For more than 60 years, cattle have been grazing on federal land. Generations of ranchers have relied on public fields for their low cost—the government charges a monthly fee of $1.41 per animal, whereas private grazing can cost up to $20 for the same.
To ranchers, the difference between the cost of public and private lands could mean the difference between a thriving business or bankruptcy. But increasingly, they’re finding federal lands to be off-limits. Some government officials are reserving more of that land for recreational uses, like hiking and camping. And since the 1970s, environmentalists have pushed for tougher regulations on the land. In their eyes, farming livestock for beef is a high-emissions industry, and besides, livestock fouls up public water and plantlife.
But land-use regulations can be exacting, going so far as to limit the inches of a blade of grass that a cow may consume. For that reason, rancher Wayne Hage and his family have been fighting a regulatory battle for 35 years, quibbling with the government over everything from a missing fence staple to insufficient permits. These entanglements are seriously threatening the family business, and inflaming the conflict between cowboys and environmentalists. The Wall Street Journal has the full story:
Wayne Hage saddled up to check on his cattle one morning last summer, but he didn’t have to ride far. All his cows were confined to a private field near his ranch house, instead of roaming the Toquima and Monitor mountains, as herds have done for more than a century.
Federal officials have prodded Hage cattle off this lonesome stretch of central Nevada. They didn’t use a lasso. The government corralled the cows through a series of court rulings and policy changes to limit grazing—tactics applied broadly to ranchers across the West.
Now, the Hage cows are gone from that private pasture and the family ranch is in foreclosure.
“You can get on your horse and look like John Wayne out here, but live the most miserable life ever because you’re dealing with lawyers all the time,” said the 42-year-old Mr. Hage.