The numbers speak for themselves. The two most popular recent subjects that I’ve written about in my blog have been the ecological issues associated with cattle and sheep grazing and the negative impact of lethal predator eradication. I’ve now decided to explore sound ecological answers to these two issues that might make sense to everyone. Certainly a tall order. I’ve been looking for examples of people who have been able to resolve these issues successfully and holistically. There are some wonderful stories out there and I’d like to share some of these stories with you. In this blog post, I’ll write about success with the holistic management of cattle and sheep grazing. Later, I’ll write about successes with non-lethal predator control. And, in the course of doing my research, I discovered some success stories in other ecosystems which I want to share with you.
Recently, I wrote about the negative ecological impact of grazing . It is a very controversial issue because the ecological impact of grazing is severe and some grazing is on public lands where the US taxpayer is subsidizing the rancher. Thus the term “welfare ranching”.
The ecological impact of grazing that I reviewed in my recent blog is summarized as:
- To control cows and sheep, fences are used. Fences prohibit or inhibit the free passage of wild animals, reducing their access to food and water as well as isolating subpopulations.
- Cattle grazing has completely changed the soil structure and primary plant species in most Southwest riparian zones. In turn, this has adversely affected populations of local and migrating birds, animals that live near a river, and fish who live in the rivers.
- Cattle grazing has resulted in some 464 million acres of land becoming arid desert.
- Cattle grazing has reduced the density and biomass of many plant and animal species.
- Cattle grazing has reduced biodiversity.
- Cattle grazing has aided in the spread of exotic invasive species.
- Cattle grazing impedes the cycling of soil nitrogen.
- Cattle grazing changes habitat structure and disturbs community organization.
- Cattle and sheep ranching has resulted in a huge draw on water reserves.
The financial impact to the taxpayer, who subsidizes welfare ranching, is heavy. Federal permittees pay only $1.35 per month to graze a single cow-calf pair on public lands while the average monthly cost of grazing per cow-calf pair on private lands is $11.10. In addition, subsidies to the rancher for predator and pest control, drought and fire damage, further make the endeavor even more profitable to the rancher. For the year 2001, beyond any income derived from welfare ranching, it cost the taxpayer an estimated $72 million for Bureau of Land Management’s Range Management Program. For the year 2000, the US Forest Service Program paid out over $52 million. According to a Government Accountability Office report in 2005, grazing fees generated less than one-sixth of the expenditures needed by the government to manage grazing on public lands in 2004.
Most ranching on public lands is with larger, corporate operations. Because federal grazing permits are not retired, those permits that are no longer used by smaller operations are simply bought up by the larger operations. It is simple economics why corporations use public lands.
Hopefully, this corporate abuse of a precious ecosystem and taxpayer dollars will end while the land and wildlife can still recover. There is a glimmer of hope as I did further research. The two major issues are environmental and economic.
“..an international environmental education non-governmental organization headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who works with stewards of large landscapes (agricultural producers, pastoralists and government agencies) to help them partner with Nature to create a positive ecological footprint. Through improved natural resource management practices, these managers improve soil health, which results in a host of benefits including improved water quality, carbon sequestration, drought mitigation, flood resilience, and food security.“
“One of the key insights of Holistic Management is Nature functions in wholes, therefore we must manage the relationships within that whole for the benefit of all. With Holistic Management we accomplish this by determining the whole we are managing and working with all the resources in it through a decision-making framework that encourages that whole to act as a self-organizing system – humans adapting their management in response to the changes happening in their resource base.“
You can read more detail about the efforts at HMI at:
The results of Holistic Management efforts have been documented in research performed by scientists from Montana State University, Ohio State University, and North Dakota State University. They have verified some of the changes on grazing land where Holistic Management is practiced such as:
- 300% increase in plant species
- 400% increase in stocking rate
- 50% decrease in bare ground
- 800% increase in soil permeability
- 300% increase in profitability
- 500% increase in riparian bird population
- 900% increase in rooting depth of plants
I am sure there are other organizations that are available to oversee the holistic management of lands used for grazing. The technology seems to be in place. It seems to me that the problem may be in the implementation. This requires cooperative ranchers. I don’t get the feeling, however, that holistic ranching is widespread.
In my view, the solution to the ecological and economic issues surrounding grazing, at least on public lands, is with how our government deals with ranchers. As a condition for using public lands for grazing, Government agencies must require that the ranchers keep the land whole, both ecologically and economically. The rancher must become financially responsible for meeting the environmental goals established by groups such as HMI. Furthermore, the rancher must start paying fees to the government that are consistent with the costs incurred by the government organizations who are responsible to we taxpayers for preserving the health of the land and for maintaining a positive flow of funds into our government’s coffers.
It is time to end welfare ranching !!!! These people are breaking important connections in Nature and asking the government to foot the bill.
What do you think ??
Worth Your Extra Attention :
Thanks for reading this blog post.
Here are some useful references about grazing and welfare ranching.
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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.