Cliven Bundy and his fellow “welfare ranchers”

The national obsession with Cliven Bundy dissipated quickly after he said “the negro” might have been better off when they were slaves.

Conservative pundits and Republican senators ran from Bundy’s overt racism. Even if Bundy is forgotten, he brought fresh attention to a pernicious policy problem. The public is getting ripped off by ranchers.

The media obsessed over the shiny, but ultimately irrelevant, aspects of the Bundy incident. Militias, anti-American conservative conspiracies, the right of the federal government to own land and charge fees to use it, pervasive racism on the right, welfare, and bickering television personalities all are settled issues, but they get ratings.

Lost was the only real issue of substance down on the Bundy ranch: ludicrously cheap federal grazing fees.

Bundy refused to pay the fees and racked up penalties. That was enough to attract armed followers willing to fight federal officials enforcing the law. That he didn’t pay them doesn’t make him a welfare mom, it makes him a crook.

Cattle Grazing in the Agua Fria National Monument by the Richinbar Mine site in Arizona. (BLM)

Cattle grazing in the Agua Fria National Monument by the Richinbar Mine site in Arizona. (BLM)

But welfare for ranchers is real. It’s just underreported. Fees that ranchers pay are a fraction of market rates for grazing on private land or purchasing feed.

The Bureau of Land Management administers about 245 million acres of public land mostly in Western states. It allows livestock grazing on about 155 million acres and issues about 18,000 permits and leases to ranchers that typically last 10 years.

BLM charges $1.35 per animal unit month. An AUM is grazing for a cow and calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month. That’s the same rate the federal government charged in 2013, and the year before. In fact, that’s about how much the government has charged for decades except most recently for a few years under President George W. Bush when it went up a few pennies.

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To put that in perspective, $1.35 will get you one or two cans of cat or dog food, far short of a month’s supply.

The rate is the result of a convoluted formula that Congress adopted in 1978 as part of the Public Rangelands Improvement Act. It sets $1.35 as the minimum, and it doesn’t adjust for inflation. It also is open to political manipulation.

When BLM redoes the math each year, ranchers and their lobbyists make sure nothing changes. Grazing on public lands remains cheap. Ranchers win. The public loses.

In 2013, the average rate for grazing on private lands in the West was $18.90 per head per month. Feed costs are comparably high.

Private Range Fees

Average private monthly grazing fees per state. Bold text is 2013. Regular text is 2012.

Conservatives insist that government should run more like a business. No business would remain viable if it charged 1/14th of the going market rate.

Federal lands are a public resource, and the American people deserve fair compensation from those who use them for private profit. That should include money to offset environmental damage and water pollution caused by grazing. A 2005 Government Accountability Office report found that federal agencies recouped only about 15 percent of their administrative costs from ranchers. In 2004, taxpayers lost $123 million to grazing.

Periodically a brave lawmaker bucks the ranching special interests and introduces legislation to fix that disparity. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska, introduced legislation in 2012 to set fees comparable to nearby private rangeland. In Nebraska, grazing fees on private land cost $34. His bill died in committee.

Even the Obama administration, for all its talk about environmental stewardship and fiscal responsibility, has been afraid to touch the grazing fee.

Let Cliven Bundy ride off into the sunset, as all cowboys must, but don’t let his fellow ranchers continue exploiting America’s resources without paying their fair share.

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Christian Trejbal is a freelance editorial writer, editor and political consultant based in Portland, Ore. He wrote exclusively for The (Bend) Bulletin and The Roanoke Times before founding Opinion in a Pinch. He serves on the board of directors of the Association of Opinion Journalists Foundation and is open government chairman. Follow him on Twitter @ctrejbal and facebook.

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49 Responses to “Cliven Bundy and his fellow “welfare ranchers””

  1. Grandma Gregg says:

    $200 Per Day Per Head of Cattle since 1998. On November 3, 1998, United States District Judge (USDJ) Johnnie B. Rawlinson “permanently enjoined (Bundy) from grazing his livestock within the Bunkerville Allotment (‘The Allotment’), and shall remove his livestock from this allotment on or before November 30, 1998… (and) ordered that Plaintiff shall be entitled to trespass damages from Bundy in the amount of $200.00 per day per head for any livestock belonging to Bundy remaining on the Bunkerville Allotment after November 30, 1998

    I did some quick math – could this possibly be correct?
    900 cattle times $200 per day = $180,000 per day times 365 days = $65,700,000 per year times 25 years = $1,642,500,000 that Bundy owes you and me plus interest and fines and court costs. I want him to pay … NOW.

