Presidential candidates on public land use
There are other Nevada issues in the presidential campaign besides Yucca Mountain. One is grazing fees.

Ranchers throughout the West benefit from grazing cattle on land they don’t own. The federal government leases the public’s land to them at a portion of market value, which doesn’t cover the cost of damage to the land—and much of the money is returned to ranchers and used to repair the damage. This system is not the fault of the federal agency that signs the leases, but of Congress, which imposes limits on the amount charged for leases. The fee rose slightly (eight cents) in March from the 2003 price of $1.35 for grazing of a horse, a cow and calf or five sheep or goats. Before that, $1.35 was the lowest possible level under the congressional requirement.

It’s a system that the conservative Cato Institute calls “land-use socialism … the nation’s most conspicuous and extensive flirtation with socialism.”

However, The National Cattleman’s Beef Association says in a position paper, “Ranchers pay equitable fees for their use of public lands, when taken into account with their contributions to public lands, including rangeland improvements. The public-land permittee is responsible for fence construction and maintenance, water source development, and must work with state and federal range managers to make sure the land can adequately support a productive balance between wildlife and livestock use. By comparison… [t]he private landowner who leases land for grazing most often provides for the upkeep, such as water supplies and fencing, and he charges the lessee more for his service.”

John Kerry has repeatedly supported grazing fee increases. On Sept. 14, 1993, Kerry voted against an amendment to prevent higher grazing fees. Nevada Sen. Harry Reid voted in favor of the amendment. In 1996, Kerry voted first against killing an amendment that would have set higher fees on the largest beef operations and then for increased fees. Reid voted on the opposite side of the issue each time.

George W. Bush’s administration has rarely dealt with the issue, so he has less of a record on grazing fees.

Last December, the Bush administration proposed reversing a Clinton rule directing the Bureau of Land Management to act promptly when land was found to be damaged by grazing—before the next permit renewal year. The proposal assigned less urgency to reclaiming the land and allowed more time for it. “This proposal recognizes that ranching is crucial not only to the economies of Western rural communities, but also to the history, social fabric, and cultural identity of these communities,” said U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

Bush has drawn criticism for being too close to “the big timber, big mining, big oil and big cattle industries,” as columnist Molly Ivins puts it, and for being heavily indebted to those industries for substantial campaign contributions.