If you’ve ever seen the trampling just a few cows can do to fragile cryptobiotic soil, a slow-growing, living desert crust, a new report on the impact of livestock grazing on public lands in the West will come as no surprise. According to a new study released today by WildEarth Guardians, across the Great Basin and beyond, wildlife is under threat by cattle and sheep farming, which have caused more destruction than mining and energy extraction and, despite grazing fees, cost the federal government millions annually.
Here are some of the key findings of “Western Wildlife Under Hoof”.
• Nearly all of the West’s surface waters have been polluted by livestock waste, mostly in the form of giardia and bacteria.
• Over the last 1,000 years, livestock grazing has had a larger impact on Great Basin lands than any other agenct.
• 99 percent of the West’s sagebrush steppe has been affected by grazing.
• Grazing has contributed to the demise of 22 percent of threatened and endangered species, compared to 12 percent for logging and 11 percent for mining.
• The U.S. Government spends $100 million annually in grazing subsidies.
• In 2004, it spent $144 million managing private grazing on public lands, but collected only $21 million in fees, for a loss of $123 million a year.
• The total cost to BLM and Forest Service (direct and indirect) could be $500 million to $1 billion a year.
• More than 71,000 predators were killed in 2007 by the Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to protect livestock. Annual program cost is $5 million to $8 million.
Think all this goes to feed the nation? The United States gets less than 3 percent of its American-grown beef from grazing on public lands. Florida raises more beef than Wyoming. Half of the grazing permit holders are hobbyists who do not rely on ranching for the livelihood.
The 47-page report is a powerful indictment of the farce of public lands grazing and it well worth perusing (read it in PDF here). Unfortunately, it’s long on conclusions—a great start—but short on solutions, with just two pages and two suggestions devoted to stemming the damage. Certainly, increased protecting under the Endangered Species Act will help the trout, falcons, tortoises, prairie dogs, wolves, and other critters under threat. And the retirement of grazing permits has been a successful market-oriented solution. Both more analysis, costs, and an action plan are needed. When do permits retire and who buys them out (sometimes it’s the feds, sometimes its enviro groups)? What are the areas most in need of reclamation? “Western Wildlife Under Hoof” is a great start, but it’s just that—a start.