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This page last updated February 08, 2009


Images From Our Grazed
Public Lands

(A Message To Congress)

Haiku Poems By
Jane Baxter, Director
Range Watch

Range Watch, a citizen watchdog group headquartered in California, monitors the health of our commercially grazed public lands and seeks better range management of these natural resources. To tell the story of what they see on public lands they document resource conditions with video, write reports with still photographs, and speak to groups of interested citizens. Many feel that this collection of haiku poems, written by their director Jane Baxter, is their best effort yet to convey to the American taxpayers what they can experience on our public lands leased by private livestock producers.

These poems are a message from the heart of someone who cares deeply about Americas commercially grazed National Forests, National Parks, wildlife refuges and BLM lands. In a very unique way, these poems tap into the reader's imagination and convey Range Watch's concerns. Jane Baxter jokingly refers to her poems as "Cow Pie Poetry" and herself as the "Unofficial Poet Laureate" of the Range Reform movement.


Haiku is a brief non-rhyming Japanese poem form of just three lines. Haiku effectively paints a word picture, capturing and preserving an experience in the natural world. Basho, the great haiku master, said "Haiku is simply what is happening in this place, at this moment." Haiku poet, James Hackett, felt of all poetry, haiku is the form which bests holds a mirror up to nature. He felt that in haiku there is a spirit of "Suchness", wherein nature is reflected just as it is.

With a total of only 17 syllables, the first line of a haiku has 5 syllables, the next line 7, then a repetition of 5 syllables for the final line. There is a rhythm created by this subtle format. Like impacts from improperly managed commercial grazing on our public lands, haiku at first appears simple but is more complex on close examination.  

Fish, wildlife and commercial grazing.

The visible fawn
trembles alone in sparse grass.
The cougar moves close.

If livestock graze meadows before the fawning season, crucial fawn-hiding cover, needed to shield the new born animals from natural predators is Iost. In this way, the vital balance of predator and prey is disturbed. Also, some biologists feel commercial cattle grazing, with its young vulnerable calves in the spring, provides an unnatural increase in food contributing to increased predator populations (e.g. cougars and coyotes) and depressed deer herds.

Snow and hungry deer.
Deer Brush, like small bonsai trees,
cattle cropped each summer.

Deer Brush is a type of Ceanothus favored as a food source by both deer and livestock. Deer can suffer from malnutrition when livestock over use their preferred browse species on deer winter range. Over-utilization of vegetation can also affect hiding cover for the deer and reduce thermal cover that provides protection from freezing winter temperatures. Cattle trampling and eating seedlings of these same plants contribute to reproduction problems the plants already suffer, related to alterations of natural fire ptttterns. Commercial livestock grazing contributes to fire-suppression-related ecological problems by reducing fuel loads.

Redberry bushes
eaten to small mounds of green,
could be tall....graceful.

Shimmering aspen.
Consumed by both cows and deer,
habitat at risk.

Aspen habitat is a very important wildlife resource and is a common fawn birthing site. An aspen grove is actually a single living unit with a common underground root system which reproduces by tender shoot growth. These shoots are favorite foods for wild deer and other hoofed species. When cattle also have access to these groves for too long a period, new aspen shoots plus the lower leaves and twigs are over-utilized, needed wildlife cover is lost, and reproduction of the grove suffers.

Caddis fly larva,
fish eggs.... all smothered in sand.
Cow hooves in the stream.

Sand and sediments are introduced into streams when cattle trample stream banks and when they consume streamside vegetation that filters out sediments during flood events. Fish eggs and the invertebrates which fish feed on, both die from lack of oxygen when they are covered by sand and sediments.

The man-made stock tank
in dry, rich wilderness, brings....
water, cows, decline.

Native animals have a natural, dynamic, balance in arid ecosystems, having adapted to a lack of water. Introduction of unnatural water sources allows cattle and other species to disrupt that balance. Ecosystem damaging installation of stock tanks in the Aldo leeopold Wilderness on the Gila National Forest in New Mexico has been proposed. Development of new facilities in designated wilderness is prohibited by federal law, but the project still moves forward.

A moving rainbow!
Bright Lahonton cutthroat trout
seen through clear water

This colorful and spectacular species of native fish, found in the Sierra Nevada, is impacted when livestock graze in or near streams where fish live. This beautiful fish is one of six native fish species in the Sierra Nevada officially listed by the federal and/or state governments as threatened or endangered.  