  2. LouieCocroft says:

    George Knapp is a two-time Peabody Award winner as well as a 19-time Emmy Award-winning

    Finally, part two also discusses the alleged, “real reason” for the very recent Mustang round ups off the horse’s legal land. The 675 mile long Ruby Natural Gas Pipeline that runs right
    through the Calico Herd’s protected lands. After hearing about this pipeline,

    ATSNews’ Mark Allin started doing some good old fashioned investigative
    reporting of his own to see just who was behind this pipeline, who would
    benefit from it most. What he discovered is disturbing but not surprising. The
    same Corporate Raiders who have been fined hundreds of millions of dollars,
    created environmental disasters all over the U.S. (and many other parts of the
    world) because they just turn their nose up at safety regulations, best
    practices, and common sense are ALL involved with the Ruby Pipeline.

    The same bunch of villains who have plundered our public lands for decades, destroyed lives
    through their negligence and horrid lack of concern for anything but huge
    profits are now destroying yet another piece of Americana, the Wild Mustangs of
    the Great Southwest.

    Watch part two and find out who these corporate thugs are and hear Mark’s plea
    to the ATS Community to help us expose the rest of this story!

  3. FLL says:

    The racism in his statements is obvious.

  4. eggroll_jr says:


  5. eggroll_jr says:

    I’m conflicted about this discussion. At one level, there seems to be this shock about how little grazing fees are, without even mentioning that part of the money is given back to licensees to cover costs of improvements on land. But then, penned beef and dairy cows in the west are also extremely unsustainable as they require massive inputs in energy, water and nutrients. Whatever a cow is in other cultures, it is an invasive species in the North American ecological context, a hooved “gas guzzler” if you will.

    Moreover, giving away public resources to political allies is a common theme in US politics. The overdraft of 10 cubic kilometers of water every year in California’s Central Valley is powerfully protected by top members of Congress, and not just Republicans (Jim Costa, for example). Craig Thomas, a former US senator, literally handed over federal assets to the potash industry in the form of “royalty relief” that now could be a boon for foreign owners if a lithium economy emerges.

    Agency capture at BLM and the US Forest Service has long been cloaked in “multiple use” politics to assuage very narrow special interests. For example, the Eastern Sequoia was logged back in the early 1970s (a one-time opportunity per ice age), even if it made no sense to any of the foresters at that time. The reasoning was that you had to let a little resource theft go on all the time to keep the peace. Grazing is something like that. You don’t end up with superfund sites and huge ongoing costs to the taxpayers, so it’s accepted.

  6. 4th Turning says:

    “The Free State Project draws recruits with a mishmash of different philosophies, which isn’t surprising given libertarianism’s history. By some accounts, the first thinker to describe himself as libertarian was Joseph Déjacque, a mid-19th-century French anarcho-communist writer. Déjacque’s beef wasn’t just with government, but with capitalist bosses and religious hierarchies. Any kind of authority was an assault on individual autonomy. He even opposed families, with their elevation of husband above wife and parents above children. For about a century, this is what people meant when they said “libertarianism”: a far-left vision of autonomous individuals working as equals.

    Then, beginning in the 1950s, a new definition of ‘libertarianism’ emerged in America, defining its love of freedom in ways that directly contradicted Déjacque. The new philosophy drew on the classical liberalism of Thomas Jefferson, filtered through an economic lens that made property rights central. This was the libertarianism of the Cato Institute think tank, formed in 1977 by economist Murray Rothbard, corporate right-wing superstar Charles Koch, and Edward Crane, a leader of the then-fledgling Libertarian Party. Here, the government was faulted not for standing with capital against the people but for getting in the way of progress by promoting socialist welfare systems.”

  7. BeccaM says:

    Across the west, the BLM and U.S. Forest Service manage 13.3 million AUMs (Animal Unit Months) on 250 million acres of public land. One month of grazing one cow/calf combination or five sheep (the definition of an AUM) costs $1.35—a fee that’s substantially below the present-day cost of $16-$20 per month to graze livestock on private land (BLM evidence of this disparity is noted here.) The direct loss to taxpayers, according to Wild Earth Guardians’ interpretation of GAO data, is huge: at least $123 million a year. Indirect but related
    costs push the total to as much as $1 billion, all to produce less than 3% of the nation’s beef supply.

