BLM announces reduced livestock grazing fees

This year's fee, which goes into effect March 1, will be 24 cents lower than the 2016 fee

Leigh Black Irvin,
Cattle owned by rancher Jacob Chavez and his family graze on Bureau of Land Management land near Largo Canyon.

FARMINGTON — The Bureau of Land Management has announced a reduction in the federal grazing fee for 2017.

This year's fee, which will go into effect March 1, will be $1.87 per animal unit month for BLM-administered lands and $1.87 per head month for lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, according to a BLM press release. The grazing fee last year was 24 cents higher at $2.11.

One animal unit month or head month represents the use of public lands for one month by one cow and her calf, one horse or five sheep or goats, the release states.

Jacob Chavez lives in Turley and operates Majestic Enchantment Fly Fishing on the San Juan River. He and his family also graze 60 to 80 beef cattle on public and private lands at various sites in Blanco and their farm in Turley.

Chavez said the fee reduction is welcome news.

"Every little bit helps us," he said. "Especially in this economy, the cost of feeding and branding the cows can get expensive."

Chavez, who also grows alfalfa to feed his cattle, said falling beef prices have been hard on the ranching portion of his business.

"Prices are just not where they need to be," he said. "But we're fifth-generation ranchers and have been here since 1906 — it's in our blood."

A larger cattle operation is run by Patrick Montoya, who also lives in Blanco. He and his family own four beef cattle ranches near Gobernador and have about 900 cattle that graze on BLM and Forest Service land in New Mexico and Colorado.

"I think (the fee reduction) is going to help," Montoya said. "Anything that is cheaper as far as money out of your pocket is a plus."

Montoya said the fee decrease is significant. And he said it's uncommon to see such a dramatic decrease in grazing fees.

Like Chavez, Montoya said the price he's paid for his beef is low, but store prices remain high. For a 600-pound steer, Montoya said he receives $1.50 per pound, and for a 600-pound heifer, he receives $1.30 per pound.

"Two years ago, it was much higher," he said. "I just wish they'd do something about the prices in the store — those prices are still high."

According to the BLM release, the grazing fee is determined by a congressional formula. It applies to nearly 18,000 grazing permits and leases administered by the BLM, as well as almost 6,500 permits administered by the Forest Service.

The fee applies to 16 western states, including New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah, for public lands administered by BLM and the Forest Service.

Each year, the grazing fee is determined by using a 1966 base value of $1.23 per animal unit month or head month for livestock grazing on public lands in those western states.

"This figure is then calculated according to three factors — current private grazing land lease rates, beef cattle prices and the cost of livestock production. In effect, the fee rises, falls or stays the same based on market conditions, with livestock operators paying more when conditions are better and less when conditions have declined," the BLM release states.

BLM officials could not be reached for comment today. 

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621.