Public Lands Grazing Declining Economic Factor

Ranching is fading out in Arizona. It's a fraction of a fraction of 1 percent of the state economy.
-- "Git gone, li'l dogie," The Arizona Republic (editorial). June 26, 2003: B10.

"'We continue to believe this Marlboro man, cowboy myth about the West,'" said Walter Hecox, a professor of economics at Colorado College who pointed out that just 1.7 percent of Westerners earn a living from agriculture, mining or other natural resource-based occupations."
David Kelly. Report: Westerners better educated, younger: Data show population growth
is West's biggest challenge. Los Angeles Times (May 5, 2004).

The contributions of federal public lands grazing to western state and local economies and the beef supply is miniscule. Public lands grazing provides less than one percent of total employment and income in the eleven western states, and less than three percent of the national beef supply.

Economic Facts of Public Lands Grazing

The Economic Importance of Federal Grazing to the Economies of the West by Dr. Thomas Powers

Professor Thomas Powers is Chair of the Economics Department at the University of Montana and author of Lost Landscapes and Failed Economies (Island Press, 1996). He devotes one chapter of Lost Landscapes to the economic contributions of public lands ranching to state and local economies, which he demonstrates to be practically nonexistent.
"Livestock receipts in 1992 for the westwide states totaled about $16 billion, representing 1 percent of total westwide states gross domestic product. Cattle and calves and sheep and lambs accounted for about 65 percent of the $16 billion, and less than 40 percent of that, or about $3-$4 billion, can be attributed to grazing on public lands." Mathews, K. H., K. Ingram, J. Lewandrowski, J. Dunmore. Public lands and western communities. Agricultural Outlook (June/July 2002): 20.

Myth: Ranching is the Foundation of Rural Economies, Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West.

In response to the NPLGC grazing permit buyout proposal, the Policy Analysis Center for Western Public Lands (University of Idaho) has embarked on a study of the economic contributions of public lands ranching in the West and the potential impacts of voluntary grazing permit buyout on local, regional and state economies. The NPLGC sent a letter to the Center posing questions and describing the various costs of public lands ranching that the Center must consider to produce a valid study.

Wildlife watching is a larger economic contributor than public lands grazing in the West. Compare the economic contributions of wildlife watching with that of public lands grazing.

Bureau of Leisure and Motorhomes - October 2004: for the first time in the history of the agency, the Bureau of Land Management collected more revenue in recreational fees than annual grazing fees. This despite the fact that recreational fees are often collected through voluntary pay stations, while grazing fees are mandatory and enforced, and BLM does not charge fees for many recreational offerings on BLM lands.

Economic Value of Golden Trout Fishing in the Golden Trout Wilderness, California by Dr. Carolyn Alkire

This informative study estimates the economic benefits of recreational fishing for golden trout in the Golden Trout Wilderness in California at $148,000 to $713,000 per year (and the study considers this a conservative estimate, for a variety of reasons). The economic benefits from livestock grazing in the Golden Trout Wilderness are estimated at $35,000 dollars per year.

The study also found that annual Forest Service receipts from wilderness permit applications and pack station fees that are potentially related to fishing in the wilderness area are more than twice the amount generated from livestock grazing receipts for the same area.

Unfortunately, livestock grazing has had adverse impacts on the viability of the golden trout in the study area--and so the local economy and the greater public are stuck with and will continue to suffer this economic tradeoff between fishing/recreation and grazing until livestock are permanently removed from these public lands.

Hunting and Fishing Generate $1.5 Billion, More than 20,000 Jobs in Colorado

A report commissioned by the Colorado Division of Wildlife in 2004 concluded that hunting and fishing generated some $1.5 billion in revenues and 20,200 jobs in the state in 2002, including $800 million in direct revenues and $700 million in indirect revenues linked to secondary spending in communities throughout the state. Wildlife watching was also shown to have a positive economic impact on Colorado tourism, generating an estimated $560 million in direct spending, with a total economic impact of $940 million in 2002. For comparison, public lands livestock grazing in Colorado provides only 1456 jobs and generates only .04% of income earned in the state.

