Water developments for both livestock and wildlife have come under increasing scrutiny by concerned conservationists, concerned managers, and members of the public at large. Many individuals, as well as organizations feel that the placement of water developments within natural habitat and associated habitat degradation represent a violation of the public trust. Yet agencies continue to justify the construction of water developments as range "improvements." Agencies also continue to assure the public in decisional and other documents that water developments and associated improvements represent "benefits" to wildlife.

As has been discussed in previous sections, western range scientists have long recognized the potential for livestock to degrade the range. Bell (1973) noted the following in relation to water developments:

If animals have too far to travel between water and suitable grazing areas, the pattern of use is that of grazing out and trailing back. As this continues, trails become longer and deeper, making bigger and better channels to carry rainfall off the range and inducing erosion. At the same time, the water location becomes a point of concentration with destructive grazing of everything edible. As this continues, a series of concentric rings of progressive degrees of overuse will result.

Vallentine (1974) cautioned that "care must be taken that additional water development is not used to crowd more livestock onto a fully stocked range." Yet it has become a common (if not standard) practice, when ranges are determined as failing to meet grazing standards, to simply propose additional developments as the "cure." This would appear to violate the very concept of range management.

A look at western rangeland water developments and a comparison with other rangeland conditions for natural riparian zones, seeps, or springs utilized by livestock reveals similar impacts and degradation. Rather than improving range conditions - use of water developments and other facilities appear to simply transfer unacceptable impacts to a new location. As has been a concern expressed by many conservation interests - all too frequently the increased water resources represented by many developments are accompanied by an increase in livestock numbers within the same degraded grazing units.

Are water developments truly an improvement? Do they actually benefit wildlife as agency documents and livestock interests proclaim to the public? Rather than adjust to reasonable stocking rates as suggested by both Bell and Valentine - developments appear to have become the action of choice, one that simply perpetuates damaging levels of rangeland use if it is already occurring. Ferguson and Ferguson (1983) note the following in regards to livestock water developments.

Numerous so-called "range improvements" have become standard practices on public rangelands in an effort to increase cattle production, especially on lands that have been severely overgrazed and are currently producing little forage. Although many of these practices are supposedly done in the name of multiple use, such claims are thinly concealed efforts to justify benefits to livestock.

Range managers and stockmen are particularly apt to emphasize the potential benefits to wildlife of newly constructed stock-watering sites. However, it must be pointed out that many small birds living in remote arid sites do not have to drink daily, but get sufficient water from foods, dew, and occasional rainfall. But, when a new source of water is created in dry areas, cattle move in, quickly create a bare, denuded sacrifice area around the water, and proceed to overgraze the surrounding habitat. Certainly these events do not benefit birds, and such species as sage grouse often decline drastically with the arrival of intensive grazing in previously undisturbed habitat.

Ferguson and Ferguson (1983) also note, in relation to troughs and escape devices: many water developments include watering troughs, which become death traps for the drowning of small mammals and birds unless escape ramps are built into them (and they rarely are).

In response to industry and agency claims that "livestock benefit wildlife" Wuerthner and Matteson (2002) note:

A few species have increased with the spread of livestock production. Yet, just as one could demonstrate that rats and pigeons flourish in the city and thereby incorrectly assert that wildlife benefit from urbanization, so too is it false to point to the proliferation of deer, Canada geese, cowbirds, and a few other opportunists and suggest that livestock production enhances conditions for wildlife in general.

Livestock advocates suggest that water developments, such as troughs and stock ponds, benefit wildlife. While some wild animals undoubtedly use them, these facilities tend to lack adequate surrounding vegetation for hiding cover, nesting habitat foraging, and other wildlife needs. Thus, these structures are almost useless to most wildlife species, and they exist at the expense of natural seeps, springs, and streams that would support far more native creatures if left intact.

Much hot debate has ensued in recent years as to whether or not certain land uses represent "good stewardship." Donahue (1999) in "The Western Range Revisited" notes the following in relation to grazing and wildlife:

A favorite appellation of modern ranchers is that they are the "original conservationists." A National Cattlemanís Association slogan hails the organizationís "proud history of conservation." Several years ago NCA spokesman Ronald Micheli declared to a major meeting of scientists, managers, and various BLM observers that "most cattlemen are true conservationists and are interested in the wildlife, aesthetics, and other potential resources of the land," but he lamented that "cattlemen often do not get credit for the contributions they make to such benefits which accrue to the general public."

Claims like these are easily challenged. Micheli himself provides ammunition. In the same address, he admitted tacitly (though he seemed oblivious of the admission) that rancherís conservation-mindedness is often bought or coerced. He noted the "federal assistance guidelines [that] encourage [ranchers] to consider measures for wildlife and water quality benefits" and the "requirements and restrictions" in public range management programs "intended to enhance nonlivestock benefits." He also complained about the costs that these restrictions impose on ranchers using public lands. Economist Darwin Nielsen points out that claims like Micheliís are also suspect as a matter of economics:

Wildlife benefits that occur as a result of range improvements on private lands are meaningless to the rancher unless he can capture them by selling hunting leases or by some other means of forcing wildlife users to pay. Thus, there is very little incentive for the rancher to plan for wildlife in his improvement program. In fact, in the public land states, many private landowners see wildlife as a threat not an asset.

Donahue (1999) provides further discussion along this same vein:

Nielsonís point is corroborated by Kellerís study, which found "limited interest in wildlife, the outdoors, or animals in general" among farmers.

Granted, some ranchers are responsible stewards of their own lands and the public ranges they share with other users. But most, as Kellertís study suggested, are "selective" conservationists. A classic example is a South Dakota rancher Lawrence Kruse, who scoffs: "What are prairie dogs good for? They might make homes for ground owls and rattlesnakes, but I donít see any use for them." Any industry-wide claim that ranchers are "true conservationists" is simply refuted by the evidence - eighty years of organized government pest and predator control conducted largely for the benefit of stockmen and the billions of tons of "soil washed to the sea, bunchgrass destroyed, [and] riparian zones eradicated." Grazing critics conclude that, on public rangelands, stockmen have earned instead the undisputed title of the major nemesis of conservation.

[Authorís note - Kellertís study appears in the USDI Rangeland Reform Summary, 42 according to Donahue.]

The definition of multiple uses intended by FLPMA and as utilized by the BLM National Office in many public policy statements is shared in The Western Range Revisited (Donahue 1999):

The term "multiple use" means the management of the public lands and their various resource values so that they are utilized in the combination that will meet the present and future needs of the American people; making the most judicious use of the land for some or all of these resources or related services over areas large enough to provide sufficient latitude for periodic adjustments in use to conform to changing needs and conditions; the use of some land for less than all of the resources; a combination of balanced and diverse resource uses that takes into account the long-term needs of future generations for renewable and nonrenewable resources, including, but not limited to, recreation, range, timber, minerals, watershed, wildlife, and fish, and natural scenic, scientific and historical values; and harmonious and coordinated management of the various resources without permanent impairment of the productivity of the land and the quality of the environment with consideration being given to the relative values of the resources and not necessarily to the combination of uses that will give the greatest economic return or the greatest unit output.

Many public proposals for the construction of artificial livestock water developments in the form of pipelines, troughs, and wells continue to specify that the projects will somehow "benefit wildlife," thus maintaining at least an illusion of public value. A number of Idaho radio announcements or advertisements have featured imaginary wildlife (such as quail, waterfowl, antelope or deer) "thanking" ranchers and farmers for providing water and food for wildlife. But do wildlife really receive a substantial benefit from livestock water developments? Figures 5.1-3 through 5.1-6 represent the ill fate that may result for different species of wildlife attempting to utilize livestock water developments.

Yet many, if not most, range improvements and management prescriptions are still being presented to the public as somehow being carried out for the benefit of wildlife and habitat improvements - not just for the intended (and limited) purpose or convenience of livestock use.

To the public at large, these range "improvements" sound like a good idea. After all, who would want to deliberately deny water and forage to our wildlife? And yet the American public in many, if not most, instances are likely to be sadly misled. Without spending time personally on western rangelands; without some basic knowledge of wildlife needs, range conditions, or livestock use levels most of the American public must rely upon agency personnel, livestock organizations or permittees, and university researchers to provide them with what we all too often assume to be factual information.

A perfect case in point is provided by an article entitled "Livestock: A Powerful Wildlife Management Tool" (Launchbaugh, date not provided) posted to the public Internet by a Rangeland Management class at the University of Idaho. This article actually states:

Finally, the close grazing of specific areas can create small weedy patches. These succulent weeds are high quality for deer and upland game birds. Livestock can also be used to create bare areas around water sources and wells that are necessary for feeding, dusting and courtship displays by upland game birds and song birds.

To the uninformed - such statements may appear valid. Yet such apologist articles promoted as "science" may well mislead not only the general public - but students, public lands administrators, and even professional rangeland managers. While a natural mosaic of habitat types and plant communities is required to benefit a wide variety of wildlife species, suggesting that the sacrifice zones created by livestock water developments are somehow beneficial to wildlife in general is made in ignorance of basic wildlife and plant ecology.

Figures 5.1-7 and 5.1-8 represent the differences in wildlife and plant community values between an ungrazed and a grazed water development site; you as the reader/viewer can draw your own conclusions as to which environment would likely be more conducive to wildlife.

It is unfortunate for both the public at large and for our public wildlife resources that on paper, management plans often sound quite plausible. The placement of water troughs and other range improvements to facilitate livestock movements and utilization patterns sounds perfectly logical. After all, respected range scientists have recommended such actions for years. But what these management plans donít reveal to the public is the wide variety of cautions and use recommendations that professional range scientists have also made regarding stocking rates, distances to water, water for wildlife, escapes for wildlife, etc. Nor do management proposals or plans typically (if at all) attempt to identify or adequately analyze the impacts that may result from the construction or implementation of the new range improvements.

Water developments comprise a large number of the projects that are proposed to alleviate livestock over-use and other range problems. Rather than attempt to address stocking rates, suitability or capability issues, sustainability in arid landscapes as recommended by respected range scientists (and largely politically volatile subjects), agencies and permittees alike rush to fund ever increasing numbers of range "improvements." This is typically viewed by the conservation community to be little more than absurdly desperate attempts to force rangelands to support uses and levels of uses that the natural (and even seeded) habitats are incapable of supporting.

As was presented in previous sections, extensive habitat impacts or alteration are frequently associated with livestock water developments. It is not unusual to find square miles of denuded habitat, severe incidents of soil erosion, and a profound lack of wildlife associated with public lands water developments and their associated livestock grazing activities. Such scenarios are in complete opposition to the concepts or definitions represented by "multiple use."

Agency language governing range improvement actions is still filled with a great many public "promises" as to the efficacy and value of livestock management and related actions. The following excerpts from the Jarbidge Resource Management Plan provide some examples of what the general public frequently receives in the form of management proposals or plans:

Project clearances for threatened and endangered species would be conducted on all project proposals. All BLM management actions will comply with Federal and State laws concerning fish and wildlife. Wildlife escape devices will be installed on al troughs and tanks. Range improvements will be designed to achieve watershed, wildlife, and range objectives. Wildlife provisions will be incorporated into all future fence proposals.

Forage/cover requirements will be incorporated into allotment management plans and will be specific to areas of primary wildlife use. Water will be provided in allotments (including rested pastures) during seasonal periods of need for wildlife.

When agencies inform the public in decisional and other documents that livestock-related range "improvements" such as water developments (particularly for areas without extant surface waters) will benefit wildlife - the American public at large may assume this to be true.

It is unlikely that the general public, upon hearing radio announcements or information from supposed experts, will take the time to personally investigate whether or not range improvements such as water developments are actually leading to benefits for wildlife. It is unlikely that the public at large will travel out to view good and bad examples in the field, research the impacts of various management strategies, or investigate what private agendas (e.g. convenience, private profit) may actually be involved with various management proposals for our public lands. In short - the public is pretty much relegated to taking the agency and various livestock interest claims at face value. Our public land management agencies are supposed to manage our public lands in trust for the American people. What occurs all too often, in the eyes of the conservation community, are violations of that public trust.

One of the major issues for conservationists not previously discussed within this report is the impact of range developments or "improvements" on the human environment. Renewable and nonrenewable resources as defined by FLPMA (Federal Land Policy and Management Act) include but are not limited to recreation, range, timber, minerals, watershed, wildlife, and fish, natural scenic, scientific, and historical values. One of the most commonly ignored facets of livestock water developments are impacts or "costs" in relation to public recreational and scenic values. These are legitimate public resource (and multiple resource) values that are tied to overall ecological condition and wildlife values.

An industry biologist was recently overheard by the author to comment on the fact that permittees are apparently allowed to abandon ranch or agriculture-related trash over the western ranges with impunity. Examples of "littering" that originate with authorized range ďimprovementĒ activities abound. Our western rangelands are littered with baling wire, barbed wire, fence posts, baling twine, feed sacks, run-down corrals, broken pvc pipe, rusting pipelines, dead livestock, livestock insecticide containers, feed supplement containers, dissolving salt blocks, truck and tractor tires or other pieces of agricultural equipment, old wood, sheep camp garbage, old fuel and water tanks, broken gates, old culverts, leaking fuel pumps and tanks, abandoned troughs, and a myriad of other trash that has apparently somehow become inextricably linked to the western ranching or agricultural "way of life."

