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NMSU Ag Economist Testified about Grazing Fees before House Subcommittee

LAS CRUCES - Debate on Capitol Hill last week over the controversial Livestock Grazing Act of 1995 brought strong testimony from the livestock industry and well-designed presentations from environmental and wildlife groups, said a New Mexico State University agricultural economics professor.

John Fowler was one of only two economists invited to Washington, D.C. to testify July 11 before members of the House of Representatives subcommittee on national parks, forests and lands.

The Livestock Grazing Act was designed to provide stability for ranchers, federal lands and rural Western communities and includes provisions that deal with such issues as grazing fees, ownership of land improvements and advisory boards, Fowler said.

The act is up against an Aug. 21 deadline when Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's rangeland reform is scheduled to go into effect. The grazing fee portion has been separated from the reform to allow Congress to act. If the Livestock Grazing Act is not passed by Aug. 21, the grazing fee would continue to be calculated from the 1978 Public Rangeland Improvement Act formula, as directed by an executive order.

Fowler provided the subcommittee with information about the Livestock Grazing Act's proposed grazing fee formula. "There was very strong discussion and interchange in front of a well- informed committee," Fowler said. "It's a long, comprehensive bill with room for bargaining and negotiations on both sides."

Fowler said he spoke about how the formula could be changed and what sources of information could be used to make the market -based formula more synchronized with current pricing trends.

"I thought the initial formula concept, which works as a 6-percent gross receipts tax on the value of products sold, had merit," he said. "But I had a problem with the time lag between collected and published data. Instead of using an average of prices for the most current three years, it used data that created a three-year lag." Fowler said he suggested ways to use the most current price information.

"There's not many working days left before the Aug. 21 deadline, so this legislation is on the fast track," he said.

Fowler had testified last month before the U.S. Senate with Frank DuBois, New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture, and Bud Eppers, New Mexico Public Land Council president.