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Thank you for informing your readers about the flawed arguments that have been put forward by some members of Congress in favor of raising livestock grazing fees on federal land.

As you correctly pointed out in your July 5 editorial, the current grazing fee formula is equitable and benefits both the environment and economy of the Western range.Confusion over the grazing fee comes from inappropriate attempts to compare it with the "private lease rate." In a typical private lease situation you buy, for one price, complete control of, and exclusive access to, a self-sufficient production unit - a complete ranch or a fenced watered pasture.

In contrast, the federal grazing fee buys only one component of that production unit - the grass. The development of the federal land ranch unit, together with the costs of "multiple-use management" and open public access, represent production costs not encountered in a private lease.

The appropriate level of the federal grazing fee is simply the amount that, when combined with other costs associated with harvesting federal forage, provides similar economic opportunity in the regions where the range is federally owned as where the range is privately owned.

As far as the environmental issues go, professional range managers agree that the Western range benefits from the grazing of livestock. Grazing promotes plant vigor and diversity, aerating the soil and scattering seeds.

The BLM and the Society for Range Management have studied the benefits of grazing on public lands, and each has reports that public rangelands are in better condition than at any time this century, thanks in large part to ranchers.

Joe Etchart


Public Lands Council

Glasgow, Mont.