Estimating the $500 Million Cost of the Federal Livestock Grazing Program

NPLGC has estimated the cost of the federal grazing program to taxpayers is $500 million annually. This estimate is based upon the best available information and is generally supported by current published analyses, albeit all are severely limited. A definitive government study is still needed.

Direct USFS and BLM Costs

The direct costs of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grazing programs are published annually. For FY 2000 (2001 data not used due to accounting changes that made the data less transparent), the Forest Service spent $54.3 million for range management and deposited $1.6 million to the federal treasury from grazing fees, for a net deficit of $52.7 million. 1 For FY 2001, BLM spent $77.3 million and collected approximately $4.5 million, for a net loss of $72.8 million. 2

Indirect USFS and BLM Costs

Moscowitz and Romaniello (2002) have completed the most recent and thorough study to date documenting the direct and indirect costs of the Forest Service and the BLM grazing programs. Although Moscowitz and Romaniello identify many indirect costs of the agency programs (i.e., costs of supporting public lands grazing that are not explicitly attributed to the grazing program), the authors chose to abide by standard economic reporting practices and excluded indirect costs in their final analysis because they are not "transparent" (explicit) in the federal budget. 3 However, every researcher who has studied the costs of public lands grazing (including Moscowitz and Romaniello) has acknowledged that indirect costs are a significant portion--if not greater than direct expenditures--of total grazing costs. 4

With due respect to traditional fiscal reporting practices, for the purpose of improving public policy--and in the absence of better information--the NPLGC estimate of the cost of the federal grazing program includes direct and indirect costs. When addressing grazing costs, NPLGC believes that including indirect cost data that is approximately correct is preferable to ignoring the information, effectively assigning "$0" to such costs, which is precisely wrong.

To this end, Moscowitz and Romaniello compiled a list of major budget line items that include indirect costs reasonably attributed to livestock grazing on public lands. The authors suggest that monies represented by each line item might be credited as indirect costs for livestock grazing as direct grazing program costs are a proportion of the total direct costs for the four major (ground-disturbing) federal land management programs: grazing, timber, recreation and mining. 5

Tables I and II list Forest Service and BLM programs that indirectly support federal public lands grazing. Range management represents six percent of the four main Forest Service management programs, and 37 percent of the BLM direct appropriations for livestock grazing, timber, recreation and mining. 6 Thus the indirect costs of the Forest Service and BLM grazing programs are estimated to be $177 and $154.8 million, respectively, for a total of $331.8 million.

Table I 7
Forest Service Indirect Grazing Costs
Annual Appropriation
($ millions)
Land Management Planning
Inventory and Monitoring
Recreation, Heritage and Wilderness
Wildlife and Fisheries Habitat Management
Vegetation and Watershed Management
Forest and Rangeland Research
National Fire Plan
Direct grazing costs are 6 percent of Forest Service range, recreation, mining and timber budgets.
Indirect costs attributable to USFS Livestock grazing (6% of total indirect program costs)

Table II 8
Bureau of Land Management Indirect Grazing Costs
Annual Appropriation
($ millions)
Soil, Water, and Air
Cultural Resources Management
Wildlife and Fisheries Resources
Threatened and Endangered Species
Transportation and Facilities Maintenance
Construction and Access
Workforce and Organizational Support
Central Hazardous Materials Fund
Hazardous Materials Management
Resource Management Planning
Land and Resource Information Systems
Direct grazing costs are 37 percent of BLM range, recreation, mining and timber budgets.
Indirect Costs Attributable to BLM livestock grazing (37 percent of total indirect program costs)

Total Federal Expenditures for Public Lands Grazing

Table III summarizes known direct costs and imputed indirect costs of the Forest Service and BLM livestock grazing programs. It also includes the documented cost of predator control on western public lands that directly supports public lands ranching, for a total of $466 million.

Table III
Direct and Indirect Forest Service and BLM Costs
Directly Attributable Costs of Other Federal Agencies
Annual Appropriation
($ millions)
US Forest Service direct costs
US Forest Service indirect costs
BLM direct costs
BLM indirect costs
Predator control on Western Public Lands

Other Federal Fiscal Costs 9

Other costs of the Forest Service and BLM livestock grazing programs not included in Table III:

Federal Costs Not Factored

Neither direct nor indirect costs (or income) of the Department of Defense, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service livestock grazing programs are considered in this analysis. These agencies tend to charge grazing fees that more closely reflect the market value of comparable private forage, so the income per AUM (animal unit month) is generally higher than for the Forest Service and BLM. However, information about direct and indirect costs incurred by these agencies in administering their livestock grazing programs is generally unknown.

Other Governmental Costs Not Factored

Moscowitz and Romaniello note that "(m)any costs are borne by non-federal agencies, private institutions and individuals as a result of livestock grazing on public lands." 12 For example, livestock grazing impacts soil, vegetation and watersheds, resulting in erosion and habitat loss that is often mitigated through expensive local water treatment and other means.

$500 Million Annual Cost Consistent with Other Estimates

Karl Hess (formerly special advisor on policy to the Assistant Secretary for Program, Policy, and Budget of the Department of the Interior) and Johanna Wald (senior attorney and Land Program Director, Natural Resources Defense Council) have estimated the annual cost of the federal grazing program to be approximately $500 million. 13 The Economist has also reported the annual cost of the federal grazing program to be $460 million 14 (derived independently of this analysis).

More Research and Analysis Needed

The NPLGC estimate is based upon the best available information. Further analysis is needed, perhaps by the General Accounting Office of the United States Congress or the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Environmental Costs Not Considered

This analysis is limited to federal fiscal costs of public lands grazing. No attempt is made to quantify the economic costs of the severe environmental damage caused by livestock grazing, which could be many times greater than the direct and indirect fiscal costs of the federal grazing program.


1. Moscowitz, K. and C. Romaniello. 2002. Assessing the Full Cost of the Federal Grazing Program. Center for Biological Diversity. Tucson, AZ: 13.
2. Moscowitz and Romaniello, 14.
3. Moscowitz and Romaniello, 4.
4. See Moscowitz and Romaniello, 21 ("The BLM and Forest Service may spend far more on grazing indirectly through other budget items than through the range management budgets along.").
5. Moscowitz and Romaniello, 21-23.
6. Moscowitz and Romaniello, 21.
7. Adapted from Moscowitz and Romaniello, 22 (Table A-1).
8. Adapted from Moscowitz and Romaniello, 23 (Table A-2).
9. Moscowitz and Romaniello, 24-27.
10. Wilcove, D. S., D. Rothstein, J Dubow, A Phillips, E. Losos. 1998. Quantifying threats to imperiled species in the United States: assessing the relative importance of habitat destruction, alien species, pollution, overexploitation and disease. BioScience 48(8): 610.
11. Moscowitz and Romaniello, 25.
12. Moscowitz and Romaniello, 28.
13. Hess, K. and J. H. Wald. 1995. Grazing reform: here's the answer. High Country News 27(18).
14. Subsidized cow chow. The Economist (Mar. 7, 2002): 39.