Draft 1
John Carter  Willow Creek Ecology, Inc.  P.O. Box 280, Mendon Utah 84325
01/13/01

 

Livestock and Water Quality

 

Introduction

 

The feeding, housing and grazing of livestock throughout the U.S. is a pervasive presence.  Watershed and water quality degradation accompany this industry and affect nearly every water body in the U.S.  Government regulation is inconsistent and ineffective at controlling these problems.  This discussion explores the scope of the problem nationally but provides a focus on one problem area that for a variety of reasons is not addressed in any meaningful fashion by government agencies.  This is the influence of livestock on our Public Lands, their watersheds and water quality, particularly in the eleven contiguous western states.

 

The Scope of the Problem

 

The Environmental Defense fund summarized statistics from the 1997 U.S. Department of Agriculture Census of Agriculture (EDF 2000).  The amount of animal manure and urine generated in the United States on an annul basis is staggering.  Table 1 provides a summary of the waste generated and the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous contained in that waste by type of livestock. A further summary of livestock in the eleven western states is shown in Table 2.  Cattle are by far the largest generators of waste, producing about 3.5 tons/year for every man, woman and child in the U.S.

 

Table 1.  Summary of Animal Wastes in the United States

Livestock

Type

Number

Waste

tons/yr

Nitrogen

in Waste

tons/yr

Phosphorous

in Waste

tons/yr

Hogs

57,450,288

110,000,000

650,000

225,000

Cattle

99,275,900

750,000,000

4,100,000

1,000,000

Poultry

1,316,425,230

50,000,000

650,000

205,000

Sheep

7,588,377

3,000,000

32,000

6,500

Total

1,480,739,795

913,000,000

5,432,000

1,436,500

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table 2.  Livestock waste generated in the eleven western states

State

Cattle Waste tons/yr

Sheep Waste tons/yr

Hog Waste

tons/yr

Poultry Waste tons/yr

Arizona

6,900,000

30,000

17,000

400

California

51,000,000

310,000

380,000

2,800,000

Colorado

19,000,000

230,000

850,000

1,600

Idaho

15,000,000

100,000

55,000

820

Montana

19,000,000

170,000

290,000

5,800

Nevada

4,100,000

36,000

2,300

210

New Mexico

13,000,000

120,000

11,000

540

Oregon

11,000,000

110,000

60,000

78,000

Utah

7,000,000

170,000

550,000

21,000

Washington

11,000,000

21,000

69,000

230,000

Wyoming

11,000,000

280,000

150,000

520

Totals

168,000,000

1,577,000

2,434,300

3,138,890

 

Cattle waste exceeds all others by approximately 100-fold in these states and the total waste generated by all forms of livestock comprises about 18% of the national livestock waste stream. 

 

According to GAO (1995) in their 1992 National Water Quality Inventory Reports to Congress, eighteen states reported on agricultural non-point pollution by specific categories.  These categories and their percent of agriculturally impaired stream miles were feedlots (26%), rangeland (25%), irrigated cropland (42%) and non-irrigated cropland (31%).  Manure accounts for significant percentages of the nitrogen and phosphorous inputs to watersheds across the country.  For example in the western United States, manure accounted for 39 percent of phosphorous and 53 percent of nitrogen input to watersheds.   Statistical studies also indicated that increases in stream loadings of these nutrients are correlated with increases in the concentration of livestock populations in the watersheds (GAO 1995).

 

Public concern has been raised by the occurrence of drinking water contamination, fish kills, shellfish contamination, swimming advisories, nuisance odors and the links of these problems to agricultural practices.  According to EPA (1998a), “AFO[1] activities can cause a range of environmental and public health problems, including oxygen depletion and disease transmission in surface water, pathogens and nutrient contamination in surface and ground water, methane emissions to the air, and excessive buildup of toxins, metals and nutrients in soil. ... AFOs have also been identified as substantial contributors of nutrients (e.g. nitrogen and phosphorous) in water bodies that have experienced severe anoxia (i.e. , low levels of dissolved oxygen) or outbreaks of microbes, such as Pfiesteria piscidia.”  In 1991, a billion fish died from a Pfiesteria bloom in North Carolina’s Neuse River Estuary (Burkholder 1999).