    (Emphasis added.)

    So…yeah… Hannity is full of that which Bundy’s cattle are leaving in pie form all over the desert.

  8. BillFromDover says:

    But… but… but didn’t Hannity opine that if we charged ranchers grazing fees, a steak dinner could cost ya sixty-five dollars?

    Hell, wouldn’t most of us then have to resort to lobster tail meat just to survive?

  9. Silver_Witch says:

    Saying that Negros were better off as slaves is inherently racist. The fact that you don’t understand that indicates that you have no concept of what it would be like to live as a slave, without family, without rights and without freedom. Sorry – you blindness does not make anything true.

  10. Silver_Witch says:

    Thanks for the response to Petulantes…I was going to go search for your article re same that lays out clearly that what Bundy said was untrue. You are the best!!

  11. Silver_Witch says:

    That is how the rich get richer…they have to pay for very little…yet they have all the money. And us peons we pay more for cable, getting our clothes clean and gas…while the rich have money to lease mineral rights we could never access….

  12. BeccaM says:

    Oh, and by the way, the U.S. Grazing Service charged fees — which were not optional — in the decade leading up to the formation of the Bureau of Land Management in 1946.

    Cliven Bundy was born in 1946 and his family didn’t buy the ranch until two years later.

    You’re suggesting Cliven was grazing cattle for free on public lands even before he was a zygote? Even before his parents married and his dad bought the ranch?

    You’re right on one count: Mr. Bundy fought in the courts for his right to steal from the American taxpayers. And he has lost every single time.

    Also: Putting up a fence or installing feeding stations on federal protected desert wilderness land isn’t an ‘improvement’. It’s destruction of a natural habitat. Mr. Bundy did all this not out of the goodness of his heart or to feed America, but to make a profit by mooching off the rest of us and attempting to annex lands that did not belong to him in the first place.

  13. The_Fixer says:

    This is pretty much balderdash. Becca gives the correct history of the Bundy family’s purchase of the ranch in her comment below.

    As to Agenda 21, this is how Wikipedia summarizes it:

    “Agenda 21 is a 300-page document divided into 40 chapters that have been grouped into 4 sections:

    Section I: Social and Economic Dimensions is directed toward combating poverty, especially in developing countries, changing consumption patterns, promoting health, achieving a more sustainable population, and sustainable settlement in decision making.

    Section II: Conservation and Management of Resources for Development Includes atmospheric protection, combating deforestation, protecting fragile environments, conservation of biological diversity (biodiversity), control of pollution and the management of biotechnology, and radioactive wastes.

    Section III: Strengthening the Role of Major Groups includes the roles of children and youth, women, NGOs, local authorities, business and industry, and workers; and strengthening the role of indigenous peoples, their communities, and farmers.

    Section IV: Means of Implementation: implementation includes science, technology transfer, education, international institutions and financial mechanisms.”

    Note section III. Strengthening the role of NGOs, local authorities

    That’s an odd way to carry out a conspiracy, to involve children, youth, NGOs, local authorities, businesses, industry, workers, indigenous people, their communities and farmers.

    I suppose that means that they’re all in on t? To say that is pure chrackpot-ism.

  14. BeccaM says:

    I’m super glad Chris went ahead and found all the data for the actual average private land grazing fees being charged throughout the western half of the nation. Just goes to show how ridiculous Bundy and his insurrectionists are being.

    Then again, he also doesn’t want to pay the $10 for a lifetime “Golden Pass” for all of America’s national parks and recreation areas (and many state ones, too), for which he’d be eligible as a senior citizen. (My wife got her a couple years ago when we were visiting Carlsbad.) Rather than pay that pittance once, Bundy would rather bluster about God himself saying the fee stations should be torn down — and I guess all those parks allowed to go to hell, since there’d be nobody to maintain the roads, pick up litter, and deal with miscreants.

  15. BeccaM says:

    You should see his comment history. It’s…entertaining, in a train wreck sort of way.

  16. BeccaM says:

    It’s funny, but I’ve noticed that habit. Beginning with, as I indicated below, with my father.

