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In a year of rising feed and fuel costs, the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) is looking for public input on a proposal that would update the grazing rate methodology for the first time since 1993.

Last October, the Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners (Land Board) unanimously directed IDL to conduct a comprehensive review of the model used to set fees for grazing on more than 1.7 million acres of endowment land across Idaho. As a result of that review, IDL will recommend a new approach for determining the market rate for grazing on endowment land.

The recommendation will be brought to the Land Board as an informational item at its July 20, 2021, meeting. The board is not anticipated to act on IDL’s recommendation until September.

The new grazing rate proposal, along with background information, research and a public comment form are available on a new IDL webpage at Public comments and suggestions to improve the proposed new model will be accepted until 5 p.m. (MT) on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

The proposed model nets non-fee grazing costs against the USDA National Agricultural Statistic Services (NASS) published private Animal Unit Month (AUM) grazing rate for Idaho, then expresses the endowment grazing lease rate as a percentage of that NASS private lease rate.

For comparison, the current year endowment grazing fee is $7.07 per AUM, or 38% of the NASS private rate for Idaho. Under the proposed new model, the rate for 2022 may increase to $10.73 per AUM, which is 58% of the published NASS private rate.

Formula complexity and volatility has been an issue for decades when determining the market rate for grazing on endowment lands. The new approach would rely on transparent, defensible published data and would incorporate periodic reviews to ensure the endowment grazing rate tracks with market over time.

Local cattlemen note that grazing cattle on public lands is a symbiotic relationship: cattle get feed, and the forest gets groomed so it isn’t full of dry tinder, they say.

“Everyone thinks it is a free ride — it’s not. It’s a lot of work and you pay for it,” said one part-time cattleman. “But it’s a lot of fun to do raising kids” and that’s why he and others pay to run their cattle on public lands.

Doing so requires vigilance — and sometimes long hours. Cattlemen are required to keep cattle moving so they don’t over graze any one area, to provide water and to travel to doctor their animals. And although Idaho is a “fence out” state, meaning land owners are expected to fence areas they do NOT want animals in, these cattlemen are often chasing cattle out of private lands and fixing fences of land owners who don’t get the job done themselves.

They also find themselves repairing fixtures like cattle guards, damaged by trailers recklessly pulled through them.

If approved, the change would likely generate an additional $900,000 in revenue each year for Idaho’s endowment beneficiaries, which is primarily public schools.

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