Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Livestock Grazing Benefits Public Lands

Dear Friends,

With the BLM siege of the Bundy Ranch in Nevada, Americans have become aware of the controversy dealing with livestock grazing on public lands.

This article is not meant to talk about how the BLM, like the EPA, the Department of Agriculture, and National Parks Service, has been influenced by environmentalist groups which want to restrict Americans from using our public lands. 

Environmentalist regard public lands as ecosystems which should be left untouched by both man and cattle.

And yes, because of pressures from environmentalists, I believe that some BLM practices might be in conflict with their policies toward grazing on public lands.  
The BLM's statement on the role of livestock grazing on public lands appears supportive of ranchers and farmers:

"Grazing, which was one of the earliest uses of public lands when the West was settled, continues to be an important use of those same lands today. Livestock grazing now competes with more uses than it did in the past, as other industries and the general public look to the public lands as sources of both conventional and renewable energy and as places for outdoor recreational opportunities, including off-highway vehicle use.

"Among the key issues that face public land managers today are global climate change, severe wildfires, invasive plant species, and dramatic population increases, including the associated rural residential development that is occurring throughout the West."

"Livestock grazing can result in impacts on public land resources, but well-managed grazing provides numerous environmental benefits as well.

"For example, while livestock grazing can lead to increases in some invasive species, well-managed grazing can be used to manage vegetation. Intensively managed “targeted” grazing can control some invasive plant species or reduce the fuels that contribute to severe wildfires.

"Besides providing such traditional products as meat and fiber, well-managed rangelands and other private ranch lands support healthy watersheds, carbon sequestration, recreational opportunities, and wildlife habitat.

"Livestock grazing on public lands helps maintain the private ranches that, in turn, preserve the open spaces that have helped write the West’s history and will continue to shape this region’s character in the years to come." ( per the BLM).

For me, other than what has taken place with bringing in armed Federal Agents to the Bundy Ranch, I have never had a problem with the BLM.

And yes, I see their statement on the role of livestock grazing on public lands pretty straight foward while emphazing the benefits of controlled livestock grazing.

This article is to emphasize the benefits of controlled livestock grazing to wild grasses and other vegetation, water, and on wildlife.

Environmentalist use the argument that uncontrolled access of people and cattle will lead to ecological destruction -- yet there is no research data to support their views.

Fact is mining and logging, farming and livestock grazing on public lands, all serve a purpose.
I'm not going to go into the fact that with population growth there is a bigger demand for food, including of course beef.

I'm not going to go into the argument that we are becoming a nation more and more dependant on other nations to provide us with everything we consume, including our food -- food unregulated and being exposed to carcinogenic in the form of pesticides and fertilizers and drugs that we have outlawed here in the United States.

I'm not going to talk about the hypocrisy of the Federal Government using over-regulation and forced industry practices to put American agricultural producers out of business while supporting foreign producers who get financial aid from the United States.

I'm not even going to talk about how demand for more food, especially meats, drastically increases our need to allow American livestock producers access to Federal lands which are supposed to be open to public use.

Instead of eliminating more areas from our grazing resources, we should be allowing more grazing.

Public range lands provide about 8% of the forage consumed annually by domestic livestock.

Producers need to have access to forage on Federal range land, just as it need private land --and cropland.

And yes, when we look at how the "public lands" are being used, we should make a distinction between beef and dairy cattle grazing, feedlot operations, feeder calves and yearlings, or even sheep and lambs.

No, it's not all beef cattle!

I'm not going to go into depth and talk about the wells that are dug, the seeding, the  fertilization, irrigation, and harvesting are not required always require on range land -- but are done by American ranchers and farmers every year.

And no, I'm not really going to go in the facts regarding how the elimination or large scale livestock grazing on public lands would be a waste of our natural resources which of course could seriously help food prices for consumers both here and abroad.

I want to talk about the effects of livestock grazing on the land.

Where once millions of buffalo roamed open lands, we can be grateful that today there are cattle on that land.

If is a fact that after millions of buffalo were wiped out, cattle replaced them in the ecosystems that they once gave nutrition to. Cattle, and the nutritious fertilizer they leave behind, feeds the land that would otherwise be dead.

Vegetation is the common denominator regarding grazing impacts on range land ecosystems.

Livestock grazing affects vegetation directly by defoliation. The primary indirect effects of grazing on vegetation are the compacting or loosening of the soil profile and reduction of mulch and standing dead material.

Criticism concerning negative impacts of uncontrolled livestock grazing on public lands has generally disregarded the benefits of controlled grazing.

Positive influences of domestic animals on range lands include the following:

1) Loosening of the soil surface during drying periods.

2) Removal of excess vegetation that may negatively affect net carbohydrate fixation and increase water transpiration losses.

3) Incorporating mulch into the soil profile which speeds development of humus.

4) Recycling nutrients in the ecosystem and making some nutrients more available

5) Maintaining optimal leaf area index

6) Trampling seed into the ground increased in the last 60 years. Some of this increase can be attributed to controlled grazing and range improvement projects which have resulted in the landscape supporting many stages of ecosystem development.

7) Reducing excess accumulations of standing dead vegetation and mulch that may chemically and physically inhibit new growth.

8) Inoculating plant parts with saliva, which may stimulate plant regrowth

9) Reducing fire, insect, and rodent problems resulting from vegetation accumulation.

Several studies are available showing that controlled grazing has resulted in vegetation enhancement.

Considerable research is also available showing that lightly or moderately grazed plants are more productive than those left ungrazed.

These studies suggest that elimination of grazing on federal lands would be wasteful and detrimental to the vegetation resource.

Livestock grazing impact on big game animals depends primarily upon the degree of overlap in diets between a given big game species and domestic herbivores. Moderate or light livestock grazing on range lands has usually resulted in little competition with big game animals.