Recreation and livestock

The trail's been so hot!
At a swimming hole, I find
cows defecating.

In the Range Reform 94 document, the federal government has stated that the public's recreational experience is lessened by commercial cattle grazing on public lands. In most of the West, cattle grazing has far less economic impact on local economies than recreation.

Clanking cow bells toll
unwelcome cacophony.
My solitude spoiled.

Seeking wild solace,
I hike wilderness...and find
fences, feces, flies.

In the Sierra Nevada mountain range, less than 500 livestock operators can impact the recreational experience of National Forest visitors from around the world, who constitute over 70 million "recreation visitor days" annually. The economics of one forest use affects another. In the Sierra Nevada, recent research shows water and recreation to be the most important economic resources of the area. Commercial grazing negatively effects both of these economically significant public lands resources.    

Public soils at risk

On my special hill
snow damp soils.... fragile spring grass.
Then, lasting hoof scars.

Livestock grazing on damp soils can result in permanent watershed damage. When soils dry, compaction leads to increased water run off. Disturbance of the living soil crust, composed of lichens, algae, moss, fungi, and bacteria, can rob the ecosystem of both nutrients and soil stability.

Erosion awaits.
Bare earth is churned to dry dust.
Too many cow hooves.

Livestock grazing frequendy causes a loss of vegetative cover and organic materials which naturally would build up and become an important, natural part or our soils. In natural ecosystems these substances, prior to their decomposition, act as raindrop interceptors, functioning to dissipate the force of storm events, so water does not run off but is absorbed and later available for use.

Where hooves don't trample,
a carpet of pine needles
protects precious soils.

At Range Watch headquarters in a coniferous forest, natural processes create a soft hued mat of pine needles reminiscent of Japanese tatami floor mats. The scent of this needle-covered forest floor in the warm sun is seldom forgotten. Across a fence line in Sequoia National Forest, where cattle, (which are not a natural part of this ecosystem) come to the snearn to drink, it looks like an electric Mix Master has been employed on the forest soil and the protective pine needles.

Vast, bare soil abuts
ungrazed land, rich with tall grass.
The fence tells the tale.

Fence lines between "grazed and ungrazed" lands can tell a dramatic story, if you look at broad scale comparisons, since cattle have a tendency to travel right next to fences and cause intense damage immediately adjacent to them. The land that is grazed only by native animals is well protected from soil loss. The commercially grazed vast hill area of this poem is at risk from erosion because it has only sparse, shallow rooted, unpalatable species left at the end of the grazing season. Flowers, fruits, and seed-heads of preferred plants are often eaten along with their leaves and stems. The untouched, undesirable plants that are left are thus given the better chance to produce seed and become dominate. Thus plant species composition changes with livestock grazing.

The wind whips cold rain.
I watch thick soil flow downhill,
cursing man's folly.

Livestock can denude some public lands of vegetation or they can create conditions with sparse, inadequate ground cover. Soil is then expoed and vulnerable to erosion. In addition, when cattle break and trample the living crust of highly erosive, fragile soil types (low in nutrients and therefore short on root structure), damage can occur to soil orrianisms that are key to holding these poor quality soils together. When that occurs, soils at risk on steep grazed slopes can move down hill in heavy rains like viscous lava flows.  

A Visit To Monache Meadows

Wisdom of the land.
The Tabatulabal walked
gently on this earth.

This is a tribute to the Tabatulabal Native American peoples of the Kern Plateau who showed great insight in their management of the resources of Monache Meadows, in the southern Sierra Nevada. Prior to commercial grazing this huge meadow complex, which stretches for miles, must have been an ecological show place.

Sage brush flats replace
what was Monache Meadows.
Man....cattle... short sight.

Protective vegetation on the South Fork of the Kern River has been impacted by commercial grazing. Storm events have eroded the bare, unprotected, livestock denuded river banks. Erosion has cut the river lower. Meadow moisture now is drained down to this new lower level, and meadow vegetation needing moisture is now gone, replaced by sagebrush. Ranchers, fish, fishermen, wildlife, hunters, birds, bird watchers, communities of native plants, and native plant buffs all lose. With proper range management, rest, or restoration they all gain.

Balanced for eons
taking giving to the land.
Now, just grinding pits

For centuries, the plants and wildlife of Monanche meadows supped the needs of the Tabatulabal peoples without being depleted.