    He’d say something incredibly racist, stereotyped, and prejudicial. I’d object or point out how racist it was. Assuming I didn’t get punched or slapped for ‘being a smart-ass’ (which did happen sometimes, especially if I misjudged my father’s current state of inebriation and/or general irritation with the world), he’d invariably insist there was nothing racist about what he said. “That’s how they are,” he’d reply. “It’s not racist to say the truth about n*****s. I’m just stating the facts. One day, I guarantee you’ll agree with me.”

    Thankfully that day has never come and never will.

  17. 4th Turning says:

    Last 2 hrs. with cnn. Shit, I’m happy for you and for John and for what all of you and
    us long time/short time followers have stood and fought for-our whole lives. I don’t pay much attention to big money sports but will be watching the Clippers tonight
    and cheering for them-they’ve already won big in my humble opinion!

  18. PeteWa says:

    racists never see racism as racism.
    to you and your ilk, it’s “just the way things are!”

  19. Naja pallida says:

    The current grazing fees are literally the minimum by law they are allowed to charge, and moochers still can’t manage to pay up. Establishment of the minimum was actually an executive order by Saint Reagan – and we all know how evil executive orders are. Consider though, that the fee in 1966 was $1.23, and it is now $1.35. Even if it followed the basic rate of inflation, it should be almost $9. Studies have shown that the fees don’t even come remotely close to covering the costs incurred from the maintenance and damage to the land. Ranchers are getting a pretty damn sweet deal, it’s long past time that the deadbeats among them were made to pay their share.

  20. BeccaM says:

    And it makes them look like an unhinged paranoid hysteric, too.

  21. BeccaM says:

    Bundy said nothing racist? You’re cute.

    Cliven Bundy:

    “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro (…) They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?

    By the way, one deluded friend does not unmake a racist. My father had African American friends, too, men who ought to have known better. It didn’t make him any less of a racist bigot.

    On the other hand, despite being an abject, unrepentant racist, my father did sometimes have good advice for me. That advice included, “Don’t ever pick an argument with a lunatic. There’s no point in it.”

    So on that note, buh-bye.

  22. BeccaM says:

    As I keep saying, people are allowed to be bigoted morons. But bigoted morons aren’t entitled to other people’s business or money.

  23. BeccaM says:

    I wasn’t aware that having a privilege one year exempts you from obeying new laws and regulations when passed — legally, constitutionally — by the government whose protections and benefits you enjoy.

    Bundy’s family didn’t own the ranch he’s on now until 1948. They grazed for a few years — paying the requisite grazing fees in the 1950s then stopped. Bundy resumed grazing and paying the fees from 1973 through 1993 when he began breaking the law by refusing to pay the ridiculously low grazing fees and refusing to obey maximum cattle limits.

    Bundy’s mother’s family had a farm up in Mesquite.

    By the way, in 1870, the land you referred to was owned by the Paiute tribes. In 1875, they were pushed out and onto reservations. The land Bundy and his ancestors have lived on for the last 140 years was stolen from someone else. Think about that.

    As for Agenda 21? Thanks for letting us all know you’re a conspiracy theory whackjob.

    Have a nice day. And you might want to up your meds. They’re not working so good.

  24. Zorba says:

    You links, such as they are, don’t even work.

  25. 4th Turning says:

    Cuban warned that if Sterling is kicked out for his views, other owners could be at risk: “If it’s about racism and we’re ready to kick people out of the league, OK? Then what about homophobia?… What about somebody who’s anti-semitic? What about a xenophobe?”
    “In this country, people are allowed to be morons,” Cuban added.

  26. thisMike says:

    I wasn’t sure why the Koch brother’s front groups were so active in supporting Bundy. I figured it was just a case of rich bastards supporting other rich bastards. Then I took a look at this web site:

    The Koch’s run 11,000 head of cattle on 185,000 acres of government land. That $1.35 per month fee must be keeping them up at night.

  27. Matt Rogers says:

    I once applied to Harvard University, and they sent me a list of available scholarships. Sure, there were a couple for minorities, but the vast majority of scholarships were for descendents of specific white people.

  28. lynchie says:

    Well GW got a college degree because of who is Daddie is.

  29. Sorry that we didn’t get to the welfare ranchers on air.

  30. lynchie says:

    Then you are a racist and a bigot.

