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

reagan western cowboy

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

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.

More by

Posting Policy
We have no tolerance for comments containing violence, racism, vulgarity, profanity, all caps, or discourteous behavior. Thank you for partnering with us to maintain a courteous and useful public environment where we can engage in reasonable discourse. Read more.
You may use HTML in your comments. Feel free to review the full list of allowed HTML here.

  • OldmanRick

    Other than national parks and national forests, those lands belong to the states; and as such they should be returned to and managed by said states.

    • Renee Nal

      Yes, that was the intent – I did not get into it, but it IS unconstitutional. “When Nevada gained state- hood in 1864, so the state argues, it joined the Union on the implicit understanding that this insult to its sovereignty would eventually end: the federal government would dispose of its land holdings according to the practices of that time.” That is from CATO – a very worthwhile report.

  • Barbara Ann

    Stop the Ronald R is a Saint, he was not as great as we thought . Like the rest, he did stupid sh##. I looked it up after a left winger pointed it out and sure enough he signed it. When he could have by executive order REMOVED it . George Bush made mistakes,too. We can’t paint our side as heroes while condemning the left. They are all corrupt.

    • Renee Nal

      Nobody is saying that he was a saint. This particular executive order, however, was FOR the ranchers. Thanks, Barbara.

    • arnonerik

      Ronald Reagan was not flawless, after all, he was human, but, in my humble opinion, he was the best U.S. President I have seen in my lifetime and I am 73 years old and counting.

      • Oren

        Second that motion.

    • Christine-Upinak Shartzer

      He may not have been a saint, but he is sure better than the pansy for a president we have now.

    • Tavern Keepers

      Nobody said Reagan was a saint, but I do believe it is worthwhile to set the record straight. It wasn’t Reagan’s place to overturn existing law by Executive Order. Unlike our current president, he didn’t fancy himself a dictator. Removing the law was the job of the elected members of Congress who were sent to Washington to represent each of the states where grazing on federal land is an on going issue.

      By signing E.O. 12548 Reagan was making sure that the grazing fee formula that was created with the Public Rangeland Improvement Act of 1978 didn’t expire. Since Congress had not moved to do anything about the upcoming expiration the Bureau of Land Management, and the Forest Service asked Reagan to act. The is the purpose of executive orders was not to create or alter the existing legislation.

      There was nothing saintly nor nefarious at work.

      • Renee Nal

        Well stated :-)

      • Tavern Keepers

        Thank you.

      • Jon

        “Unlike our current president, he didn’t fancy himself a dictator.”

        So close to coming across as a reasonable person. Now I have no choice but to assume your blind hatred for Obama skews everything you say.

      • Tavern Keepers

        You know what, you’re right and shame on me for inserting that line. It did nothing to further the overall point I was making, which had nothing to do with political ideology, just facts of the E.O. and its use.

        That being said, it remains that it wasn’t Reagan’s place to do away with grazing fees, or increase or decrease them. In this specific case, given that the Congress had done nothing to address the expiring formula, he was using the E.O. precisely as it was intended.

        “Executive Orders (EOs) are legally binding orders given by the President, acting as the head of the Executive Branch, to Federal Administrative Agencies. Executive Orders are generally used to direct federal agencies and officials in their execution of congressionally established laws or policies.”

      • Robert Feldman

        Seriously…you do remember Iran contra, right? Dictator by definition.

  • Christine-Upinak Shartzer

    Something is off. Harry Reid has been going after the ranchers for over 20 years. Why? He is a senator, he doesn’t work with or for the blm, the doi, the mms or whatever they are calling themselves anymore. Something smells… and it ain’t the cows that have been buried.

    • Renee Nal

      Food for thought, Christine.

      • Christine-Upinak Shartzer

        Something to research. Is the area oil/gas boon? Is it close to a large city area? Does it have special minerals, such as copper, the minerals for aluminum, or ….. time to dig deeper. It would be interesting to find the blm archives for this area, and look through them or do a foia.

