Bad Ranchers, Bad Cows
A newly published study offers photographic proof of what ranchers have long denied: the extent to which livestock grazing damages public lands. (Part III of a series on ranchers in the media)
Livestock have been severely depleting public rangelands for decades. They do so by trampling vegetation, damaging soil, spreading invasive weeds, polluting water, increasing the likelihood of destructive fires, depriving native wildlife of forage and shelter and even contributing to global warming—all of which has been noted in study after study. Global studies. Peer-reviewed studies. Government studies. Lots of studies going back many years.
So why do people get up in arms about drilling for oil in the Arctic national wildlife refuge, demolished forests and polluted streams, but accept cattle trampling wildlife refuges and national parks, forests and grasslands as if that’s a productive use of our nation’s shared landscape?
Why does that damage—amounting to as much as a one billion dollar subsidy to a very small slice of the livestock industry every year—go unmentioned by a media that so eagerly condemns climate change deniers and proponents of fracking? (Read The Daily Pitchfork’s analysis of the destructive economics of public lands ranching here).
Everyone can recognize an oil-soaked sea bird, a clear-cut forest, a stream that’s been ruined by industrial pollutants and extreme drought and other destructive weather. But few Americans visit the nation’s public grass and forest lands; fewer still know what livestock damage actually looks like on them.
This is something that the media’s present fascination with grass-fed beef being good for everyone (not just people, but cattle and western grass and forest land) has directly abetted with the help of western politicians, the beef industry and livestock producers themselves.
The media, it turns out, comfortably quotes ranchers on conservation issues but not scientists. Not surprisingly, the immense negatives of ranching in the arid West seldom make their way into mainstream media.
You can thank all that for conditioning the public to see ranchers as trusted stewards and cattle and sheep as native grazers of one million square kilometers of public land in 11 western states where livestock receives preferential treatment at great cost to everyone but livestock operators. That photographs of cattle impacting sensitive Western ecosystems don’t make the news shouldn’t surprise anyone.
That’s what makes the newly published study in Environmental Management—Restoration of Riparian Areas Following the Removal of Cattle in the Northwestern Great Basin—so important. It shows what devotees of grass-fed beef, rotational grazing and holistic management (Allan Savory) spend so much of their careers glossing over: visual proof of what livestock damage looks like—in this case, within a wildlife refuge in Oregon.
The study assessed the effects of livestock in riparian systems at Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge in southeastern Oregon, 23 years after the removal of cattle grazing, using 64 before and after photographs.
To see them is to be impressed by how badly cattle are suited to the arid public lands of the West, and how long it takes these sensitive ecosystems to recover once cattle are removed.
Riparian areas are critically important ecosystems located along the banks of rivers, streams, creeks, or any other water networks where cattle congregate (because public lands are mostly arid and not irrigated).
To damage a riparian area isn’t just to despoil it for cattle; it’s to despoil it for every critter dependent on that ecosystem: fish, frogs, birds and native populations of elk and antelope, among other species.
The Environmental Management report cites numerous scientific studies in painting a graphic picture for the American public:
Cattle grazing can indirectly cause a significant decrease in bird species abundance and diversity, largely by removing shrubs that are important habitat for many bird species. Altered stream cover, water depth, and bank stability due to cattle grazing can all affect fish populations. Cattle grazing can accelerate stream bank erosion, causing streams to become shallower and wider, which can result in higher water temperatures.
Other water quality issues that can result from the presence of cattle include pollution from excrement and increased sedimentation from trampled banks. Decreases in both the density and height of woody plants have been documented with grazing activity along with increases in exotic species… Although grazing can sometimes lead to greater species richness and diversity, this often occurs due to the introduction of invasive species and the suppression of vegetation cover. Other documented effects of cattle include loss of native biodiversity, interruption of nutrient cycling, and destruction of biotic soil crusts.
As the study further states:
Cattle grazing can exacerbate effects of climate change. Ecosystems stressed by grazing activity may be less resistant to temperature and moisture changes, compared to ecosystems that have had time to recover.
But it’s the photographs that drive the message home:
As the study describes, while there are extensive perennial and intermittent streams within the refuge, riparian areas represent just 1 percent of the total land area. Approximately half the streams are inhabited by fish except during periods of drought when adequate water is not available.
In 1994, at the time that it was decided to remove livestock from the refuge, only 13 percent of the streams were characterized as being in good condition, with 73 percent of riparian areas characterized as either poor or in very poor condition. Cattle grazing was identified as the leading cause of stream and riparian degradation at Hart Mountain, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Twenty-three years later, when the photographs comprising the study were taken, there was a dramatic reversal of that damage:
“Results indicated that channel widths and eroding banks decreased in 64 and 73 percent of sites, respectively. We found a 90 percent decrease in the amount of bare soil and a 63 percent decrease in exposed channel as well as a significant increase in the cover of grasses/sedges/forbs, rushes and willow.”
