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.