Montana News

Jul 18, 2011 6:08 PM by Marnee Banks (Helena)

MT State Land Board considers raising price of grazing leases

The State Land Board is considering raising the price of grazing leases in Montana, and some Montana ranchers aren't happy about the plan.

One of them is Dillon rancher Jim Hagenbarth, who has been grazing his livestock on state land for over 70 years; every dollar he pays the state for his grazing leases supports public education in Montana.

Hagenbarth noted, "The lessee is a permanent custodian that accepts the responsibility of land ownership and enhances the interests of the school trust and pays for performing this service."

But Hagenbarth says if the state increases its grazing lease rates, he may have to find a new place to run his livestock.

Nevertheless, the Land Board is moving forward with a proposal to more than double the rate.

Currently, the state charges a minimum of $6.12 per animal unit; the new proposal would take that rate up to $12.88 per animal unit.

The increase is based on a study which says state grazing leases should be 70% of private lease rates.

Mary Sexton, director of the MT Department of Natural Resources & Conservation, said, "When you look at the increases of grazing fees on private in the last 20 years compared to state lands, on private lands fees, that they have risen over 80% increase in the last 20 years, and state lands have increased only 50%. So we have actually fallen behind the private lease rate in the last 20 years."

Hagenbarth says state leases should be lower since ranchers have to pay for controlling weeds, managing fire risks, building fences, and often times providing water.

Hagenbarth commented, "I believe a moderate increase in grazing fees is in order and sustainable, but the proposed increase could be devastating."

Hagenbarth says many of the state's grazing leases are landlocked between private properties, and that if the fees go up and force ranchers to move elsewhere, the state will be stuck with a piece of land which generates no revenue at all.

Last year, grazing leases generated nearly $6.5 million dollars for public schools.

The Land Board is now accepting public comment on the proposal.

They are expected to make a decision in the upcoming months.

The State Land Board is made up of the top five elected officials in the state; the current members are Governor Brian Schweitzer, Attorney General Steve Bullock , Auditor Monica Lindeen, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, and Secretary of State Linda McCulloch.