Montana Ranchers Speak Against Grazing Fee Increase

By Beacon Staff

GREAT FALLS – Montana ranchers are speaking out against a proposed increase in grazing fees for state lands.

A study done for the Montana Land Board found the state was charging far less for grazing fees than private landowners. The board proposed increasing the fee from around $6.50 to $12.88 per animal unit month, which is the amount of forage needed by a cow and her calf for a month.

Ranchers argued Tuesday that they have more expenses when leasing state grazing lands, including providing water and fencing.

“It’s apples and oranges,” John Baucus of Wolf Creek said of the differences between leasing state and private lands. “It’s not consistent on how things are being done.”

The meeting was one of four at which the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is taking public comment.

“I’d like to see this slowed down and looked at a lot harder,” said Kraig Meeks, director of the Montana Stockgrowers Association.

Kevin Chappell, chief of the DNRC’s Agriculture and Grazing Bureau, said the proposed increase does consider the extra costs ranchers face when leasing state lands, which is why it recommends the rate be increased from the current 30 percent of the market rate to 70 percent of the market rate.

The state takes in $6.4 million in revenue from grazing leases — money that is used to fund schools. The Land Board is tasked with getting fair market value for the use of school trust lands.

Michael Sherrard, of Shelby, suggested the increase be phased in over a 10-year period. He also recommended that voters decide on a system for how fees are determined.

People can submit comments to the DNRC through Sept. 30.

Chappell said DNRC Director Mary Sexton will consider comments in crafting a final proposal to the State Land Board. The board is expected to vote in November.

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