10) Livestock can be used as a tool to manipulate vegetation for big game animals. It was even reported that spring grazing of sheep on deer winter range was effective in providing more browse by retarding competition from herbaceous growth.

Another report states that light cattle grazing actually improved the palatability of forage for elk on winter ranges. Moderate cattle grazing in British Columbia made spring forage more attractive to deer by removing mature forage.

11) Yes, yes their are positive watershed effects.

Controlled livestock grazing has resulted -- not in watershed destruction -- but to increased water quantity.

Fact is, finding show that moderate cattle grazing used in a rotation grazing system results in improved watershed mulch and vegetation cover -- and there was no difference in surface erosion between properly grazed and ungrazed areas.

Over the years, studies have also shown that controlled grazing resulted in watershed improvement rather than deterioration.

12) While some ground nesting birds may be affected by over-grazing, as it is well known that some gamebirds are intolerant of heavy grazing during the nesting season, many of these same birds are dependent on shrubs and annual grasses and other forbs associated with early sequential stages for food.

Because we know this to be true, controlled grazing has considerable value as a tool to provide a variety of habitats in different back-to-back stages.

And yes, it is believed that moderate grazing could be beneficial to scaled quail by providing more food choices of grasses, forbs and shrubs than on lands which has not been grazed.

In fact, in Texas the endangered Attwater prairie chicken concentrated on grazed pastures
and avoided ungrazed pastures.

It was reported that livestock grazing maintains the structural characteristics of grasslands needed by the Attwater prairie chicken for escape, nesting and feeding.

Study after study show that findings were consistent with other investigators: who reported prairie chickens avoided thick, matted, ungrazed cover.

Evidence is available that moderate grazing of prairie potholes provides more suitable habitat for nesting ducks.

At the Ladd Marsh and Summer Lake waterfowl management areas in Oregon, livestock grazing is being used to control vegetation and provide a mixture of plant communities needed by waterfowl.

In recent years, studies have been conducted investigating livestock influences on coliform bacteria numbers in water derived from range lands.

A study found that cattle grazing had no influence on water coliform counts. Other investigations are available showing livestock grazing did not cause harmful levels of coliform bacteria.

In fact, some levels of coliform matched areas with no livestock grazing at all.

13) Controlled livestock grazing may be an effective tool for increasing water yields from public lands in certain locations. Studies are available showing greater water yields on grazed compared to ungrazed areas.

Data from these investigations showed that light or moderate grazing could be used to increased water yield without damage to soil or vegetation.

Friends, there are two arguments used by those who oppose livestock grazing on public lands.

One argument says that livestock producers are subsidized by "low grazing fees" and that tax payers and other ranchers not using public land subsidize those ranchers using public lands by providing roads, fences, seedings, water systems, and other benefits.

The first argument, that livestock producers are subsidized by low grazing fees, is only partially correct. Grazing fees on public lands are much lower than those on private lands. However, there are problems associated with grazing public land that are often overlooked.

Most of these problems relate to management. On public lands the government agency dictates livestock management rather than the rancher.

Grazing periods and stocking rates are based on the average time of range readiness and forage production rather than on forage availability and nutritive value during individual years.

This often results in poor efficiency in the use of the forage resource.

The rancher on public ranges has little flexibility in the type and class of animal that he may graze on a given range.

The second argument has to do with the impact of controlled livestock grazing on wildlife.

The response of wildlife to livestock grazing has varied with the species in question and how
the grazing was conducted.

Most ranchers in the Northwest and some ranchers in the Southwest share the same wildlife species when carefully controlled. Overall, big game numbers on public lands have substantially risen.

As for "Low Grazing Fees," there are no such thing!

Federal "Grazing Fees" have consistently risen over the years constantly putting pressure on ranchers to come up with feed that they simply cannot pay -- subsequently putting many ranchers in the West who depend on pubic land to simply go out of business.

And as for taxpayers supposedly subsidizing livestock producers, ranches are paying through the nose.

Range improvement projects such as fences, water developments such as canals and wells, roads, trails and other improvements on public lands more than not come right out of the rancher’s pocketbook.

Range reseeding projects, in many cases, involve monetary and labor are expenditures ranchers are picking up -- no government agencies.

These improvements all indirectly increase the price of an animal to the rancher using public land.

Improvements such as water development often enhance wildlife habitat and sometimes aesthetic values of the area.

In many areas of the West, local ranchers are highly dependent on public range land in order to stay in business, because government agencies own practically all the land except for the
rancher’s base property.

This is particularly true in the states of Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, where over 50% of the land is in public ownership.

It must be noted that the forage which is primarily produced on public lands in the Western United States is high in cellulosic material that cannot be used directly by humans -- but it can be used by livestock such as cattle, sheep, and goats.

Livestock grazing controlled by the use of scientific principles is compatible with other public lands resources, such as water and wildlife, and may be used for the enhancement of these resources.

We should be promoting the use of public lands by ranchers instead of putting them out of business through the closing of more and more public lands to livestock.

Instead of eliminating livestock grazing from these lands, we should be paying ranchers and farmers for working with lands that most would find inhospitable at best.

Lastly, many local economies in the West would be severely damaged if grazing was terminated on public lands.

Fact is, just like mining and logging on public lands, ranchers and farmers generate many jobs and needed incomes by way of their activities in other segments of society.

And yes, they contribute a way of life and a type of person that is important to our American culture. 

That person is the American Cattleman and the American Farmer who works a sometimes thankless job all to furnish Americans with the basics that sustain life -- our food.

They should be applauded for being stewards of the land, and not hindered in their hard work by over-regulations and politicians interested in power and increasing their wealth.

That's just how I see it.

Tom Correa  

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