As it happens, few Americans are aware that cattle—which were brought to this country 400 years ago—originated in lush, wet climates of Asia. They are no more native to the arid West than are alligators (in fact, there are more cattle produced in Florida than on western public lands leased to livestock operators).
It’s also important to note that only 2.7% of the nation’s livestock spend any portion of their brief lives grazing on western public rangelands, which are so stripped of vegetation that 100 acres are needed to sustain a cow compared to a couple of acres of pasture in the eastern US. This is how such a small percentage of the nation’s livestock have wrought such a large environmental impact on public lands—something very few Americans realize.
But the before and after photos—not just the three side-by-side comparisons in the photo gallery, but all 64—put all that in context.
Whether or not you’re a science person, prone to reading studies, it’s not hard to see a difference with the naked eye.
A few years before cattle were removed in the study area, Edward Abbey wrote in Cowburnt, which was published in Harper’s Magazine,
The rancher (with a few honorable exceptions) is a man who strings barbed wire all over the range; drills wells and bulldozes stock ponds; drives off elk and antelope and bighorn sheep; poisons coyotes and prairie dogs; shoots eagles, bears, and cougars on sight; supplants the native grasses with tumbleweed, snakeweed, povertyweed, cowshit, anthills, mud, dust, and flies. And then leans back and grins at the TV cameras and talks about how much he loves the American West.
The idea that ranchers are protecting western rangelands for present and future generations is a myth. Today, public lands ranchers depend on the public to subsidize the continued destruction of public lands through cheap grazing.
Yes, public grazing allotments do occasionally get retired, but they remain a hot property for ranchers because they come with such heavy fiscal subsidies, courtesy of US taxpayers—the very ones the media is telling to listen to ranchers and buy grass-fed beef.
As the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge study concludes, “the removal of cattle can result in dramatic changes in riparian vegetation, even in semi-arid landscapes and without replanting or other active restoration efforts.”
Don’t let the gentle, scientific tone fool you. Instead, return to those photos, read the supporting study and make up your mind. And if you’re in the media, report on that. We’ve all heard enough about how livestock is great for the environment. It’s time some truth was shared around the public campfire.
This is Part III of a four-part SourceWatch series on ranchers in the media:
[Part I] The Media Adores Ranchers. Here’s Why They Shouldn’t
[Part II] Sustainable Cowboys or Welfare Ranchers of the American West? (an economic analysis of subsidized public lands ranching; contains reading list of source materials)
[Part IV] Forbes Billionaires Top US Welfare Ranchers List
For more on this topic, check out these other Daily Pitchfork features:
Allan Savory’s Fantasy Thrills Ranchers, But He’s Wrong
Guardian’s Wild Horse Meat Story Contains 92% Beef (article review)
Grass-Fraud Beef (article review)
Misrepresenting Wild Horses At The New York Times (article review)
Once again, Vickery spreads the truth.
Thank you for helping to educate the public on this issue.
You are a champion of the wild horses – AND THE TRUTH!!!!!
Excellent article. This study at the Hart National Wildlife Refuge is eyeopening at the very least and I’ll be emailing a link to your article to my two Senators and Representative, as well as Rachel Maddow, who I’ve been working on with this issue and the plight of our wild horses and burros for some time. I don’t know why there isn’t coverage. This is why the American people just aren’t informed and aware of the truth as to what is happening on our public lands and if they were they’d be appalled. It is imperative the media get on board with this so they, too, will investigate and report the truth, instead of parroting the ranchers’ talking points. You are so good at keeping the information timely and adding to it. Your efforts are greatly appreciated.
Right on as usual. I will follow you anywhere.
As always good truthful and well investigated article. TY
In the mid 1970’s we lived near Owyhee County. We spent many week-ends with our two young sons rock-climbing in the rugged terrain. but, there was one inescapable element… Cow crap. Here we were in the least populated County in the US hoping to enjoy the desolate nature but cattle were inescapable. Rusty, broken barbed-wire fences, beautiful little streams with small brook-trout being stomped flat by deep-mushy cattle prints and of course, the ubiquitous huge, smelly, loose, spreading blobs of cow crap! The McKees mentioned in the photo captions had 14 kids, mostly boys, all grew up to be Rodeo cattle-men. I can envision the stain that they left on the map of S. Oregon.
While all this has been known since about the 1930s the destructive effects of grazing have been hiding in plain sight unseen and undereported as a component of meat production and pork barrel politics. I applaud your focusing attention on what everyone should be aware of. Loved your Edward Abbey pull quote about what were essentially environmentally destructive Victorian agricultural workers recast as evocative of a colonial misadventure that never was under the glare of postmodernism. Might as well buy a hat and boots and walk around Manhattan myself like Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy for all the veracity that cowboy images evoke.
