Public, private lands help support domestic livestock grazing

Leasing grass on open space

School section pasture inside the Gill Ranch, Salmon River country, pictured in February 2006.

Garrett Neal


School section pasture inside the Gill Ranch, Salmon River country, pictured in February 2006.

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The odds are every substantial ranch has a pasture called the School Section or Schoolhouse.

Ranchers utilize grass on state ground fenced in with deeded property through a lease. The lessee is authorized to use the number of acres identified on this lease for grazing domestic livestock at the identified rate.

The first land grant in Idaho was made under the Territorial Act of 1863 granting sections 16 and 36 of each township for the support of public schools.

This method of granting to the public schools sections 16 and 36 in each township resulted in scattered and disjointed parcels, as endowment lands were intermingled with private and federal ownership so as to create a “checkerboard” pattern.

These public and private rangelands help support an important segment of Idaho’s economy, domestic livestock grazing.

Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) routinely evaluates management strategies for all endowment trust land assets in order to ensure the Land Board is meeting a constitutional mandate to maximize long-term financial returns on the use of the land.

When Idaho was admitted to the Union as the 43rd state in 1890, it was granted 3,672,000 acres of land to support state institutions, primarily the state’s public school system. The land was granted under the condition it be managed in perpetuity as a trust for the beneficiary institutions.

More than 1,100 grazing leases representing more than 250,000 animal unit months are managed by the IDL with services provided by 10 supervisory areas that include 14 offices.

Yearlong public review open on grazing rate for state trust lands

The State Land Board has kicked off a yearlong public process to review the rate ranchers pay to graze livestock on state endowment trust lands.

A group representing diverse interests will advise a land board subcommittee comprised of Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney before the full land board votes on the grazing rate methodology in the fall of 2016.

“We wanted an open, transparent process that engages a spectrum of stakeholders in reviewing the State grazing rate, which has not been reviewed in 20 years,” said the subcommittee’s chairman, Secretary of State Denney. “The public can expect open meetings at locations around the state, a public comment period, and regular updates from the Idaho Department of Lands throughout the review process. Our efforts to review the grazing rate methodology align with our duty to maximize long-term financial returns to the schoolchildren of Idaho.”

Consultants to the subcommittee include experts in agricultural economics from around the region.

A Web page providing updates on the grazing rate review process is available on the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) Web site: http://www.idl.idaho.gov/leasing/grazing/rate/index.html

The grazing rate review process is the second leg in an effort to comprehensively review the entire IDL grazing program, in order to enhance the long-term income and value of the 1.4 million-acre rangeland asset managed by IDL under the direction of the land board. The Idaho Constitution mandates the lands be managed to maximize long-term financial returns to public schools and other beneficiaries.

IDL finalized a grazing program business plan in May after a year of engaging the public on overall management concepts for the 1.4 million-acre rangeland asset.

Grazing leases in Idaho County are handled by two supervisory areas: Maggie Creek and Payette Lakes.

The State Land Board recently kicked off the yearlong public process to review the rate ranchers pay to graze livestock on state endowment trust lands. This process has not been reviewed in 20 years, and it has many ranchers, as well as the Idaho Cattle Association concerned the department intends to significantly increase its grazing fee.

The grazing rate review process is the second leg in an effort to comprehensively review the entire IDL grazing program, in order to enhance the long-term income and value of the 1.4 million-acre rangeland asset managed by IDL under the direction of the Land Board.

A group representing diverse interests will advise a Land Board subcommittee comprised of Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney. Consultants to the subcommittee include experts in agricultural economics from around the region.

In 1993, the Land Board adopted a formula to determine the annual grazing fee for leases on state endowment trust land. The formula is based upon four indices used to approximate the value of forage on these lands and is applied on an Animal Unit per Month (AUM) basis. An AUM is the amount of forage needed to feed a cow and calf (younger than six months of age) for a month.

These indices include private lease rates or forage value, prices received for beef cattle, and the price of inputs to produce beef cattle. The indices are published each December and January by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and reflect information gathered for the previous 12-month period.

“With the recent announcement that Idaho Department of Lands is reviewing the state’s grazing program, there has been quite a bit of interest in the formula and resulting fee levels for grazing on lands administered by the department,” said Dr. Neil Rimbey, Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, University of Idaho Extension.

Many ranchers are concerned that too much emphasis is placed on comparing private and state lease rates. In 2014, the average private leasing rate in Idaho was $15.50 per AUM, with $6.89 as the state rate, according to IDL.

The largest grazing lessor in the state is the federal government, charging $1.35 per AUM in 2014.

Rimbey said, “The formula built upon data developed and used in the Public Rangeland Improvement Act (PRIA) federal grazing fee formula. This data goes back to 1964 and could be utilized to develop a statistically valid model designed to predict changes in the private lease market. This was done using regression techniques.”

“The Idaho formula uses the 3 PRIA indices and an index of Idaho private grazing lease rates to predict what the Idaho lease rate index will be two years into the future. Predicting two years into the future was necessary due to IDL requirements of at least a 6-month period for notification to lessees of changes in the lease rate,” said Rimbey.

While IDL provides only the bill, ranchers, leasing grass on open space for a 20-year interval, spend their own money installing and maintaining the infrastructure to graze their cattle.

The consensus amongst the ranching community is the fee will go up; the question is by how much.

Rimbey concluded, “The lease market is dynamic and reflects numerous factors that require frequent review and updating.”

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Shelley Neal is a resident of Lucile. garrett.neal@verizon.net

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