Tester slams public land transfer efforts, fights for family farmers and ranchers

Interior Secretary: Public land transfer could force grazing fees to jump by 900 percent for Montana ranchers

(U.S. Senate)-Senator Jon Tester today highlighted the devastating impact a public land transfer would have on Montana ranchers who utilize public lands as part of their operations.

During a Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, Tester questioned Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on the harmful grazing fee increases Montana ranchers would be forced to pay if U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands were transferred to the state.

“There are some that want to transfer our federal lands to our states,” Tester said. “The amount of grazing fees that are charged by the states is much higher, and the private grazing fees are much higher than the state fees.”

According to Secretary Jewell, Montana charges a grazing fee of $19.57 per Animal Unit Months (AUM), which is 900 percent more than the federal government’s rate of $2.11 per AUM.

“We have more cattle than we have people, can you talk about the impact transferring these lands would have on grazing fees,” Tester added.

“The impact would be dramatic,” Jewell responded. “People are getting an incredibly good deal right now.”

Last year, some folks in the Montana Legislature introduced a bill to study the transfer of federal lands to the state.

In today’s hearing, Tester also pushed Jewell to provide working families and labor unions a specific timeline on the Obama Administration’s review of the federal coal leasing program. During the review, the Administration will not issue new leases with limited exceptions.

Jewell estimated that it will take three years to complete the comprehensive review and reassured Tester that existing coal leases on federal lands are not impacted by the review. In response to Tester’s questioning, Secretary Jewell indicated she would support legislation establishing a specific timeline for completing the review in a timely way.

Tester, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, also continued his fight to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses revenue from offshore oil and gas drilling to increase outdoor recreation and public access to public lands.