The Center for Biological Diversity, among others, is on this topic from a more quantified angle and compliments your cited works by adding in the subsidy and cost to nature components which the pictures represent in terms of externalized envoronmental costs: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/public_lands/grazing/pdfs/CostsAndConsequences_01-2015.pdf
Thanks for the comment. We did look at the Center for Biological Diversity’s recent report on Costs and Consequences of public lands ranching. You can find our recent article about that at http://dailypitchfork.org/?p=631.
Pretty bad deal all the way around for taxpayers, public lands and wildlife!
Thank you. Please keep up the pressure…we need all the publicity we can get.
Only one snivel: Where’s the “Standing Ovation” icon??!
“What can be done to address the problems associated with public lands livestock grazing? There is a simple answer: end it. Get the cows and sheep off, let the wild creatures reclaim their native habitat, and send the ranchers a bill for the cost of restoration.”
Quote from http://www.publiclandsranching.org/book.htm
Thank you for a good, factual article. In the 1960’s, when I was a child, my family visited Hart Mountain every year. I wondered, even then why it was called a wildlife refuge when there was an ubundace of cattle. The best thing to see on our trips were the wildlife and wild horses. The cattle seemed out of place, but were everywhere. They were even in the campground, which had a creek running through it. The creek banks were muddy, with deep holes from the cattle trampling around them. The cowpies covered the ground, hard as rocks, seemingly they would remain and never would decompose and give any nutrients back to nature.
We saw many cattle carcasses just left to rot on the range. There were lots of cattle guards, which seemed strange, in the middle of nowhere. I felt lucky to spot any wild horses, it was a rare and joyous sighting. I will never forget those images. It was a true gift.
Today, sadly, the wild horses at Hart Mountain are being scapegoated. The welfare ranchers claiming its the horses that are overpopulated and damaging the ecosystem and over grazing the range. The horses are in danger of roundups as I type. The BLM hasn’t shown any respect for the facts or responsibility to protect wild horses in the west. They do not represent the best interest of the public or our iconic symbols of this great country. Instead, they are doing whatever the ranchers and mining interests want from them while keeping it as hidden from the publics view.
I want to see the wild horses at Hart Mountain again someday soon. I want to see them throughout the west, where they belong. I want my children and my grandchildren to receive the same gift I received when I was a child. I would love to have one thing absent though, cattle, cowpies, muddy trampled streams and cattleguards and cow carcasses. I fear my dream of this will be stolen though.
Once again…Vickery Echoff pushes the TRUTH button. Thanks for your tremendous, investigative, honestly sourced article!!!! Sharing!!!
Today there are forms of recovery from over grazing by domestics that is working with the dynamics of natural wild herd grazing. This is the future. Not PZP-22 or anything man made. Nature must be allowed to work the systems we are damaging. Help stop BLM depredations on our wild horse and burro herds. We need more and larger herds! Removing the wild onesies causing desertification. And you Need a real HERD to have real predation. The numbers on wild horses is falling rapidly on their designated ranges. Burros are nearly gone. We need to end all this with a 10 Year Moratorium and management changes including a new WILD HORSE And BURRO PROGRAM run by horse professionals and biologists. Wild horses and burros are wildlife. Thank you VE
It is very important for everyone to know that the feral horses were removed from this National Wildlife Refuge at the same time as the cows were taken off. The photos you see is long-term recovery from both feral horses and cattle grazing.
Your above points are not supported anywhere in this study, Rebecca — either by the title (“Restoration of Riparian Areas Following the Removal of Cattle in the Northwestern Great Basin”), the methods used by the researchers, the before and after photographs and the report’s conclusions. There is one single mention of “occasional trespass of cattle and feral horses on the refuge since cattle were officially removed, but their use of our study sites was extremely low compared to allotment cattle prior to 1991.” It may be worthwhile for you to go back and reread the study, and review the others linked in the article, if you’re unsure about this. It couldn’t be clearer that cattle are the culprits.
Vickery – I live here. Do you? I was at the public meetings in the 90’s when the Refuge made the decision to remove ALL grazing (horses and cows) from Hart because of the environmental impacts – were you? (and before you go down that road, no, I do not ranch, own cattle, or have family that does). Don’t hammer me just because I present facts when neither you nor the authors of this “study” bothered to do their due diligence and get all of the data. Don’t believe me? Call the Refuge yourself and ask!
Again, Rebecca, you make claims that this research does not support. If you disagree, you are free to take that up with the researchers. Their names are all on the report, as is their methodology and all their source materials. You being at a local meeting is irrelevant to their findings. You being part of the study and research team — maybe. Were you? What aspect of their study do you find deficient, other than them coming to conclusions that don’t reflect what you think they should?