Riding proud horses,
ranchers whom I like pass by.
We each love this land.

Can we stretch this wounded, but still spectacular place to be both my wild refuge and their cattle pasture?    

Meadows and commercial grazing

The silent meadow
no longer hosts the sounds of
sweet singing songbirds.

When not properly managed, cattle browse on willows, aspen, cottonwoods, and other riparian shrubs and tirtes. The livestock eat and trample young seedlings, leaving no reproduction, especially of the more palatable plants. Livestock also physically bump into and disturb bird nests in meadow and streamside vegetation. Brown -headed cowbirds, associated with cattle, parasitise the nests of dozens of species of songbirds, increasing cattle-related impacts to riparian songbird habitat.

Ungrazed meadows boast
chest high grass, reeds, and rushes.
Grazed, they show my foot.

A current federal study matches commercially grazed Sequoia National Fbrest meadows with similar meadows in Sequoia National Park that have not been commercially grazed for over seventy-five years. The differences are dramatically obvious.

The land is wounded.
Short grasses, gullied meadows.
Bare stream banks bleed soil.

Mountain meadows are one of the most ecological and economically important public land resources. Meadows support important fisheries in their streams and, according to a recent California Department of Fish and Game document, anglers spend $1.7 billion on sport fishing in California alone. Meadows are also key deer habit. According to a University Of California-Davis study, deer hunting and viewing in California is estimated to contribitte $455 million annually to the state's economy (and citizens) and support 10,500 jobs.    

Streams and livestock

There is no beauty.
The stream, now devoid of plants
runs shallow...slow....wide.

Sterile, barren, stream.
We climb the rock outcrop, then.....
ungrazed paradise!

When Range Watch explored McFarland Creek on Sequoia National Forest, they found cattle-trampled bare banks below a granite bedrock area, but above it, in a cattle-inaccessible stretch of stream, was lush, impenetrable, head-high dogwood, alders and Sierra currents.

Once deep and narrow,
the stream runs broad and sluggish.
Sun heats its water.

When riparian plants are eaten or trampled, there is no vegetative canopy left to shade the stream or provide a "living lid" that would reduce evaporating. Direct sunlight on the stream surface can raise temperatures past the maximum tolerable for trout and invertebrate egg hatch.

Stately old alders,
shade my favorite trout stream.
No young trees survive.

On Poso Creek, where the Range Watch headquarters are located, there are only old mature alder trees with no young seedlings surviving along the cattle-grazed parts of the stream. On private stretches of the stream or in areas where rock outcrops keep cattle from eating seedlings, there is good regeneration of alden The Forest Service insists that the bare, unvegetated, grazed areas, where no new alders are surviving, are normal functioning areas but are just "different" from the adjacent ungrazed ecosystems with lush vegetation.  

The Wonder Of Public Lands

With work, one can graze
this public land of ours right
and reap the harvest.

Sierra sunrise!
Our vast magnificent lands.
Rich public treasure.

Each generation
managing our public lands,
holds a vital trust.

Good decisions now
could make sound public land for
our children's children.

Use some ...and save some
of our public resources.
Think of the future.

Other Images

Today I saw hope
Ranchers using public lands
In sound, caring ways.

Rangelands aren't just dry sage brush!
Trout streams...wilderness.

Few members of the public realize that commercial grazing often takes place in their National Forest Giant Sequoia Groves, our public wildlife refuges, designated wilderness areas, National Parks, in coastal redwood groves along Big Sur, high alpine meadows, or fragile desert habitat where it can take over 300 acres to suport just one cow or steer.

Forest Service staff
said "Rest this ill creek one year".
The rancher chose two.

There are millions of acres of public lands that have been and are currently being damaged by poorly managed commercial livestock production. However there is a small group of ranchers out there who are good examples to others about balancing their economic needs with the needs of the public resources they graze. This particular rancher in the poem grazes on the Plumas National Forest. Ranchers like this should take the lead in helping educate other ranchers about how it is to their economic benefit to heal damaged lands and use improved science based management techniques to keep rangeland resources healthy.

Resilient resource.
Most grazed earth can heal itself,
rested from abuse.

Healing raw steep banks
using natural willows,
the rancher took pride.

Subtle but severe.....
grazing damage overlooked.
Clear cuts cry from space.

