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Grazing fees could rise on state-owned land in Idaho

Business & Money

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Grazing fees for cattle and sheep on state-owned land in Idaho could rise about 50% next year.

The Idaho Department of Lands on Tuesday presented a draft proposal to Republican Gov. Brad Little and four other members of the Idaho Land Board that would be the first change in the grazing rate calculation since 1993. The board could take action later this year.

Land Board members are required by the Idaho Constitution to maximize profit from state lands over the long term, mainly to benefit public schools. But grazing fees the state charges are only about a third of what private landowners charge. That opens up Land Board members to potential lawsuits for possibly shirking their constitutional duty.

The new grazing rate would still only be about 60% of what private landowners currently charge.

The Idaho Department of Lands is taking public comments on the plan through Sept. 3.

The Lands Department is seeking to “develop a new model for grazing that’s transparent, defensible and achieves a fair-market rate for endowment beneficiaries,” said Lands Department Director Dustin Miller.

The Land Board looked at changing the rate in 2018, but not enough ranchers with grazing leases responded to a study by the University of Wyoming. The board then left the 1993 grazing rate methodology in place.

That rate is currently $7.07 per AUM, and for next year under the current plan will drop to $6.86 per AUM. An AUM, or animal unit month, is based on one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats grazing for a month. Idaho, in part, calculates sheep grazing fees based on the price of calves.

The new plan would see that rise to above $10.73 per AUM on state-owned land in 2022. The current rate for grazing private land is about $18.50.

The Lands Department manages about 1,100 grazing leases, ranging from one AUM to 25,253 AUMs. The average is 232 AUMs.

Idaho received about 5,600 square miles (14.5 million square kilometers), about 5.5% of the state’s total land base, when it became a state in 1890 to generate money for beneficiaries. Besides public schools, the University of Idaho, state hospitals for the mentally ill, Lewis-Clark State College, state veterans homes, Idaho State University and several others receive money.

The state has about 3,900 square miles (10 million square kilometers) remaining that generated, along with endowment funds, nearly $90 million for beneficiaries in the current fiscal year.

Timber harvest on state lands by far generates the most money. Grazing leases, state officials said Tuesday, are expected to generate just over $2 million, or about $1.8 million after expenses. Outside of timber, grazing generates the most money from state lands, followed by residential real estate.