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Last Words

Sierra Magazine
Last Words

Should livestock graze on public lands?

A cowboy working for cattle grazers recently ordered hikers to leave Grand Teton National Park because they might upset the cows. Livestock do not, and should not, have priority on designated wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, and national parks. Cattle and sheep can also introduce disease to other animals and overgraze native vegetation needed by wildlife. Livestock grazing on public lands should only be permitted if it does not take precedence over clean water, habitat for wildlife, and the right of citizens to enjoy solitude and pristine beauty on their public lands.
Meredith Taylor, Wyoming representative, Greater Yellowstone Coalition

The open spaces and natural beauty of the West, which draw people from around the world, depend on the relationship between private and public lands. Without public-land grazing, many ranches would lose their economic viability. The rancher would have to sell land to survive, and critical habitat and open space would be replaced by condos. Society provides incentives to private landowners for preserving wetlands and protecting riparian areas. Livestock grazing controls weeds, enhances deer habitat, and reduces wildfires. Why aren't we creating incentives that will allow ranchers to provide such ecological services and open space on private and public lands?
Howard Johnson, rancher and chair, Utah Grazing Lands Conservation Institute

Properly managed grazing can improve species diversity, maintain wildlife habitat, and forestall commercial development of public lands. More than 50 percent of commercial beef operations graze their cattle on federal lands. If they were not able to graze on public lands, they would have to either increase livestock operations on private land or subdivide and sell it for development. Such actions would likely lead to the decline of rural communities and leave these public lands in poorer ecological condition.
Martin A. Massengale, director, University of Nebraska Center for Grassland Studies

We talk about ecosystems as if they were nice places to visit and imagine nature to be healthiest when it's sheltered from humans. Most of us don't know where our food or water comes from, so we have lost sight of the range for the grass. We see food as something we buy and no longer think of ourselves as part of our environment, so cows and sheep become a blight on the landscape. We forget that when we aim at expunging ranching, rather than reforming grazing practices, we alter ecology, disfigure economies, and promote our exodus from the land. If we are to survive, we must re-establish our accountability in the natural order of things, and we must emphasize lifestyles that are harmonious with nature.
Mark Gordon, rancher and former Sierra Club Board member

Livestock grazing should continue on public lands, but there are places where grazing of domestic stock should be halted, where numbers of stock should be reduced, and where seasonal use should be shortened. The politicians and special interests alike must be put on notice that the customs and cultures of the old West are changing.
Tom Bell, historian and founder, High Country News

Soils, plants, and animals co-evolved and are dependent on each other for their health. The relatively few free-ranging grazing animals on public lands today cannot compensate for the millions of bison and elk that have been lost. Experimental plots on western rangelands from which livestock have been excluded show a serious loss of biodiversity. Over 90 percent of the ground is now bare, save for algae and lichen crusts. If we want public lands to be rich in biological diversity, their riparian areas lush and productive, their rivers flowing clear, we're going to need livestock to help simulate what once occurred naturally. Personally, I love the land and its wildlife more than I hate livestock.
Allan Savory, founding director, The Allan Savory Center for Holistic Management

Sierra explores ways to save the range in High Noon in Cattle Country

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