$3.1 billion sounds like a lot of money, and it is a lot of money. That was the figure our President requested for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 budget of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
As the BLM Director Neil Kornze says, “The President’s budget gives BLM the resources we need to manage the public lands on a landscape scale. This funding will help us to continue to devise 21st century solutions to the challenges we face.”
As the press release states, “The FY budget $1.3 billion for BLM operations and activities, more than $7 million above the BLM’s FY 2016 enacted budget, positions the agency for success by restoring the health of the West’s 65 million acres of sage-steppe ecosystem and enduring responsible development of energy resources on the public lands. It also invests in the agency’s national conservation lands, including many of the nation’s most precious and wildest areas, and seeks new tools to address a rapidly growing and unsustainable wild horse and burro population.”
BLM manages 245 million surface acres of public lands and 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate nationwide. This comes to 13 percent of the nation’s surface and roughly one-third of its subsurface mineral resources. If we add surface acres and subsurface acres and divide the $1.3 billion, we get around $1.38 funded for every surface and subsurface acre BLM manages. I wonder if that takes into account the Bundy’s Nevada acres or the Hammond’s Oregon lands.
The FY 2017 budget proposes $1.2 billion for BLM operations, which is $2.1 million above the FY 2016 enacted level. They raised the grazing fees from $1.69 to $2.11 per animal unit per month (AUM). This is around a 25 percent increase. I’m ok with the raise in grazing fees just as long as they followed the formula that was adopted years back. It was based on the price of cattle and sheep and the price of doing business – our expenses. Public lands ranchers worked hard to get it adopted, and we need to stick with that formula. Our President has recommended that BLM tax one dollar per AUM to the grazing fee, but so far it has been stopped. Most Americans don’t realize how much more expensive it is to run on federal lands than private lands.
The budget also gives $44 million for land acquisitions. One wonders where those acres are to be located. $44 million equates to a lot of acres. Remember, years back when the government identified lands along Wyoming’s Green River to acquire, nothing came out of it but scaring the heck out of a lot of ranchers.
One budget item we are glad got raised was Wild Horse and Burro Program funding. The BLM request would support new, innovative efforts to secure safe and cost effective placements for unadopted animals. BLM mismanages over 100,000 feral horses and burros, around half of which are in holding pens. They claim each horse or burro placed into private care can save the BLM almost $50,000 per animal. If that is the case, I’d take some wild horses if they would give me $48,000 to $49,000 per animal. Wouldn’t you? That would be a fair government deal.
What we really need are more range improvement funds. Let the range cons and ranchers, along with some other multi-users, decide where the dollars are to be spent.