This poem depicts the oddity that most grazing damage needs an "up close and personal" look while the impacts from logging can be seen from outer space. We are used to seeing grazing impacts because nearly all the uplands, streams and meadows we visit have been commercially grazed at some time. Thus, grazing impacts often escape the uneducated eye at first glance. We need to look for what is not there (like missing vegetation and complex species composition) as well as what is there which should not be there (like stren sediments, and plant species that indicate disturbance).

The public must learn
to mourn the lost resources
they have never seen.

In the West, we hardly ever see natural ungrazed ecosystems. The public needs to understand that poorly managed livestock grazing has caused the loss of healthy meadows, fast flowing shaded streams, once lush riparian forests, irreplaceable soils, fish species, generous numbers of big horn sheep, and habitats with dense native plants, and much more. The public deserves proper science based management of our commercially grazed public lands in the future.    

About the author

Jane Baxter lived briefly in a small Japanese village when she was seventeen. She has been writing haiku poems to express thoughts and feelings ever since. Now, her concern for the health of our commercial grazed western pubic lands has been captured in haiku form.

She grew up steeped in western traditions, with a deep love of our western public lands. Her grand-mother's family homesteaded a cattle ranch in Oklahoma. She was the daughter of the historian for Rancheros Visitadores, a group of horsemen interested in keeping the early California cattle ranching traditions alive. At the age of eight, she watched as her very own calf was born on a ranch where she begged the family to vacation each year. Her alder smoked beef ribs, cooked in her remote, streamside, mountain home are famous among beef lovers. Despite her love of the "old west" she works doggedly, within the system, to seek a sustainable "new west" where commercial cattle and sheep grazing is properly managed on public lands and provides a fair financial return to the public.

She is a B&B Innkeeper in a remote area of the southern Sierra Nevada, next to Sequoia National Forest where her property is surrounded by a commercial cattle grazing allotment. Disturbed by grazing impacts she saw on public lands, she founded Range Watch, a grassroots organization of taxpayers from throughout the country. Range Watch documents damaged resources found on commercially grazed public lands and shares what they find with the public. The images in these poems were first captured on video, a medium Range Watch uses to monitor the health of our public lands.  

The Facts

According to the federal government's Range Reform 94 Environmental Impact Statement, sheep ranchers and only about 3% of American beef producers graze 270 million acres of western public lands. The same document indicates Federal lands account for only 11% of the overall annual feed requirements for sheep operators. Each year, commercial grazing on public lands costs the American public, economically as well as ecologically.

Estimates of the annual costs of this program to the US Treasure vary. The Committee On Government Operations place the costs for just basic operations at $150 million a year. According to a recent report by the House Committee on Natural Resources, beneficiaries of the program pay only 25% of program costs. American taxpayers pay the other 75% of the expenses. Costly repair of resource damage is accounted separately, as well as other expensive federal programs designed to support public lands grazers.

According to Range Reform '94 documents, in 1993 the average monthly cost to graze private lands in the west was $10.03 for 5 sheep or a cow plus her calf. Government records show livestock operators grazing our public lands paid only $1.86 in 1993 and just $1.61 in 1995.

The public suffers a substantial economic and environmental loss each year to allow fewer than 23,000 livestock operators to graze vast acreage of our western public lands. Range Reform is necessary for the public to get a fair return for their tax dollar. Our land managers must start to hold ranchers responsible for utilizing the latest and best scientifically based range management practices. They must also protect our public natural resources from further livestock damage.  

Public Lands Need Your Help Now!

The "Livestock Grazing Act" being considered by congress is a travesty to American taxpayers and public land users. It is an ill conceived and lopsided proposal which will lead to continued overgrazing and will prevent public participation in sound management of our public lands. It must be opposed. It undermines the public's ability to use and enjoy public lands. It will make grazing the dominate use of our wesern public lands, overriding public use policies. It will cause an already unaccptabie situation to rapidly grow worse. Urge your senators and congressmen to oppose this bill.

This is a very important time for your western public lands which belong to all Americans and are not just the turf of a few thousand livestock operators. Send a message to President Clinton that Americans don't want to see dangerous, poor management direction for commercial grazing on our public lands established in this bill. If passed by congress, President Clinton must veto this bill. Call the White House Opinion Phone line: (202) 456-1111 or Fax: (202) 456-246l.

Please get involved in preserving our public land legacy.

For More Information Contact:
Range Watch

Rural Route 1, Box 450
Posey, California
(805) 536-8668