 

EPA efforts to address environmental and health concerns from AFOs and  CAFOs[2] began in the 1970’s.  These efforts have included issuing permits under the Clean Water Act and promoting voluntary efforts among livestock producers to limit pollution.  These efforts have not worked, the problem persists and has intensified as the size and numbers of these operations have increased.   “Evidence suggests that EPA’s regulatory and voluntary efforts to date have been insufficient to solve the environmental and health problems associated with AFOs.  Agricultural practices in the United States are estimated to contribute to the impairment of 60 percent of the nation’s surveyed rivers and streams; 50 percent of the Nation’s surveyed lakes, ponds, and reservoirs; and 34% of the Nation’s surveyed estuaries...” (EPA 1998a).  EPA estimates that feedlots alone adversely impact 16% of impaired waters.  This indicates that land application of manure and grazing of livestock on private and public lands contributes a majority of this pollution.  While the Federal Water Pollution Control Act in 1972 designated feedlots as point sources, the FWPCA amendments of 1972 excluded agricultural storm water discharges and return flows from irrigated agriculture from NPDES permitting.  Pastures and rangeland were also excluded, although a recent appellate court ruled that runoff from cropland used for disposal of manure from a facility designated as a point source was also a point source (Martin 1997).    After nearly a 30 year delay, EPA is requiring states to establish  Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) under Section 303D of the 1972 Clean Water Act.  A TMDL is a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body can receive from both point and non-point sources and still meet water quality standards, and an allocation of that amount to the pollutant's sources.

 

Current EPA strategy to address this growing problem is focused on increased permitting of CAFOs and  operations including the land application of manure from permitted facilities, focus on priority watersheds based on the number of CAFOs, AFOs and AUs, revise existing regulations and increase coordination with other Federal and State agencies and agriculture, and promotion of voluntary efforts, many of which provide money to operators to implement best management practices (EPA 1998a).  For example during 1992 – 1994, $89 million was provided to farmers for these voluntary assistance programs. GAO (1995) also reported there are about 6,600 CAFOs with more than 1000 AUs in the U.S. Between 1987 and 1992 the number of animal units in the U.S. increased by about 4.5 million, or 3% with a decrease in AFOs and an increase in CAFOs, or the larger operations. (EPA 1998a).

 

 “According to EPA, many operations with more than 1,000 animal unit equivalents are not required to have point source permits because they do not discharge during most storm events; others should have permits but do not because of  mistaken exemptions or limited federal or state resources for identifying operations needing permits.” GAO (1995).

 

The five leading causes of water quality impairment of rivers are in order:  (1) siltation, (2) nutrients, (3) bacteria, (4) oxygen-depleting substances and (5) pesticides.  The five leading sources of impairment in order are:  (1) agriculture, (2) municipal point sources, (3) hydrologic modification, (4) habitat modification and (5) resource extraction.  Habitat modification includes such factors as destruction of  watershed and streamside vegetation with the accompanying instream changes.  Hydrologic modification includes flow reduction such as irrigation withdrawals (EPA 1998b) and changes in flow duration and timing.

 

The Federal government owns approximately 316 million acres of land in the 11 contiguous western states.

Of these, 174 million acres of Bureau of Land Management land (Carlson and Horning, 1992) and 95 million acres of  Forest Service (FS) land are grazed by livestock (USDA 1996).  In addition, 212 million private acres are grazed by livestock (Armour et al 1991).  Livestock grazed on BLM lands in 1994  included 7,639,992 cattle and horses and 8,587,695 sheep and goats (BLM 1996).  Animals grazed on Forest Service land in 1989 included 1,150,565 cattle, horses and burros and 1,035,472 sheep and goats (USDA 1990).

 

Armour et al (1991) presented startling figures on watershed, wildlife habitat and riparian conditions.  According to their analysis, 52 million acres of big game habitat, 100 million acres of small game and non-game habitat on BLM lands have declined in quality and 19,000 miles of sport fishing streams have declined due to land management practices including livestock grazing.  They indicate similar losses on western National Forests (41 million acres) and private rangeland (134 million acres.)  Fleischner (1994) pointed out that the ecological costs of livestock grazing include loss of biodiversity, declining populations, disruption of ecosystem functions, changes in community organization and change in the physical characteristics of terrestrial and aquatic habitats.  Platts (1991) stated, “Many streams in the west are in their present degraded condition partly because many small annual effects have accumulated to become major detriments to fisheries; western streams reflect a century of these activities.  The literature well demonstrates, however, that improper livestock grazing degrades streams and their riparian habitats.”

