Monroe’s Mountain Grazing Economy Is Imperfect

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The Richfield Ranger District of Utah’s Fish Lake National Forest has released its proposed reauthorization for grazing of southern Monroe Mountain plots in Sevier and Piute counties.

The economic analysis in its reauthorization document is typical of many Forest Service and BLM grazing decisions, in which the agency emphasizes livestock grazing as an economically important component of rural economies using assumptions erroneous. It also justifies the re-authorization of grazing based on “custom and culture”, or the idea that ranching is important to the local sense of community.

This is how one must “think” such an economic analysis.

Economic analysis identifies that these rural counties have higher poverty rates than other parts of Utah, which is consistent with the situation across the West.

Among the various economic sectors in the region, agricultural wages and incomes are significantly lower than those of other economic sectors. In 2019, the average salary for livestock production was $30,814 compared to other sectors of the local economy like financial services at $48,372, manufacturing at $41,008 and government at $38,134 . Thus, of all major economic sectors, animal agriculture contributes the least revenue from any economic activity.

Additionally, from 2001 to 2019, the three industry sectors that created the new jobs were transportation and warehousing (352 new jobs), government (314 new jobs) and health care and social assistance (297 new jobs). During the same period, agricultural employment fell by 14.3%.

This is important because, like most of the West, the very economic base of this rural area is shifting from resource extraction or a resource colony to secondary and tertiary economic sources.

The FS analysis suggests that agricultural employment is important for these counties, which account for a quarter of employment in the region. But here is how the biases of economic analysis distort the real contribution of livestock.

First, “farming” includes all forms of agriculture, from raising turkeys to producing nursery plants. The actual contribution of “animal agriculture” to this total is much less.

In the two-county area, there were 283 cattle and beef farms, or 36% of farms. Thus, when the SF suggests that farms contribute almost a quarter of jobs in the region, the contribution of cattle farming represents about a third of this 25% attributed to the agricultural sector.

Another bias is that combining the two counties’ agriculture contribution skews and overstates the total. Sevier County, which has a much larger population (about 25,000) and a more diversified economy, derives only 7% of its income from farms. However, Piute County, with only 1,400 residents, derives more of its income from agriculture. When these two counties are combined, it increases the “percentage” of farm income.

Another distortion is that a high percentage of livestock operations derive most of their income from other sources of income. Rather than rural communities relying on livestock to provide the economic base as is often claimed, it is economic opportunities outside of livestock that help sustain livestock.

Jobs held by family members in other sectors of the economy provide much of the income from livestock operations. The jobs and incomes of driving a school bus, working in a grocery store, or even driving a part-time snowplow in the winter often exceed incomes from ranching.

In addition, not all livestock operations depend on public lands for livestock fodder. And even among ranchers who use public land to graze their animals, this is a seasonal contribution. Thus, the total contribution of public lands to the overall economic base of the two-county region is much, much smaller than the percentage of total ranching operations. In the West, federal grazing allocations contribute less than 0.1% of the region’s revenue (Thomas Power Welfare Ranching 2002).

I can’t give you the percentage contribution of public land grazing in that part of Utah because the FS analysis doesn’t make that distinction, for obvious reasons. However, in most western regions, forage on public lands represents less than 1% of the revenue contribution.

Another important part of any economic analysis is not just the presumed benefits (which in this case are grossly exaggerated) but the administrative costs to the taxpayer of continued grazing of public lands.

For example, the cost of managing livestock on pasture is minimized. Salaries for range ecologists, gasoline and trucks used by range managers, and even electricity, heat and offices used by agency staff are not considered a “cost” of grazing livestock.

And there are the salaries and associated costs of other specialists who contribute to any grazing analysis, including the economist who made up the economics section of the draft EIS, let alone the hydrologists, biologists of wildlife, recreation specialists and others who are consulted on any grazing operation. .

One of the many ways agencies “minimize” damage from ranching operations is to increase “range improvements” such as building more fences, pipelines, spring developments and roads – which should in fact be called rangeland degradation activities. Whatever their name, breeders generally do not pay a fraction of these costs for these developments that are borne by the public. None of these developments would be necessary if cattle grazing ended.

Admittedly, the fees (currently $1.35 per month to graze the cow and calf) paid by ranchers fall far short of the government (taxpayer) costs of administering grazing allowances. You would struggle to feed a hamster for $1.35 a month.

Another cost that is ignored is the cost of producing the HIA project which is yet another “cost” that taxpayers must bear to facilitate the private use of public resources for personal gain.

Proponents of cattle grazing often counter that the public who use campgrounds or hike, fish, or otherwise use public land also don’t pay the full cost. But this ignores the fact that livestock farming is a private enterprise using public resources for individual profit.

Beyond the lack of integration of the real administrative costs of livestock grazing, the SF fails to consider that grazing is not only a positive contribution to the local economy, but that it also harms other economic sectors. For example, grazing in riparian areas damages wildlife habitat. These riparian areas are essential for songbirds, fishing and other wildlife. Wildlife viewing is a growing and important economic activity in the West, so to some extent the continued grazing of livestock is detrimental to these other economic sectors – and these are the sectors that are growing in the local economy.

Damage to ecological function, wildlife habitat, watersheds, soils and other public land values ​​are externalized costs to the public and the land.

For example, when riparian areas are damaged by livestock grazing, this can lead to increased flooding, erosion and sedimentation in waterways, impacting fish and aquatic ecosystems. . This cost is not included in the economic analysis.

Cattle socially displace native herbivores like elk. When elk are forced to graze in other areas of the forest, they may be exposed to greater predation or lower quality forage, reducing the overall elk population. This loss affects wildlife viewing, hunting, and other parts of the local economy.

There is also forage competition between native herbivores and domestic livestock. The majority of the forage on many plots is allotted to livestock, which means there is less vegetation and hidden cover for everything from ground squirrels and butterflies to deer and elk.

Water pollution from livestock is a cost the agency does not account for, as well as the spread of weeds as a result of livestock operations. These are all “costs” that the public must bear to reserve or simply accept as part of the degraded landscape.

The Forest Service suggests that ranching connects people to “traditional lands and heritage” to justify the continued grazing of cattle on public lands. Obviously, this has little to do with pure economics.

However, more importantly, it ignores the fact that ‘traditional’ activities like animal husbandry harm other sectors of the economy.

The Richfield Range District uses the old “condos versus cows” argument to suggest that if grazing on public land is reduced, it will lead to the conversion of private land to other uses like housing estates.

I’ve discussed the flaw in this logic at length, but briefly, what drives subdivisions is the presence of amenities like ski resorts, educational opportunities, transportation (airports and highways), and economic opportunities. If subsidizing agriculture were a good conservation strategy, we would not see subdivisions around the West since almost all development occurs on land previously used for agriculture.

Most subdivided lands do not depend on forage from public lands.

One need only look at California, which has some of the most valuable farmland in the nation and is also experiencing tremendous subdivision growth to realize that subsidizing agriculture or minimizing its harmful environmental impacts is a poor conservation strategy. You can read more about this controversy at this link.

Like so many economic analyses, the Richfield Ranger District ignores the true costs to the public of continued livestock grazing on this land and overstates the economic benefits to the local economy while understating the costs to ratepayers. .

This is an example of SCPP’s nickname – socialization of costs and privatization of benefits.

There are plenty of other flaws in the EIS draft, and if you want to comment before Feb. 7, here’s the address for the district ranger. Please Support Climate Alternative 3. jason.kling@usda.gov

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