The Legacy of Livestock Grazing on Public Lands

"Although cattle grazing in the West has polluted more water, eroded more topsoil, killed more fish, displaced more wildlife and destroyed more vegetation than any other kind of land use, the American public pays ranchers to do it."

Ted Williams
(Audobon, 1991)

Science may help explain the long-term damage that livestock grazing inflicts on America’s public lands. Eyesight is the only tool required to understand the immediate impacts of cows and domestic sheep on the watersheds of the West.

Livestock grazing threatens native species, reduces water quality, spreads noxious weeds, alters natural fire regimes and accelerates soil erosion, destroying streamside and upland ecosystems. About 80 percent of all streams and riparian ecosystems in the arid West are severely degraded by livestock grazing. In its Global 2000 report, the Council on Environmental Quality noted that "improvident grazing . . . has been the most potent desertification force, in terms of total acreage, within the United States."

A selection of photographs by Western Watersheds field monitor Nate Green illustrates typical conditions of public lands under typical grazing regimes. The pictures were taken in the fall of 2001 on field trips to Wet Creek, Bear Creek and Smithy Fork watersheds in the Little Lost River Basin in Idaho.

Here, then, is an all-too-familiar picture of denuded, eroding watersheds in the West, where biodiversity is vanishing, vegetative cover and production are in short supply, and weeds have replaced native grasses, forbs and shrubs.



Take a look at the following reports by Nate Green, WWP Field Monitor:

* Sawmill Creek

* Wet Creek

Bear Creek






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