Vickery, I’d be cautious about confronting Rebecca. I’m frankly baffled why you wouldn’t want to look into something that would make your article more accurate.
Some of the information they gathered from the report was from “personal communication” with Gail Collins: This included mentions of controlled burns/mowing to remove litter and sage brush, and willow plantings. I think the “personal communication” part is interesting, given your criticism of Rebecca.
Also they mention “There was occasional trespass of cattle and feral horses on the refuge since cattle were officially removed, but their use of our study sites was extremely low compared to allotment cattle prior to 1991.” Feral horses are indeed mentioned, albeit indirectly. Perhaps you should look into it more deeply.
The photos, methodology and sources in this study speak directly to the damage caused by cattle, in a clear way, that the public and the media can now see. I’m not going to dispute your desire to insert horses into this. Many commenters here have done that. But the study doesn’t. And that’s what matters.
Cattle have been wreaking havoc on the environment for a long time. Many people have gone to many meetings to deny this well-researched topic. Meetings and opinions rarely deliver the goods that the process of science produces.
Amen to that.
How about on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website?
“Removing this fence is a primary objective of the refuge. Riparian areas and upland watersheds are monitored annually to track the recovery of these critical habitats. If left unchecked, the Hart Mountain feral horse herd, currently about 200 animals, doubles about every 3-4 years. Feral horses are descended from domestic stock turned loose around the turn of the twentieth century.
Their grazing can devastate native vegetation and severely damage riparian habitat. They directly compete for forage and water with native wildlife. The 1990 Hart Mountain Comprehensive Management Plan calls for total removal of these horses. Over 300 species of birds and mammals are found on the refuge. Pronghorn, sage grouse, mule deer and California bighorn sheep are featured species.”
“Cattle grazing was identified as the leading cause of stream and riparian degradation at Hart Mountain, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.”
That’s a quote from the study we’re discussing here. Cattle damage, not horse removal. You’re trying to muddy the waters here—which are already muddy enough. And that’s according to the USFWS, as well as many other sources.
My point is not that cattle were blame free. My point is that Rebecca’s statement about the horses being removed was not only factually correct, but well supported by evidence. Their impact, while not as drastic as the cattle ranching, should not be ignored. The paper your cite significantly omits that. Given your affinity for horses, I think you may have a blind spot about the damage that they too can cause. By ignoring this, you are doing exactly that which you accuse the cattle ranchers of doing: denying scientific studies and evidence.
Mark, you say you’re not saying cattle are blame free, and then spend all your time trying to discuss horses, as if the larger point about cattle is irrelevant. Further, you’re wrong the study ignores them. This is what it states about them: “By the 1990 s, cattle grazing was deemed incompatible with new management goals focused on restoring the refuge and all cattle were removed from the refuge as of 1991 (USFWS 1994). There was occasional trespass of cattle and feral horses on the refuge since cattle were officially removed, but their use of our study sites was extremely low compared to allotment cattle prior to 1991.”
I think that’s pretty clear. I hope you do, too.
Vickery, I mention horses because *so many of the comments* mention them. Outside of this particular thread, there are 23 mentions of cattle, and 19 mentions of horses. Many of these mentions claim that horses are being unfairly vilified for destroying the ecosystem when they are blameless. You are reinforcing this misconception.
The important omission here is that feral horses were also part of the plan to remove grazers, and that controlling the horse population (which can double every 3-4 years) is an important part of the preservation. Neither group of animals is part of the natural environment, and pretending that the removal of cattle while ignoring other non-native species is a poor conclusion to push. The cattle ranchers want to scapegoat horses, and the horse-lovers want to scapegoat cattle ranchers, when the reality is that – when improperly managed – either or both groups of animals can destroy an ecosystem. The fact that they mention “occasional trespass” of feral horses reinforces the point that the horses *do not belong there.*
The fact that the study omitted it could be because the size of the herd of feral horses was small to being with, but some of your readers may believe this study is sufficient proof that the population control of the horses is not needed. For example, Janelle Ghiorso writes:
“Today, sadly, the wild horses at Hart Mountain are being scapegoated. The welfare ranchers claiming its the horses that are overpopulated and damaging the ecosystem and over grazing the range. The horses are in danger of roundups as I type. The BLM hasn’t shown any respect for the facts or responsibility to protect wild horses in the west. They do not represent the best interest of the public or our iconic symbols of this great country. Instead, they are doing whatever the ranchers and mining interests want from them while keeping it as hidden from the publics view.
I want to see the wild horses at Hart Mountain again someday soon. I want to see them throughout the west, where they belong. I want my children and my grandchildren to receive the same gift I received when I was a child. I would love to have one thing absent though, cattle, cowpies, muddy trampled streams and cattleguards and cow carcasses. I fear my dream of this will be stolen though.”
