Pygmy Rabbit
Sage Grouse

Shrubsteppe hosts habitat critical to the survival of diverse wildlife and plant communities including pronghorn, pygmy rabbits and sage grouse. These marvels of creation are among the rich and diverse community of wildlife that gives the American West its unique character.

Protected Habitat Provides for Natural Fire Breaks

Intact interpaces between shrubs are a feature of shrubsteppe that has been spared the disturbance of livestock grazing. Soil crusts have evolved along with plant communities to resist non-native seed germination and provide for the space between plants that slows fire and provides unfettered escape for wildlife from predators. Dense islands of intact foliage provide wildlife cover and food.

The effectiveness of living soils at resisting the spread of exotics is dependent upon intact soil crusts and the symbiotic relationships between the living soils and plants. Both plants and soils must be conserved to keep this system functioning to provide for vigorous wildlife communities and to sustainably mitigate catasrophic fire when possible. Shrubs and grasses contribute to these living soils by pumping carbohyrates into the soil and/or providing cover from the dehydrating sun and wind. In return, soil crusts metabolize trace nutrients into soluble forms that plants can utilize, expand the root range, and serve as a living mulch keeping moisture within the soil longer.

When native plants are heavily grazed, livestock break up the soils and soil crusts. Depressed photosythesis resulting from abusive livestock utilization of foliage deprives living soils the sugars that they rely upon from plants. In turn, plants are less vigorous lacking micronutrients and moisture. The denuded microclimates heat up and dry earlier in the season. In addition, the vast carbon sink within the shrubsteppe soil is less efficient at fixing carbon from the atmosphere into the soil as living soils decrease in number.

Living Soils & Interspaces

  • Provides the best habitat for the landscape to host vigorous and diverse wildlife giving animals clear escape from predators and islands of cover to hide.
  • Slows fire by preventing cheatgrass ~ breaking the contiguity of fuels, maintaining plant moisture longer into the season, and keeping the climate cooler.
  • Provides a natural carbon sink as carbon is fixed into the soil and in vigorous plant communities.

Breakdown: Managed for Livestock

  • Islands of cover for wildlife are absent and avenues of escape are congested
  • Soils are disturbed and natives denuded - the symbiotic relationship between soil and plantlife atrophies
  • The landscape heats and dries leaving natives to cure sooner in the season
  • Exotics like cheatgrass rapidly congest interspaces outcompeting native plants as soils are disturbed
  • Contiguous cheat wicks fire rapidly and explosively across the landscape

Water Sources

Livestock Water Development

Springs and streams provide natural fire breaks in shrubsteppe. As shown above on the left, high humidity and lush riparian plantlife create microclimates that naturally break wildfire's march across the landscape. These humid conditions are further enhanced when beaver build dams from willows and aspen alongside the water. This is only possible in the absence of livestock as cattle congregate around the water defoliating plantlife that keeps moist throughout the summer and punching out streams and riparian habitat. The sediment that washes down-stream following cattle congregation will pollute the water making the streams less inhabitable to fish.

Livestock water developments as shown above right can drain natural springs, denude wildlife habitat and turn huge areas of land into barren heat soaking scars across the landscape.

Political Interference
Crapo, Craig, and Otter

Interior Appropriations are approaching and Larry Craig has promised to ride more favors for livestock industry cohorts in Idaho, including the possibility of categorially excluding lawful environmental analysis regarding the impacts of livestock grazing in managment decisions. Despite the facts, and without any regard for the West's natural heritage or imperilled wildlife in the Great Basin shrubsteppe, Larry hopes to keep corporate livestock on public lands wildlife habitat critical to sage grouse, pygmy rabbit, pronghorn, and much more. Even with controversy surrounding Craig's fate in the Senate, others have promised to fight to keep his riders alive. Livestock interests are hoping this move

To learn more, visit the Murphy Complex Fire Page

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