      • Renee Nal

        I would highly recommend the Cato report, Christine – it gives the whole history of public land in a very readable format. I am more convinced then ever that the idea of the federal government owning land is absolutely unconstitutional. Harry Reid & his ilk – and this is speculation – know that there is value to that land. They do not want to give up the mineral rights to it.

      • Christine-Upinak Shartzer

        The Cato report is only 1% of research. If you go to the actual balm archive for that area, and ask to speak to the archival to check into certain plots, you get a interesting perspective. Trust me, I have done this where I live. And you are talking to someone who has the highest percentage of land owned by the federal and state. When you look at the Alaska archival for blm and the former mms, you learn quite a bit about the areas, from geological to agricultural.

      • Renee Nal

        Oh I could imagine! The CATO is good for a Birdseye view if people do not know the story.

      • biz

        The idea of the federal government owning land is absolutely unconstitutional? Really? Are you dense? None of you has heard of the Property Clause. It’s in that thing you pretend to care so much about–the Constitution. For your reference: Art. IV, sec. 3, cl. 2.

      • Renee Nal

        I am well aware. There is a reason this land has been in dispute. It was never the intent of the framers for the federal government should own 84% of a state.

        In fact, the Supreme Court determined,

        “he United States never held any municipal sovereignty, jurisdiction, or right of soil in and to the territory of which Alabama, or any of the new States, were formed, except for temporary purposes, and to execute the trusts created by the acts of the Virginia and Georgia legislatures, and the deeds of cession executed by them to the United States, and the trust created by the treaty of the 30th April, 1803, with the French Republic ceding Louisiana.”

        But, once the government has power over anything, it is near impossible to get it back.

        You are likely all about “fairness,” right? It is only fair to allow the states to control their own states. They are actively working on it as we speak.

      • Renee Nal
  • John Avignone

    Conservatives are trying awfully hard to spin Reagan’s executive order extending grazing fees indefinitely by saying, “This wasn’t the first time grazing fees were imposed!”

    Um, No one said it was. But it was the first and only time grazing fees were extended indefinitely and it’s still in force today. This is exactly why Cliven Bundy is in arrears. And at only $1.35 per cow/calf pair, it’s also a massive welfare program for rich ranchers. States charge 10x that much, private land far more than that.

    So, suck it up, hypocritical conservatives. It was your patron saint who extended gazing fees forever and created a welfare program for rich ranchers, period, end of story, move the bleep on.

    • Renee Nal

      Hey! It is my twitter troll :-) Nice to see you.

      • John Avignone

        Hey! You can’t even address, much less rebut or refute anything here, either. I can’t tell you how shocked I am!

      • Tavern Keepers

        I think she has refuted you, but since you are still unclear let me add this.. As I posted below:
        It wasn’t Reagan’s place to overturn existing law by Executive
        Order. Unlike our current president, he didn’t fancy himself a
        dictator. Removing the law was the job of the elected members of Congress who were sent to Washington to represent each of the states where grazing on federal land is an on going issue.

        By signing E.O. 12548 Reagan was making sure that the grazing fee formula that was created with the Public Rangeland Improvement Act of 1978 didn’t expire. Since Congress had not moved to do anything about the upcoming expiration the Bureau of Land Management, and the Forest Service asked Reagan to act. The purpose of that executive orders was not to create or alter the existing legislation.

      • John Avignone

        I think you need to look up “refute.” Hint: She didn’t even try to refute anything I wrote. I’m fairly sure she would agree with that.

        Once again, for the painfully slow thinkers, it was Reagan who indefinitely extended grazing fees, and at ridiculously low levels that amount to welfare for rich ranchers, period end of story, move the bleep on, unless you can refute any of the facts I’ve presented, which, of course, you can’t. Facts are facts.

        Speaking of facts, states charge ten times as much for grazing rights. Private owners charge much more than that. $1.35 per cow/calf pair is absurdly low. I thought conservatives were fans of the free market? Apparently only when it’s convenient. I can’t tell you how surprising I find that!

      • Tavern Keepers

        For one so eager to move on, I find it interesting that you keep coming back here. Now I am sure you’ll be back again telling me I’m slow, and to move the bleep on, and that you are shocked and or surprised in your sarcastic way.