Horses are not vindicated by this study. Instead, they are ignored because the population was already being controlled.
Hi Mark, yes, I know many of the commenters mention the horses. Now let’s discuss why trying to insert them into this study isn’t relevant: proportionality. There are far more cattle than horses on public lands. My calculation (using BLM figures) is that it’s 16.6 times more cattle than horses on BLM lands (which I get by dividing 2014 grazing receipts of $13.2 million by $1.35 (cost per AUM) and then by 12. It comes out to 815,864 million animal units (a cow-calf or five sheep) year-round on the 155 million acres of public lands under BLM management for livestock grazing. Compare that to the number of wild horses estimated by BLM (49,209). USFS #s aren’t quite as handy, so let’s use those BLM figures as a benchmark.
The study at Hart Mountain mentions that the number of cattle on grazing allotments was far above any residual horses. Looking at this in broader strokes, cattle graze a wider area than wild horses do. The cattle are on 83% of BLM public lands, the horses on 17%. But media reports frequently quote ranchers laying the blame for overgrazing on horses. How does one horse out graze 16.6 times as many cattle? How does a horse out graze cattle on the 83% of public lands where there aren’t any remaining wild horse herds at all? Further, your stats on wild horse reproduction are off. The estimate is 20% increase a year. That’s doubling every five years, not every 3-4. Now do you want to comment on the damage the cattle did, the report’s conclusions, or the inability for wild horses to out graze 16.6 times as many cattle? I’d be eager to hear you address either of those points.
> Now let’s discuss why trying to insert them into this study isn’t relevant: proportionality. There are far more cattle than horses on public lands.
Yet some of the comments on here express wishes for the expansion of feral horses on public land, including people who are sending your article to their congresspeople in support of such measures. If the horse population is allowed to expand unchecked (which appears to be the desire of some of your commenters) it won’t matter that they graze less than cattle, because they will still graze too much and compete with the natural inhabitants.
> The study at Hart Mountain mentions that the number of cattle on grazing allotments was far above any residual horses. Looking at this in broader strokes, cattle graze a wider area than wild horses do. The cattle are on 83% of BLM public lands, the horses on 17%. But media reports frequently quote ranchers laying the blame for overgrazing on horses. How does one horse out graze 16.6 times as many cattle? How does a horse out graze cattle on the 83% of public lands where there aren’t any remaining wild horse herds at all? Further, your stats on wild horse reproduction are off.
The ranchers are wrong, but that doesn’t make the horses blameless. They contribute less damage because they have a smaller population. Left unchecked, that population would increase and indeed contribute to the damage. The horses on the 17% don’t belong there any more than the cattle on the 83% do. I reiterate here: neither group of animals should be left on that land.
> Further, your stats on wild horse reproduction are off. The estimate is 20% increase a year. That’s doubling every five years, not every 3-4.
FWS.gov’s page (linked on my name) on Hart Mountain speaks directly to this: Had you bothered to read the site, you would see that they are not *my* stats, but instead the government stats given by those caring for the site.
> Now do you want to comment on the damage the cattle did, the report’s conclusions, or the inability for wild horses to out graze 16.6 times as many cattle? I’d be eager to hear you address either of those points.
Sure. The cattle did a lot of damage. It’s good that they were removed. The report’s conclusions support this. However, the report does not discuss the potential risks of the impact of feral horses, which people who read your article (and possibly the study) now seem to feel should be allowed to grow in population, reversing the progress that removing the cattle made. *Neither cattle nor horses should be on that land if the intent is to preserve it.*
And here’s where we come full circle. Thanks for your comments.
“Full circle?” You hassled someone for pointing out an important fact that you ignored (horses were considered a threat to the preserve as well, and were also removed) despite your commenters drawing the blatantly wrong conclusion that horses were blameless.
You’ve attempted to discredit me using claims that *ranchers* made, but that I never indicated my support or acceptance of. (I don’t accept them because they are ridiculous.)
You’ve attempted to discredit “my” stats, which are in fact from the preservation site’s own webpage, and ignore their comments about the potential damage of feral horses.
Where’s the outcry from you against the people who want horses all over these sites? Why does Rebecca catch crap for pointing out the fact that horses were part of the actual policy on the land, since they weren’t properly mentioned in the study? Why do you single out cattle, rather than *all of the non-native animals that are causing damage?*
Wild horses, feral refers to released or escaped domestic animals. since these horses have been “wild” for 300+ years they are no more feral then a tiger would be. It’s also documented that areas with only wild horses and no cattle have very little if any environmental damage. that is proven in Europe. the African continent and the Americas. Argentina has 5 times as many Wild horses as the United States does on much drier desert lands then we have with no impact issues what so ever. Cattle are HEAVY grasslands creatures. Scotland, England, France, India etc etc etc. they are not designed to live where we put them simply to make a living(money). If you want to eat meat then eat Pig, their flesh is healthier, 1000 times more efficient in space and food intake per pound of usable meat then cows will ever approach and were the worlds standard ( even here) until a few illiterates decided they could take over the central part of the country to make a few bucks, killing everything including other people to do it.
