May 2, 2009

Wildlife Habitat Threatened By Grazing Cattle

According to conservationists, livestock grazing poses a threat to a variety of fish and other wildlife across over three-fourths of their dwindling habitats on federal land in the Western U.S.

WildEarth Guardians began a study last year, using satellite mapping and federal records, matching wildlife habitat and U.S. grazing allotments across over 260 million acres of federal land in the West.

The study includes most of the remaining habitat of the Greater sage grouse, a hen-sized game bird that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering adding to the endangered species list in 11 Western states from California to Wyoming.  The environmental group would like to see the bird protected.

"The results confirm "” in graphic form "” previous research finding that incessant, ubiquitous public lands grazing has contributed to the decline of native wildlife," concludes the report entitled "Western Wildlife Under Hoof." The report is scheduled to be released Friday.

Continued grazing in the shrinking habitat dampens the recovery of fish and wildlife, while in some cases threatens them with extinction, according to the group.

The report said that cattle and sheep trample vegetation, damage soil, spread invasive weeds, spoil water and deprive native wildlife of forage.  It notes that in 2005, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said livestock grazing "is the most damaging use of public land."

WildEarth Guardian's program specialist and author of the report Mark Salvo said the new data shows that livestock has "done more damage to the Earth than the chain saw and bulldozer combined."

Director of federal lands for the National Cattleman's Beef Association, Jeff Eisenberg, said the findings were part of an effort to shut down grazing on federal lands.

"There's a number of environmental groups that have decided the best way to spend their time and the money of their funders is to eliminate the families and communities that have made the West what it is today," he told AP in an e-mail. "These groups don't deserve a dignified response."

President of the Society for Range Management and director of North Dakota Sate University's School of Natural Resource Sciences, Don Kirby, said livestock grazing is important because of its part in the "landscape management toolbox" that can be used to reduce wildfires and improve wildlife habitat.

The Bureau of Land Management manages the build of the federal land studied, which issued grazing permits and leases to 15,799 ranchers and other operators that covered 128 million acres of U.S. land in 2006.

Jeff Krauss, BLM spokesman, said the agency has not yet full reviewed the report but maintains "well-managed grazing provides numerous ecological and environmental benefits."

WildEarth Guardians recommends buying out permits from ranches and others willing to remove their livestock from grazing land.


On the Net: