WASHINGTON -- Breaking a decades-old deadlock over the management of public lands in the West, Democrats in the House and Senate yesterday agreed to raise the fees that ranchers pay to graze cattle and sheep on about 260 million acres of federal land in 16 Western states.
The agreement appeared to represent an important victory for Interior Secretary Bruce E. Babbitt, who has staked his tenure on developing a new "land ethic" that puts protecting the environment on an equal footing with developing resources.
The agreement, reached by a House and Senate conference committee that is considering the Interior Department's appropriations for fiscal 1994, gave Mr. Babbitt much of what he had sought on the grazing issue. The agreement will not be voted on until next week.
The agreement calls for raising grazing fees over the next three years to $3.45 from $1.86 for every cow and calf. Mr. Babbitt had originally asked for fees exceeding $4.
The rest of the agreement is almost identical to other measures Mr. Babbitt proposed: It would give the government much more authority to restrict ranchers who are harming the land and to protect water on federal lands, and would give itcontrol of other permanent improvements by private ranchers.
Republican lawmakers from the West denounced the agreement, and aides to several Democratic senators from Western states also said their bosses were uncomfortable with the agreement.