Water developments are especially notorious for resulting in landscapes littered with the remains of abandoned or poorly maintained public and private projects. Each of these projects were most likely advertised to the public and originally carried out in the name of "range improvements." What results is unsightly; and in some cases may actually be dangerous or deadly to wildlife or to members of the recreating public. BLM policy actually governs the maintenance of range improvements and provides specific guidance for abandonment of projects. Yet it appears that "paper" plans or directives are rarely being implemented at the field level. The BLM Manual Handbook entitled Renewable Resource Improvement and Treatment Guidelines and Procedures (1987) includes the following statements:

  • Parties deriving the primary benefit(s) from a structural improvement shall be responsible for maintaining that improvement. Primary benefits constitute more than 50 percent of the benefits realized.
  • Permittees and lessees will maintain structural improvements constructed or installed primarily to benefit livestock grazing, and the requirement to maintain these improvements in usable condition shall be a condition of permits or leases.
  • Water Catchments, Springs, Pipelines, Troughs - Requirements include periodic inspection, repair or replacement of worn or damaged parts, repair of leaks, removing trash or silt, repainting tanks (if they were originally painted), repair of associated fences if appropriate, winterizing the facility, maintaining water flows during agreed-upon times, and maintaining wildlife escape ramps.
  • Resource improvements and treatments cannot be abandoned or removed without authorization. When it is determined that a project is no longer helping to achieve land-use plan, allotment, or other activity plan objectives, the authorized officer may require a permittee/lessee or cooperator to remove a project and rehabilitate the site.

Littering of the ranges with wood, metal, twine, and other agricultural debris represents a particular type of problem tied directly to irresponsible human actions. Another substantial but commonly overlooked component of recreational and visual quality impacts is the actual physical condition of a particular natural environment - including the appearance of associated water resources, vegetation, or soils. The presence or absence of wildlife viewing opportunities is also a defining experience for many public lands users - and is tied directly to existing habitat conditions.

Extensive habitat impacts or alteration are frequently associated with livestock water developments - the result of poorly planned or poorly monitored domestic livestock grazing. Public lands users who take the time to leave paved roads and manicured campgrounds in our arid and semi-arid rangelands are likely to come across lands heavily impacted by domestic livestock. It is not unusual to find square miles of denuded habitat, severe incidents of soil erosion, and a profound lack of wildlife associated with public lands water developments and the associated livestock grazing activities. Such scenarios are in complete opposition to the concepts or definitions represented by "multiple use."

Figures 5.1-9 through 5.1-20 provide the reader/viewer with a glimpse of common recreational and scenic impacts related to livestock water developments on our western rangelands. These impacts directly affect the quality of hunting, camping, hiking, picnicking, Sunday afternoon drives, wilderness/solitude, and a great many other forms of human outdoor recreational activities that occur on Americaís public lands.

Figures 5.1-9 through 5.1-20 have provided examples from some of southern Idahoís public rangelands. However, innumerable examples of recreational and visual impacts created by livestock water developments, by associated range improvements, and by livestock-related activities exist throughout our western public lands.

It is interesting to note that Utah BLM Standards and Guides includes Guideline #7 that actually addresses outdoor recreation:

When establishing grazing practices and rangeland improvements, the quality of the outdoor recreation experience is to be considered. Aesthetic and scenic values, water, campsites, and opportunities for solitude are among those considerations.

While the Utah Bureau of Land Management may include these considerations as part of their paper planning, the reality of whether or not such a guideline is being employed or enforced can be readily ascertained in the field. Figures 5.1-21 and 5.1-22 are representative of common livestock grazing impacts on Utahís arid and semi-arid BLM public lands.

Many examples of recreational or visual degradation exist within or are immediately adjacent to designated wilderness or wilderness study areas. Examples of broken troughs, pipeline junk, dead livestock, piles of baler twine, and other forms of agricultural or "ranch" litter can also be observed on private rangelands - lands that often adjoin federal public lands or exist as inholdings and are readily visible to the traveling and recreating public.

These western "junkyard" scenes may end up being viewed by thousands of state, national, and international visitors that make their way to arid and semi-arid western rangelands each year. While some viewers may perceive these scenes as representative of western "Americana" - other members of the public find the ecological and corresponding visual or recreational impacts to be increasingly offensive. Regardless of land ownership - irresponsible land management practices or failures to adhere to existing policies (or even common sense) cumulatively detracts from quality recreational and visual experiences.

Regardless of anyoneís political or otherwise philosophical position regarding the presence of domestic livestock on public lands, livestock water developments create specific, observable, measurable, and in many cases extremely widespread impacts to wildlife and native plant community values. These impacts range from minor inconvenience to the traveling and recreating public to the drownings of thousands of our native wildlife species. There is irrefutable, readily documentable evidence of the impacts created by range "improvements" in the form of water developments for livestock scattered all across our western rangelands. These impacts are largely ignored, glossed over, or otherwise unaddressed in public land management. And, as the conservation community believes, represent a very serious violation of the trust placed in our land managers by the American public at large.


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