The U.S. Forest Service has approved a new rule waiving fees for unauthorized grazing under some circumstances in a move blasted by an environmental group that says the agency is codifying lax enforcement.
The Forest Service issued the decision this month following a 2016 Government Accountability Office report that found the agency couldn't identify how much-unauthorized grazing was occurring because it often handled cases informally with no documentation.
Western Watersheds Project says the agency's new rule creates loopholes allowing a rampant industry practice to continue. But the Public Lands Council that supports federal public land grazing says the new rule simply provides clarity for livestock growers.
“Providing Forest Service line officers the authority to waive excess and unauthorized use fees, when certain conditions are met, provides the needed flexibility to resolve incidents using a common-sense approach that minimizes conflict,” the agency said. “The economic activity generated from ranching is the lifeblood of many rural communities.”
About 2 million cattle and 800,000 sheep and goats graze on about 150,000 square miles (390,000 square kilometers) of Forest Service land in 29 states. Most of the grazing is in the U.S. West. The agency said it administers about 6,000 active livestock grazing permits and in the last five years has collected between $5.4 million and $9.2 million annually in grazing fees.