Graphic: Less than 10 Percent of Counties Get More than Half their Forage from FS/BLM Lands

Univ. Wyoming study: Tourism dollars generated by the Bighorn National Forest far outweigh earnings from livestock grazing and timber harvesting

Dr. Walter Hecox and F. Patrick Holmes. 2004. The 2004 State of the Rockies Report. Colorado College, Economics and Business Department. Colorado Springs, CO. (2nd printing, June 2004).

Commentary: A New Economy and Land Uses in the West

Excerpted from Atlantic Monthly, Jan/Feb 2003:

The New Continental Divide

Overcrowded cities on the coasts. Dying rural communities in the interior. The way to save both may be to create a post-agrarian heartland

Michael Lind

. . . Today only about six percent of America's land is residential (urban, suburban, and rural). About 20 percent is farmland, another 25 percent is rangeland, and the rest is wilderness and woodland. The United States grows far more food today than it did in 1954, on about three quarters the acreage. Since 1950, even as agricultural production has increased by more than 100 percent, land has been taken out of agriculture eight times as fast as it has been consumed by suburban development. Much of that abandoned farmland has gone back to forest, particularly in the Northeast. In the twenty-first century most of the land that is liberated from unnecessary agriculture can continue to be restored to wilderness, prairie, forest, or desert, even if a significant portion is reserved for new, low-density housing for migrants from the crowded coastal states.

The federal government subsidizes many farms and ranches that should have been shut down long ago. At best, farm subsidies provide life support for comatose communities. The government is planning to spend at least $171 billion on direct farm subsidies alone over the coming decade. In much of the continental interior this money would be better used to promote a combination of service and manufacturing industries, as part of an ambitious economic-development program for the region.

Washington should also phase out the roughly $2 billion in annual irrigation subsidies to western agribusinesses, of which almost half is used for surplus crops. Subsidized irrigation is rapidly depleting the High Plains aquifer under Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska, which now provides about 30 percent of the groundwater used in the United States. The experiment with agriculture in the semi-arid Great Plains from the late nineteenth century onward was a mistake; it produced the Dust Bowl during the Depression and today's regional demographic decline. Cutting off such subsidies would not only end the western water wars but also drive agriculture eastward to states like Illinois and Iowa, where water is abundant and renewable. Within those states market pricing for water would encourage crop diversification and technological innovation in agriculture. Residential and industrial use, not agricultural use, should be the priority of water policy in the Great Plains and the desert and Mountain West, including major portions of California and Texas. And diverting water from agriculture to industry has the potential to generate far more jobs: according to the U.S. Geological Survey, for example, the same amount of water that supports a sixty-acre alfalfa farm with only two workers could support a semiconductor factory with 2,000 workers.

The money saved by reducing direct and indirect agricultural subsidies could help to pay for a new high-tech infrastructure in the American heartland. All too many rural areas lack, for example, high-speed broadband access. The federal government, which subsidized the railroad in the nineteenth century and the electric-power grid and interstate highways in the twentieth, needs to build a transcontinental infrastructure once again. A hydrogen-based transportation system might be constructed from nothing in many rural areas, which would be spared the transition costs necessary in developed regions. And the government could encourage an air-taxi system, such as James Fallows has proposed in this magazine (see "Freedom of the Skies," June 2001 Atlantic), in which thousands of small regional airports would supplement our major hubs, potentially turning dying small towns into new centers of commerce and culture. An "interstate-skyway system" might be to America in the twenty-first century what the interstate-highway system was in the twentieth.

. . . In a second inland movement, wired professionals and well-paid service workers might make new lives in wide-open spaces that are slowly reverting from monotonous expanses of wheat and corn to wilderness. The first wave of heartland settlement was in the long-term perspective a failure, with consequences that are evident today. The high-tech pioneers of the twenty-first century, unlike their agrarian predecessors, may be able to reconcile the myth of the heartland with the American dream.