Grazing on Public Lands

Idaho ranchers often rely on grazing on public lands. In Idaho the federal government owns 64% of all land. This includes lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and lands owned by the Bureau of Land Management.

The federal government originally owned all of the land that makes up Idaho. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 settled competing American and British claims to the territory. Since that time settlers in Idaho have acquired ownership of land from the federal government.

A few ranchers have challenged the U.S. Government’s ownership and authority over public lands. In 1911 the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the case of U.S. v. Grimaud. Pierre Grimaud was a sheep herder and was criminally charged with driving and grazing sheep on forest service land in California without a permit. The U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the case and determined that the Secretary of Agriculture was authorized by law to establish rules for the purpose of regulating the use of Forest Service lands, including grazing on such lands. The Court upheld the regulation and permitting of grazing on public lands.

Today, all government owned lands require a permit for the grazing of livestock. Such permits typically limit the number of animals that can be grazed and charge a fee for each animal unit month (“AUM”). An AUM is further defined as the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month.

This grazing fee applies to all public lands administered by the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service, is adjusted annually, and is calculated using a formula. Under the formula the grazing fee cannot fall below $1.35 per animal unit month. Any fee increase or decrease cannot exceed 25 percent of the previous year’s level. The grazing fee for 2014 is $1.35 per AUM, which is the same level as it was in 2013.

The law of the land requires a permit and the payment of a fee to graze on public lands. Livestock grazing on public lands helps maintain the private ranches that, in turn, preserve the open spaces that have helped write Idaho’s history.