Analysis by the University of Wyoming Demonstrates the Economic Insignificance of Cattle Grazing on Public Lands

Cattle Grazing: The University of Wyoming conducted a series of economic evaluations (financed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association) to assess the potential effects of ending federal grazing, and their findings showed that ranching on public lands had no discernible effect on regional western economies.

Cattle production in the East and Midwest’s lush pastures far outweighs the little economic contribution of public-lands cattle and sheep in the arid West. The vast majority of cattle in the United States are pastured in states with abundant rainfall and productive pastures, rather than in the dry West, which is frequently wracked by drought.

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The University of Wyoming Demonstrates the Economic Insignificance of Cattle Grazing on Public Lands

According to the Wyoming bulletin, grazing animals on state-owned land generates an annual economic benefit of $215,3 million. At first look, something appears to be of great significance.

The Federal Reserve Bank estimates that Wyoming’s GDP was $41.5 billion in 2021, making the public-land grazing industry’s contribution to the state’s economy a mere half of one per cent. And Wyoming’s economy is weak, so that’s even a smaller slice of an already little pie.

To put it another way, public-land grazing contributed less than 2% of Idaho’s GDP. Similarly, large sums are generated by private livestock grazing on government land in Idaho. However, with a GDP of $105.8 billion, federal cattle grazing in Idaho contributes less than 0.2 percentage points to the state’s economy.

When compared to other uses of federal lands, cattle grazing in Oregon had the lowest annual economic impact at $133.9 million. When compared to the rest of the Interior West, Oregon’s $284.8 billion state economy in 2021 is staggering. However, federal livestock grazing only accounts for a negligible 0.05% of Oregon’s annual economic output.

Basically, if the money made by livestock grazing on public land disappeared overnight, no one would notice. Even in Wyoming, with its tiny and rural economy, we’re talking about negligible percentage points.

The Economic Insignificance of Cattle Grazing on Public Lands
The Economic Insignificance of Cattle Grazing on Public Lands

According to research conducted by the University of Wyoming, 1,693 Wyomingites, 1,369 Idahoans, and 954 Oregonians all make a living from public-land grazing. The reports waste space by multiplying the number of jobs by factors of ten and forty to provide inflated numbers and an exaggerated sense of the employment picture in federal cattle grazing.

Everybody knows that losing one job for 10 years is one job loss, not 10. According to data compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank, the total number of jobs in Wyoming is 277,372, in Idaho, it is 932,813, and in Oregon, it is 2,118,888. Therefore, just 0.01% of the 3,300,000 jobs in the three-state area represented by these reports are attributable to livestock grazing on federal land.

This paltry number still doesn’t reveal the full picture of employment. When was the last time you saw an American citizen working with animals on government lands? Many of the Western herders of cattle and sheep are now Peruvians on temporary work visas, who earn appallingly low rates for their services.

The livestock sector is so desperate for labour that they are willing to bring people in from other countries to fill the few available jobs.

Only 1.5% of American-raised cattle ever set a hoof on western public lands, and this fact is now well understood (and even documented in the scientific literature). Consumers in the United States wouldn’t see a change in the price or availability of hamburgers or steaks even if all the cattle departed from National Forests and Bureau of Land Management properties overnight.

In Wyoming, according to the report, the federal government allowed 2.4 million Animal Unit Months (that’s one cow-calf pair, or five sheep, each) of livestock grazing on public property.

According to a USDA estimate, it’s the equivalent of 416,666 elk that might otherwise be sustained year-round on Wyoming public lands, 160,000 wild horses, or 1.2 million mule deer. A more likely equivalent would be a hybrid of these species.

Cattle wallowing in streams and grazing on streamside vegetation are leading causes of trout stream losses, which are not taken into consideration here. What are the foregone economic benefits of losing these wild species, which all are highly prized by, and valuable to, the general public?

Livestock grazing on public lands is unprofitable for taxpayers. It only costs the government $1.35 a month to keep a cow and calf together (or five sheep). Rental rates on public lands are 94% below fair market value, compared to the average $23.60 per Animal Unit Mont paid when ranchers lease grazing pasture from one another.

According to a nonpartisan investigation, during the 2017 fiscal year, Congress allotted a total of $135.9 million for the grazing programmes of the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, but the agencies only received $25.9 million in grazing fees.

The shortfall was covered by the public. And it gets worse: only about a third to a quarter of these grazing fees actually make it into the U.S.

Treasury, with the rest going to various state governments (which then have the incentive to lobby for more livestock) and the Range Betterment Fund, which can be used to construct fences, water troughs, corrals, and other facilities for the exclusive benefit of the public-land rancher.

And to make things worse, a new scientific study found that livestock grazing not only increases wildfires and radically decreases carbon storage on grazed lands, it also costs the public $36 per Animal Unit Month in climate impacts, far outstripping the $1.35 and AUM that ranchers pay when they rent public lands for grazing.

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The public owes a debt of gratitude to the economics department at the University of Wyoming (and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association) for quantifying the meagre economic output of grazing on public lands. These numbers highlight how little this programme actually contributes to the economy (and how little it does to create jobs) in comparison to the enormous costs it incurs.

Federal cattle grazing may be vital to a small group of people, but it has a negative impact on the economy as a whole. It is time to begin planning for a fair transition, one that benefits both wildlife and the ranchers who work on public lands.

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