Thank you for speaking the truth.
Thank you again Vickery Eckhoff for revealing the core of propaganda which sustains both the war on our Western lands by corporate profiteers and the bombing overseas sustained by a curiously indifferent public : collateral damage which remains out of sight remains out of mind. Bishop Berkeley the philosopher famously stated “to be is to be perceived”. The mass media pushing corporate interests have adopted his motto with a vengeance: therefore “what is not perceived by the public does not exist.” As you so well point out, the sight of a sea gull drowning in oil provokes public outrage against BP. The sight of a strip mine engages moral outrage against Peabody Coal. But the sight unseen of Wasteland in the wake of cattle herds who leave nothing even for the locusts to glean does not exist to the public and never forms even a blip on their collective brain wave. If pictures were shown of what lies beneath the fireballs roiling in Iraq and Syria, the public would never embrace the celebration of militarism embodied in a movie like American Sniper. The more Americans who see these pictures of the collateral damage done to our American land by beef profiteers the less will continue to cling to the notion that cattlemen in business suits have anything to do with Hollywood cowboys. The romanticized cowboy who embodied freedom and admired wild horses has certainly been replaced by the Wall Street Cattle Baron who worships profit only and is bent on the annihilation of freedom embodied in our wild horses.
Thank you, Vickery. Again your investigation and knowledge of the issue has produced an accurate view of the damage done to our wild, arid lands of our Western States by cattle that are privately owned, but publically supported by tax payers. Time for this outrageous insult to end… not a good expenditure of our tax dollars and a land destroying invasion of those rancher’s cows.
PS. I will be sending copies of this to my DC representatives and also to Rachel Maddow.
Thank you for all of the investigative and informed reporting that you are providing….I believe most advocates would agree (or hoping so), that cattle are the larger destructive forceon the rangelands. Our (AMERICA’S) horses are indeed in peril…TY…
Bravo Vickery! One more time you hit the nail in the head. It is a shame this information is not hitting the mainstream media. It should be even taught at school. If we don’t set the record straight in the minds of people the myth will perdure till there is nothing left.
Keep up the good work.
I love how some of the deniers claim that the wild horses spread weeds. The wild horses are only capable of spreading the seeds of what they eat – which is vegetation that is found on the range. It’s the CATTLE that are fed hay and grain that is loaded with non-native vegetation and seeds, and the hay and grain that is left on the range for them to eat, that is spreading invasives. Seems easy to figure out.
Another great article, Vickery. Again – the difference in numbers really tells the story – how can the horses be to blame when there are so few of them compared to the number of cows? Too many wild horses? Really – look at the numbers!
Please keep up the research & continue writing – for the wild horses & burros and for all of us who care about them.
I agree bad ranchers SHOULD NOT have more cattle than they have land to feed them. I Do Not agree bad cattle, they do only what greedy ranchers allow them to do.ALL THE FAULT GOES TO MONSTER HUMANS !
I do agree with you. cows love to listen music
Funny – but there seemed to be ONE cow (calf?) in the back who
apparently wasn’t interested! I think its not only the music but the attention…
I have personally seen cattle with calves left by ranchers out on public lands … to supposedly graze and they were pathetic. They were standing in areas that were so overgrazed that there was nothing left but sand and tumbleweed. When it comes to how most public lands ranchers treat their cattle, it is not a pretty picture. It is not the animals fault – it is animal abuse by the public welfare rancher. I certainly felt VERY sorry for the cattle! The green-grass pasture “grass fed” and “pasture reared” propaganda that is fed to the public to get higher prices is false. Are people so stupid that they think the meat on their plate was from an animal that lived a wonderful life and was not tortured as it was slaughtered?
Super article–Disappointed that I couldn’t see the photos-would have been meaningful!
Hi JoAnn. All the photo links are working; or you can see an abbreviated set of side by sides in the photo gallery.
Livestock can also be used to regenerate riparian areas if they are put on a natural pattern. Wild animals can likewise destroy riparian areas if their natural pattern is broken. The key is timing and herd effect.
For cattle, standing around in riparian areas, trampling and defecating/urinating in water sources is pretty natural on account of them originating, as a species, in hot, wet climate of Asia, not in the hot, dry climates of the west. Can you describe more what you mean about a “natural pattern” and the timing and herd effect you mention that can regenerate riparian areas? Do you have any evidence that this is a better way to reverse damage than simply removing them, as the study concludes? I’m thinking you may be referring to holistic grazing?
