The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground. —THOMAS JEFFERSON, 1788

Ronald Reagan’s executive order on grazing fees is not what you think

“I happen to be one who cheers and supports the Sagebrush Rebellion. Count me in as a rebel.” – Ronald Reagan, 1980

reagan western cowboy

The Sagebrush Rebellion, of which Cliven Bundy was a part, was a battle for federal land to be returned to the states. This battle has been fought by western states for well over a century, as explained remarkably in Robert H. Nelson’s work for the CATO institute. In the end, the federal government made concessions to hush up the dissenters, who have a valid constitutional argument (in fact, it is more than valid).

Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order 12548 was by no means the first time a grazing fee was imposed on ranchers. In fact, ranchers had been paying fees since the advent of the Forest Service. Ronald Reagan was not imposing grazing fees on ranchers. He was ensuring that the existing fees would not be raised.

The environmentalists lamented the move, saying that it was an unfair subsidy to ranchers and the low grazing fees would result in livestock devouring the West.

In 1986, the New York Times reported,

“President Reagan signed an executive order Friday retaining the hotly debated low fees for ranchers whose cattle graze on Federal lands in the West.”

Charles Callison, director of the Public Lands Institute said that the Executive Order was an ”outrage.” He called the fee ”an unfair subsidy to a tiny minority of livestock operators in the West.” Marchant Wentworth, conservation associate of the Izaak Walton League of America, was quoted as saying, ”We are disappointed at this shallow attempt to pursue Western political interests.”

Also in 1986, the Chicago Tribune reported,

“With the help of the administration and a Republican dominated Senate, pro-development forces won some big battles–increased offshore oil exploration, mining on national forest lands and a freeze on federal grazing fees.”

No wonder there was an economic boom during the Reagan years.  That, and lowering the marginal tax rate from 70 to 28 percent helped, as well.

Ever since Ronald Reagan froze grazing fees, the battle has been on to raise them. Senator Harry Reid attempted to raise grazing fees, but was met with a filibuster in 1993 and ultimately “withdrew the range revisions that he had developed with House Democrats,” as reported in 1993 by the Associated Press.

Renee Nal is a co-founder of, a news and political commentary site founded by former Glenn Beck interns. She is also the National Conservative Examiner and a contributor for the Brenner Brief.

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