Reasonable lease bonus request

I still don't understand the whole lease thing. Why are they willing to offer leases/bonus's? What happens if I don't sign a lease and it starts producing? Is it recommended to execute lease? I'm new to the neighborhood (7 months); my neighbors shared (proof provided) their lease where there was a 9000.00+ bonus offered (in 2008). I was recently contacted and offered right under 500.00. Seems like a big difference, obviously. Why were bonuses so high initially? What is a reasonable amount I can request?

I don't think we will be anywhere near the lease rates that were offered a few years ago. I think it also depends on where you are located. I am working on a lease for a friend for property in Mansfield right now. He was offered $1000 an acre (only .25 acre tract). I spoke with a local landman who said I should be able to negotiate anywhere from $1000 - $4000 an acre in the current market. The price of gas is looking better this year.