This was a very informative article.it’s a shame though, because after watching the PBS series, Earth a new wild,” Plains”,which featured Allan Savory aswell as the J bar L ranch in Montana, which uses savouriesry’sry’ses,I believed there was some hope for cows and wild horses to live and prosper on public lands together,all the while encouraging biodiversity of plants and wildlife. I guess if it sounds too good to be true it is.
This was a very informative article.it’s a shame though, because after watching the PBS series, Earth a new wild,” Plains”,which featured Allan Savory aswell as the J bar L ranch in Montana, which uses savory’s principles for cows and wild horses to live and prosper on public lands together,all the while encouraging biodiversity of plants and wildlife. I guess if it sounds too good to be true it is.
Thank you. I am so glad that you are here/”out there” writing about this issue. I have posted to Facebook.
Just fyi – rotational grazing and holistic management are NOT the same thing. Many people, including the author here, confuse the two. The ranchers who haven’t properly managed grazing have not been utilizing holistic management. http://youtu.be/9aqOAz1wIuo Often quoted critiques of holistic management (eg. Holechek and Briske) also looked at short duration rotational grazing systems not holistically managed ones.
Regardless, ranchers, who practice holistic management, have plenty of before and after photographs as well that have clearly demonstrated how arid land has been restored using HM techniques. Here’s just one example: http://goo.gl/TXwgid So writing an article noting just to look at photographs is a bit inane and then using that as an argument to further debate with commentators doesn’t strengthen that argument.
Also today, especially in Australia where HM is more widely practiced, ranchers aren’t just “ranchers”. Many are very scientific with their approaches to what they do. Some are actually scientists. (Watch this video: http://goo.gl/1GiYWS ) So referring to stereotypes from a NYC office about ranchers you’ve most likely never actually engaged is not only detached, but somewhat arrogant.
That’s a rather large assumption you make, about who I know (and what I know). As it happens, people in this neck of the woods do manage to get out to the wide open spaces of the West. We use these thingamajigs called airplanes. And we also use these new fangled devices called phones and the internet and such. Some of us even FOIA the government and read a lot of studies and do research and interview ranchers. You call that arrogant. Would you prefer an unenlightened public? Many people—including public grazing permittees—do. And I have yet to see local reporters, ag reporters, and ranchers themselves do a thorough or even a factual job of exploring this issue. I’ll stake my knowledge of this subject against theirs any day. Yes, even here, from New York City.
You can make all these assertions about interactions yet somehow still not realize that rotational grazing and holistic management aren’t the same thing. Good job. LOL. Funny too your title “Bad Cows.” Really demonstrating all your supposed “knowledge,” since cows refer only to females that have given birth. Cattle being grazed for beef typically are steers and heifers. Again, really informed. LOL.
The “Bad Cow” referred to in the title refers to the forage consumed by a cow/calf combination (or five sheep) under the federal grazing program (otherwise referred to as an AUM–animal unit month). So “cow” is indeed technically correct. And thanks for comments about rotational grazing and holistic management. You may be interested to read our article, Allan Savory’s Fantasy Thrills Ranchers, But He’s Wrong.
By the way, you’ve spent very little time addressing the topic of grazing damage and how little the public knows about it, especially on public lands. The negative comments I get generally avoid discussing this. You (and they) have suggested that it’s inappropriate for non-ranchers (or non-locals) to take on this topic. Given that ranchers don’t write for the media, and most local media do such a poor job of exposing ranching’s negatives, how do you expect the public to be informed?
I think some of what you say makes sense. but I think the way you insulted the author takes away from your message.
You people are idiots. You need to get off your asses get out of the office in Portland, Salem or Eugene Oregon and go see for yourselves.
Without the ranchers putting down hay and food for the cattle a lot of the wildlife would die in the winter. You environmentalists are the dipsticks that put the Wolf back in Oregon and that is doing the harm to our wildlife.
The researchers did exactly as you prescribe above, Vern. They went out in the field, and took before and after photos, 23 years apart, as proof.
And the study discusses how biodiversity suffered, due to the cattle, and how it recovered, years after the cattle were removed.
Idiots? You got that wrong.
Somehow cattle ranchers have gotten ‘roped’ into the Farm Aid sympathy side of most Americans. No no most of these ranches are still practicing business as usual they’re just as greedy and nasty as villains of the barbwire era and paying pennies to graze their beef on our lands and not giving AF about any damage that occurs as long as their purses still bulge and make the banks in Burns for example some of the most cash heavy in the lands. Have no more sympathy towards these big ranches than you would Haliburton this endless garden party of woe is me take take take has to come to a end.
End all grazing on public lands and limit water rights in times of drought.
These guys get more handouts and pay less taxes than most welfare recipients.