  31. lynchie says:

    Well i have been wrong before but you my friend are a liar. His family started farming in 1948 (google it). Here is the history of what transpired on federal land back to 1864. He has made no improvements they are done with the money paid in grazing rights (which he hasn’t paid in 12 years). The build roads, plant grass, build bridges, etc. He has constantly had more cattle on the property than allowed to maintain it and lost 4 times in the courts. If you are here to spread bull shit, see Bundy he has an over abundance. He is a liar, a bigot, a racist, a crook and had the gall to let a young calf die and show it on CNN and not bottle feed it to keep it alive. You should be ashamed of yourself. If you like Bundy hold this country in contempt just leave.

  32. HolyMoly says:

    He speaks of misinformation, and then proceeds to cite “Agenda 21,” a wild-eyed conspiracy theory. Ranks up there with the conspiracy about Sharia Law coming to a community near you.

  33. HolyMoly says:

    Add to that the legacy admissions to college. No merit required.

  34. Tor says:

    I’m a native of Wyoming, where most of the land is owned by the federal government. Besides grazing fees being too low, the other great rip-off is the sale or lease of mineral rights.

  35. I will be on The Attitude with Arnie Arnesen in a few minutes to discuss welfare ranching and super PACs. Listen online if you like at

  36. Indigo says:

    Agribusiness is where the money flows.

  37. cole3244 says:

    i believe you will find that the bundy family didn’t buy the land until 1948, sounds like they were free loaders even back then, disinformation goes both ways.

  38. cole3244 says:

    the right do not believe in govt assisting anyone unless its the elites.

    those that really need help get labeled as lazy good for nothings that are gaming the system, the well off that get help even though they don’t really need it are upstanding americans but are the right color (white) who are privileged in america as they always have been, that is our real affirmative action in reality.

  39. Buford2k11 says:

    Mormon Troll???

  40. Buford2k11 says:

    I see you spreading mis-information and propaganda…crawl back under your rock…

  41. kingstonbears says:

    Or a Mormon?

  42. Buford2k11 says:

    No…I am saying that BLM IS the agency charged with the orderly use of public land…they put out the areas for bidding and award the permits…they collect fees from those who are willing to pay…they can authorize EIS to be done on the land they want to use…I say BLM hasn’t charged the true worth of the land…BLM has been the whipping post for quite a few industries…Bundy is a thief and a coward…I know BLM and the folks who work for BLM, and the Forest Service…The BLM can take folks to court etc…collecting fees from folks like Bundy is a problem they have faced before…the courts are the way to go, and the US Marshal’s office can do the collections..

  43. Monophylos Fortikos says:

    What is it with semi-literate right-wingers and the caps lock? Typing your words in capital letters doesn’t make you look emphatic; it makes you look like a moron.

  44. petulantes says:

    spreading dis-info like you were paid to do it.. wow ! He said nothing untrue, nothing racist. WAKE UP and TURN OFF THE DAMNED Tel-LIE-Vision

  45. petulantes says:

    You are sooooo wrong.. his family used that land to feed people( graze cattle since 1870 . He was doing it before BLM changed rules . Many ranchers in that area have been driven out ( agenda 21 GOOGLE it) Bundy has been fighting in the courts since 1993. He has done all of the improvements himself. DIS-INFO is spread wide .. have a nice day

  46. lynchie says:

    When Bundy decided to use the BLM land for grazing his cattle he agreed to pay the fees. He then decided not to pay because he says he doesn’t recognize the federal government. Ok, take you cows off the land a keep them on yours. The BLM charges virtually nothing for the grazing rights and to maintain the land, build roads, bridges etc. takes money. What part of that don’t you understand.

  47. caphillprof says:

    You seem to be saying that the BLM has no obligation to collect fees for private use of Federal land; you also seem to be suggesting that the public has no interest in receiving fair market value for the private use of Federal land. Is that what you are saying?

  48. Buford2k11 says:

    Folks don’t understand the mission of BLM…their mission is to allow the orderly use of Federal Land…From drilling and mining to grazing…Our area is used for grazing of cattle and sheep, along with coal mining and some drilling…I object to the sheep herders killing all the bears that wander in to feed on the “land maggots” as the cattle ranchers refer to sheep…there is a bidding process, and there is competition for good grazing land…that is what BLM is supposed to do…collecting owed fees is another matter…

  49. samNH says:

    Bundy is Mormon and he lived in the time when the LDS believed that African-Americans were unequal to the “white and delightsome” people on this earth. Is it possible that his Mormon belief system has contributed to his racism?

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