        And you wonder why she calls you her troll. Now I am willing to move the bleep on… I dare you to go first.

      • John Avignone

        I find it interesting that you can’t even address, much less rebut or refute, the facts that I’ve presented. And by interesting I mean hilarious.

        As to troll, I responded to her exactly once. She then engaged me. That, you see, is how this whole interwebs thingy works. When one posts to Twitter, one is tacitly requesting others to respond. Now you know, duh. Yet again, you’re compelled to offer up pearls of wisdom about that which you know entirely not squat. And by pearls I mean turds.

      • Tavern Keepers

        LOL, knew you couldn’t do it. Good night to you my vulgar and disparaging friend.

      • John Avignone

        Still can’t muster up so much as even one bleeping word that’s in any way germane to the topic? Why, I’m shocked! Shocked, I tell you! Care to try again, sparky? I can always use a good laugh.

    • Christine-Upinak Shartzer

      So let me get this straight. You are okay with the blm going in and killing cows? With the rise if beef cows, and the government screaming waste, even though they waste more than private entities, it’s okay to kill cows that could be used as a food source?

      Real smart there. I guess it’s only okay if Reid is the one calling the shots to have over 50k dollars worth of unprocessed beef just shot up and dumped.

      • John Avignone

        So, let me get this straight. You’re okay with an ignorant, racist bleephole freeloading on public land when every one of his neighbors, Western ranchers with a strong libertarian streak, pay their fees knowing full well they’re getting a sweetheart deal? States charge TEN TIMES as much for grazing rights. Private landowners charge far more than that.

        Gee, I thought conservatives and loonytoonains had hard-ons for the free market. I guess that’s only true when it’s convenient, like when they feel the need to defend a stinking racist bleephole refusing to pay even the tiny fraction of what it would cost to graze his cows under the free market.

        Real smart, there. As far as you know…

      • Christine-Upinak Shartzer

        Here is the issue. The government is not our keepers. The land is the citizens of the US. If there us nothing going on, and no development on said land, should only wildlife graze? Shoul only those who work the government be the only individuals on said land?

        The problem is you believe the government should run your life. I believe that government needs to take a step back.

        But, the only racist I see is you spewing that everyone else is racist… interesting concept that has been beat, like a dead cow.

      • Renee Nal

        “The problem is you believe the government should run your life. I believe that government needs to take a step back.”

        The bottom line.

      • John Avignone

        “The ability to quote is a serviceable substitute for wit.”
        ~Somerset Maugham

      • John Avignone

        Here is the reality, as opposed to you loonytoonian fantasy: The land belongs to all of us, not just Bundy. Therefore, without the permission of all of us, aka we the people, aka the government of the United States, no, of course he has no right to use the land, duh.

      • Christine-Upinak Shartzer

        You obviously have very little understanding of the written word, because my point was since it is PUBLIC land that no one us using (which includes the government) what is the problem?

        And since the government is the people, do you want to pay for the cows that were killed, which provided the public/people food because you as the people/government killed them?

        Reality is a double edged sword, in which you have obviously only seen one side of the blade.

      • John Avignone

        The problem is it is PUBLIC, our land he’s using without our permission and without paying the nominal; fees, like all of his neighbors do, as they know it’s an absurdly good deal to pay only $1.35 per cow/calf pair when states charge 10x that amount and private land owners far more than that. He’s not just a racist POS, he’s a freeloading scofflaw. No one has the right to pick and choose which laws they will follow or not. No one. And no one has the right to use land that belongs to all of us without our permission. No one.

        I find it hilariously ironic that “law and order” conservatives are rushing to the aid of a racist bigot who’s been breaking the law for more than twenty years. I guess you guys, like Bundy, think law and order is only for brown and black people. Not to mention, since when did conservatives embrace welfare over the free market? Free market rates are at least 15x higher than what Bundy is refusing to pay. Together, that’s worthy of an Irony Cross, that is.

      • Christine-Upinak Shartzer

        If you can’t control your anger, all it does is make you look foolish, and racist yourself.