Not to mention, it is causing needless depletion of our wild horse and burro populations….round em up, send em to jail….so cattle ranchers can use wild horse land for their cattle to graze on? BS! FY cattle ranchers…
I spent at least a week on Hart Mountain from 1976 through 2011. I advocated for the removal of the cattle from the beginning, but was repeatedly told the grazing was “a management tool that benefits wildlife”. With regard to the cow/horse thread I can say this. The damage shown is all cattle-induced as nearly as I can tell. Horses -some years good numbers of them- were present on the Refuge, but hey were limited to the eastern part of the Refuge. The photos are from the western part of the Refuge. And I am credited with some of the photos.
Thank you, Dr. Herman. I’m always surprised how most journalists do not require any photographic proof or research before writing about environmental subjects, including ranching, which most write about glowingly, knowing nothing except what ranchers tell them. The photography in that study, and the study itself is persuasive. But people will still argue with it, because it doesn’t reflect what they want to see. I’ve had commenters say that study is biased, just for showing the environmental point of view. I find that fascinating, and at the same time, telling. It’s impossible to tell people something they don’t want to hear.
Thanks for positing Dr. Herman’s letter and your response. I think you are so spot on when you say that even though a study shows unequivocally that it is the cattle do all the damage it will be disputed by ranchers and their government cronies alike. The BLM and Dept. Of Interior are not interested in protecting wild horses or other wildlife it appears. The Livestock industry lobbies the politicians who in turn put the word out to the local BLM people to do the bidding of the Livestock industry. It is a massive circle of corruption if you ask me. One where truth and justice sadly have no place.
The term “feral” when referring to Wild Horses is always inserted into the pro cattle or scapegoating arguments. My eyewitness accounts still stand as to the damage I saw for many years and it wasn’t the few wild horses doing the damage.
The horses belong in the west and they belong in Oregon, just like other wildlife! Cows, calfs and bulls are feral and not part of an ecologically sustainable land. When grazers were removed, it was necessitated because of the damage caused by cattle. That’s where scapegoating of so called “feral” horses is demonstrated. If It’s ever been domesticated, it’s easilly passed off as “feral” if found in nature. Unless you’re smart enough to see the difference.
Wild Horses, as we are finding currently, are an indigenous wildlife in America. Our confirmation is currently coming from the situation of Paleontology, whereas, Pleistocene horse bones are being located within Pre-Columbian dig sites — and DNA and Carbon tested as living in the Pre-Columbian era — We also find many wildlife, thought to be destroyed from the supposed severity of the Ice Age (i.e. Pleistocene kill off et al.) which is also being shown to have been not so severe at all. Wild Horses Indigenous, are frankly good for the rangelands, as many biologists and rangeland Scientists express quite often. Cattle bring cheat grass, due to their hooved elements and eating methods — compared to horses method of simply chewing to the base of grasses, compared to a cattle uprooting the grasses entirely which devastate the grasslands, then cheat grass the only thing that grows.
My point here, and I could go on with the positive situations of wild horses on our Great Palins Basin tundra situation, covering 8 western states where cattle, not horses, remain devastating our Public Lands — but I will leave you with this — Wild Horses get along quite well within the natural Ecological Systems of the west — what does not get along well with the western Environment as a whole Natural Process is Ignorance. Yes, the hearsay and too much information blasts that circumvent true science and reality-facts, and much of the arrogantly ignorant facts about Wild Horses and rangelands above quite developed from misinformed sources — Wild Horses are good for our Public Lands, both within fire-suppression and prevention, and which good science overwhelmingly shows often — and Wild Horses good for both areas which are sensitive as well as the Great Basin Grasslands and Wilderness areas — put simply, cattle destroys these lands, and horses, despite all of the erroneous information within a couple of ignorant and long comments above, do not destroy Public Lands at all —
Regardless of what the BLM or Forest Service says, it is biologically impossible for wild horse herds to double in size every three or four years…..do the math….
20 horses, 10 are females, 4 too young or old to breed, 2 are open (don’t get pregnant regardless of breeding) 4 have foals, 2 die from predators, disease, injuries. 2 survive that foaling to maturity rate isn’t going to allow herds to double every thee or four years.
You potlickers are a bunch of cruel simple minded idiots, Do you realize how important livestock and people in agriculture are!!! I’d like to cut off all AG products for a month or so and let all you city slickin liberals suffer and realize how important Agriculture is!!! But you guys in your 15 horsepower electric cars think you know everything and need to tell us good hard working people what to do. I’v had enough of people in this country acting like a bunch a spoiled rotten idiots!!! You say that cattle ruin the environment, well that is a bunch of hogwash, for one they do not eat all of the feed and pick it right down so the wild life can’t have any, the wild life get the exact same amount of feed if not more. And you be patient and the cow pies will go away and do a lot of good!!!