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Not All Ranchers Live High on the Hog

Congratulations on the balanced front-page article "Babbitt Wades Into the Debate on Western Land," May 4. However, the reference to the General Accounting Office report on the 500 largest holders of grazing permits may lead to unfounded conclusions. About a year ago a similar GAO report surfaced. The report was released with a flurry of press coverage to create fervor and raise the grazing fee. A spot check of the "Big 500" revealed that many of the listed ranches were exaggerated in size by as much as 600 percent. One of those tycoons lives in my home town. He supplements his ranch income with a job as a lineman for a rural telephone co-op.

The reports make much of the fact that large, wealthy insurance companies own a number of ranches that utilize federal grazing, suggesting that greedy corporations have undue access to a perceived competitive advantage. Yet if those ranches owned by insurance companies were such gold mines, they wouldn't have been repossessed, nor would they be for sale for 60 cents to 70 cents on the dollar.

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Those reports are just two of a long list that further confuse this issue at the taxpayer's expense. Shirley P. Baumgartner, Glasgow, Mont.

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published, subject to condensation, and none acknowledged. Please fax letters to (617) 450-2317 or address them to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.

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