate for grazing on a grazing right you own would be like having to pay the going rate for rent to live in a house you own.
You also need to remember that even though John Q. Public has the right to access and enjoy federal lands (as long as the federal government doesn’t object), that there is private ownership existing there also and that needs to be respected. This is a lot like how the rest of the city people utilize your front yard to walk down the street. You are fine with it and accept it as just part of living within the city limits, but if one of the people walking along your front yard insists on letting his dog water your prize hydrangea, you start to get a little crabby with that person. This explains why most grazing permit holders tend to get crabby when John Q. Public decides there should be horses, buffalo, etc. using the herbaceous material. The grazing permit holder actually owns the right to the use of that herbaceous material and has paid fair market value for it, paid taxes on it, and followed all the rules. How would you feel if the city police told you to get over your hydrangea bush, because the dog walker had every right to kill it, since you live in a city of people who like dogs?
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