This article originally appeared on The Daily Pitchfork.
Guess who's fleecing US taxpayers over nearly one billion dollars in public grazing subsidies?
Americans love ranchers: Gritty ranchers, mom-and-pop ranchers, renegade ranchers - especially those who raise livestock on the vast open prairies of the West through hard work and rugged independence. But there's another side to the ever-popular rancher mythology- a side the media doesn't cover and the public never sees.
The Koch brothers, Ted Turner, the Hilton family and nine other powerful ranchers share an uncommon privilege: giant public subsidies, unknown to US taxpayers. It's the other side of the Cliven Bundy story, the other side of the Wright brothers saga - the bronc-riding, ranching family at the center of the New York Times photographic essay published March 11. It's also the other side of the ongoing news feed in which ranchers work to remove wild horses from public lands.
That "other side" of those stories is the federal grazing program that enables the Wrights to run their livestock on public lands for cheap; allows ranchers to have thousands of protected wild horses removed from public lands at public expense. It's also the program that earned Bundy the title of welfare rancher.
Bundy didn't earn it by failing to pay his grazing fees, though. The welfare rancher label applies to all ranchers who hold permits to graze the vast public spaces of the West, both delinquent and not. It includes the Wright brothers; the ranchers in Iron and Beaver counties in Utah complaining that wild horses eat too much; and 21,000 others.
They are all welfare ranchers subsidized by US taxpayers, and you know who are the biggest welfare ranchers of all, grazing livestock across hundreds of millions of acres of public grass and forest land, all assisted by public subsidies paid for by US taxpayers?
Billionaires appearing on Forbes rich lists
The .01 percenters are the nation's biggest welfare ranchers, according to numerous environmental and policy groups; and it's time they brought some attention to themselves and the federal grazing program they're exploiting to the tune of an annual estimated one billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies while causing long-term damage to one of the public's most treasured assets.
Fifteen years ago, two percent of public lands ranchers controlled fifty percent of permitted grazing acreage, according to John Horning, Executive Director of WildEarth Guardians.
Today, Horning says, that elite group of mega-rich owners has consolidated its hold on federal grazing property even further through grazing leases attached to the larger-than-life ranches they inherit or buy outright.
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