Lost in all the hoopla over “y’all queda” and “VanillaISIS” is any basic history of how public rangelands in the West — and in eastern Oregon in particular — got to this point. I’ve seen no mention in the press of two laws that are probably more responsible than anything else for the alienation and animosity the Hammonds felt towards the government.
The first law, the Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978, set a formula for calculating grazing fees based on beef prices and rancher costs. When the law was written, most analysts assumed per capita beef consumption would continue to grow as it had the previous several decades. In fact, it declined from 90 pounds to 50 pounds per year. The formula quickly drove down fees to the minimum of $1.35 per cow-month, even as inflation increased the costs to the government of managing the range.