Adding more heat to the already-tense debate over subsidized grazing on federal land, a new study questions how much a city-dweller should pay in taxes to keep cowboys in business.
"Assessing the Full Cost of the Federal Grazing Program" is a study funded by environmental conservation groups including the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Ariz. It was written by Karyn Moskowitz at the University of Kentucky and Chuck Romaniello, an economist for the Colorado State Office of the Bureau of Land Management.
The study shows taxpayers spend about $128 million annually to subsidize cattle grazing on public lands in the West.
Those cows provide only 3 percent of the beef Americans consume.
The seven conservation groups that funded the study ask if this is how Americans want their tax money spent.
Because of government subsidies, ranchers with public land grazing permits pay about $1.40 a month for a mother cow and calf to forage on meadows controlled by the national forests or the Bureau of Land Management.
Private land owners charge about $10-$15 per month for that same cow and calf.
Using public land appears to be a sweet deal for cattlemen, who often move their herds into the high country for the summer, where temperatures are cooler and grass is usually green.
Deciding if the cost is worth the payoff depends on how badly Americans want to preserve the ranching way of life.
The $128 million covers a number of management expenses, the study said. This includes treating water tainted by cattle who wander into rivers and streams, planting new vegetation, building fences and cleaning up chemicals used to control noxious weeds.
In 2000, about $4 million also went to killing bobcats, mountain lions and coyotes that threatened livestock.
Moskowitz, the main author of the study, said she doesn't think it's worth it.