Economists Devise a Way to Make Grazing Land Pay

Associated Press

Fee-paid hunting and fishing are potential ways for farmers to supplement their income from grazing land, a report by two Agriculture Department economists says.

The report's authors, Ralph Hemlich and Linda Langner of the USDA's Economic Research Service, say a lot of study is going into the multiple uses of grazing lands.

However, feelings run high in some areas against letting strangers traipse over farm and ranch land in pursuit of fish and game. Those feelings are reflected every deer season in jokes about outsiders.

Like the one about the city fella in his fancy blaze-orange vest running over to the deer he just shot, only to find a rancher standing nearby. The hunter politely asks if he can take away his freshly killed deer. "Sure," says the cattleman, "just as soon as I take my saddle off it."

A 1985 national survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tallied an estimated 16.7 million hunters and 46.6 million fishermen, plus about 30 million "other wildlife recreationists" such as photographers and bird watchers.

Hemlich and Langner say in a Farmline magazine report that multiple use of grazing land was discussed at a recent conference in West Virginia sponsored by the Grazing Lands Forum, which represents about 25 organizations and government agencies interested in the management of grazing lands.

Fees for hunting, fishing and other wildlife-related recreational activities could mean additional income for some farmers and ranchers. Other possible land uses include camping, hiking, picnicking and horseback riding.

And there is a lot of land available. Not counting Alaska, the United States has 860 million acres of grazing lands, three-fourths of which is rangeland. The remainder includes pasture, some woodlands and some cropland planted in forage used for grazing.

About 60% of the grazing land is privately owned, 30% owned by the federal government and the rest by state and local governments and Indian tribes.

"Only 4 million acres (less than 1% of the non-federal grazing lands) are used primarily for wildlife or recreational activities," the report said. "About 89% of the non-federal grazing land is used mainly for livestock production, nearly 6% is in wood production and 4% is idle."

Although surveys have shown that most hunting occurs on private land, in 1980 only 8% of the hunters paid landowners for the use.

Of the roughly 17 million hunters in 1980, 68% hunted large game, such as deer; 71% small game, such as rabbits, squirrels, pheasants and quail, and 30% migratory birds. Public lands were used by only 47% of the big-game hunters, 33% of the small-game hunters and 32% of the migratory bird hunters.

"About 620,000 hunters reported paying private access fees, and some 935,000 reported paying for leases," the report said. "The average access fees were $50 to $60 in 1980. The average lease cost was $660, including some leases on state-owned lands. More than two-thirds of the leases were on an annual basis, 22% seasonal and a few daily."

More than half the lease sites for hunting were in Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia, Mississippi and Alabama, the report said.

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