        Brown and black people? Seriously? Why not just call them Americans, since everyone is red on the inside and the color of the largest organ of the body shouldn’t mean anything. Much like the color of one’s hair.

      • John Avignone

        You think peals of laughter are a sign of anger, do you? No wonder you’re a Republican. Speaking of laughing, I notice you can’t rebut or refute one word. I’ve said. And, BTW, Dip Thunker, if you don’t like being labeled as a racist, don’t embrace racist bleepbags like Cliven Bundy, duh.

      • Christine-Upinak Shartzer

        Yet you are the one screaming names and talking about the a large organ color. What’s is the point of even trying to talk to you, when you can’t keep your temper?

        Come talk when you grow up.

      • John Avignone

        Nothing to say on topic, but say nothing anyway you will. Ainchoo klever! Sorry, but facts are facts, and the fact is only a racist POS would support POS racist puke Cliven Bundy.

        You See? Mom was right! You really are “special”!

      • John Avignone

        BTW, what, exactly is a “the a large organ color”? Anyone have a racist subliterate wingnut to English dictionary handy?

        Now, genius, wipe the flecks of foam of of your monitor and slink back into the fetid swamps of Lower Wingnuttia.

      • Danny Baxter Jr.

        Are you stupid or something? I should completely school you but it would be a waste of energy.

      • John Avignone

        My, what an interesting way of saying you can’t rebut or refute so much as one word I’ve written, and by interesting I mean banal, puerile and asinine. Now, I don’t suppose you have anything to say that is in any way germane to the topic under discussion, eh? You know, something other than expressing your seething hate with juvenile playground ad hominem. No? Nothing? Gosh, I just can’t express how truly shocked I am.

        You may go, now. You have been most thoroughly dismissed.

  • J.e. Dyer

    Thanks, Renee. This point does deserve to be called out separately. I have a post in the works on the whole federal sovereignty and property rights issue, and you’ve saved me the need to make this particular point in it. So, again, thanks!
    It IS necessary to point it out, because when the issue is misrepresented, it becomes a pretext for the left to claim, as you say, that Reagan “raised grazing fees” — or imposed grazing fees, or enforced grazing fees, or whatever spin someone wants to put on it. He did none of those things. He defended Western ranchers within the bounds of existing law, as it has conventionally been observed. There’s a whole separate argument about what needs to be done to restore the balance of the Founders’ vision about what federal sovereignty means.
    And the reason it’s needed isn’t because of grazing fees, it’s because of the environmental extremist vision of “resource management,” and its incompatibility with limited government and property rights.

    • Renee Nal

      Thank you – Exactly! You are inspiring another post :-)

    • John Avignone

      History awaits the no doubt erudite, insightful work of one with such stellar academic and professional achievements in the realm of public policy! Why, the intellectual mouth waters at the prospect of forthcoming pearls of wisdom from one as universally recognized as a true leading light of policy and rhetoric!

      Jeez, delusions of adequacy, much, dude?

  • Renee Nal
  • cjus2473

    By the authority vested in me as
    President by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, and in
    order to provide for establishment of appropriate fees for the grazing of
    domestic livestock on public rangelands, it is ordered as follows:

    Section 1. Determination of Fees.
    The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior are directed to exercise their
    authority, to the extent permitted by law under the various statutes they
    administer, to establish fees for domestic livestock grazing on the public
    rangelands which annually equals the $1.23 base established by the 1966 Western
    Livestock Grazing Survey multiplied by the result of the Forage Value Index
    (computed annually from data supplied by the Statistical Reporting Service)
    added to the Combined Index (Beef Cattle Price Index minus the Prices Paid
    Index) and divided by 100; provided, that the annual increase or decrease in
    such fee for any given year shall be limited to not more than plus or minus 25
    percent of the previous year’s fee, and provided further, that the fee shall
    not be less than $1.35 per animal unit month.

    Sec. 2. Definitions. As used in this
    Order, the term:

    (a) “Public rangelands”
    has the same meaning as in the Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978
    (Public Law 95514);