 

Effects of Livestock Grazing on Stream Ecosystems

 

One cannot address stream ecosystem effects of livestock grazing without a recognition of the interwoven and connected nature of watersheds, riparian zones, streams and watershed activities.  Activities affecting watersheds or riparian zones also affect stream ecosystems directly, indirectly and cumulatively.  Several recent reviews of livestock impacts on ecosystems have covered this topic in detail using hundreds of government documents and peer-reviewed scientific papers.  These have included Armour et al (1991), Belsky et al, (1999), Fleischner (1994), Gregory et al (1991), Kauffmann and Kreuger (1984) and Platts (1991).  The following discussion is drawn to a large degree from these references.

 

It is first important to understand that there is no portion of a watershed that is not connected to its riparian and stream ecosystem.  It was said extremely well by Gregory et al (1991); “More than any other ecosystem, the structure and processes of lotic ecosystems are determined by their interface with adjacent ecosystems.  The narrow, ribbon-like networks of streams and rivers intricately dissect the landscape, accentuating the interaction between aquatic and surrounding terrestrial ecosystems.  Along this interface, aquatic and terrestrial communities interact along steep gradients of ecosystem properties.  The linear nature of lotic ecosystems enhances the importance of riparian zones in landscape ecology.  River valleys connect montane headwaters with lowland terrains, providing avenues for the transfer of water, nutrients, sediment, particulate organic matter and organisms.  These fluxes are not solely in a downstream direction.  Nutrients, sediments and organic matter move laterally and are deposited onto floodplains, as well as  being transported off the land into the stream.  River valleys are important routes for the dispersal of plants and animals, both upstream and downstream, and provide corridors for migratory species.”  It is this interconnectedness that is often overlooked by land managers.  Thus, roads, timber harvests, livestock grazing and other watershed activities also affect streams that appear to be distant and unconnected to these activities.

 

Within uplands, soil, plant and animal communities developed and evolved over long periods of time and exist in a state of dynamic equilibrium with climatic and geologic forces.  The soils and associated plant communities and plant litter absorb precipitation and allow it to percolate into the groundwater, reducing flooding and erosion.  Animals and microorganisms work and aerate the soil and break down organic matter, maintaining the carbon and nutrient cycles upon which the ecosystem depends.  The removal of vegetation and trampling by livestock denudes and compacts the soil, promoting drying, heating and alteration of the biological community.  Precipitation is less effectively captured by the soil and runs off, carrying away the topsoil.  In areas of the Bear River Range in northern Utah, as a result of livestock grazing, topsoil loss has approached one or two feet (Winward, 1999).  This alteration in the watershed results in more rapid delivery of storm or snowmelt runoff into watercourses, carrying with it increased sediment and nutrient loads.  This increase in runoff reduces the amount of water infiltrating into the ground and depletes the groundwater, resulting in lowered water tables and desertification.  The net result for the stream ecosystem is a change in the duration and timing of inflows and decreased summer baseflows from the loss of late season groundwater inputs.

 

The riparian zone creates well-defined habitats within the drier surrounding landscape.  While they make up a small portion of the overall area, riparian zones are generally more productive in plant and animal biomass than the surrounding areas and are high in diversity.  Kauffmann et al (1984) point out examples of riparian diversity in a study area in Oregon.  Within the area, 258 stands of riparian vegetation represented 60 discrete plant communities.  They cite (Cummins and Spengler, 1978) that riparian vegetation provides up to 90% of the organic matter necessary to support headwater stream communities and Cummins (1974) that 99% of stream energy input may be imported from bordering riparian vegetation and only 1% derived from instream photosynthesis.  Further, woody debris derived from riparian tree and shrub communities is important in slowing the stream, reducing energy and controlling erosion.  It also provides diversity of habitats in small streams, helping create pools, settling out sediment, providing substrate for invertebrates and cover for fish.  In addition, riparian vegetation provides shading for the stream, consequently lowering stream temperatures and providing cover for fish.

 

Gregory et al (1991) note that dissolved nutrients are transported into streams primarily in the groundwater.  Because of the riparian zone position within the watershed, it intercepts the soil solution as it passes through the rooting zone prior to entering the stream.  Riparian zones also contribute seasonal pulses of dissolved constituents derived from plant litter into streams.  Thus the riparian zone functions to remove nutrients and modify inputs to the stream.  Citing  Peterjohn and Correll (1984) they noted that riparian forests were responsible for removal of more than three-quarters of the dissolved nitrate transported from croplands into a Maryland river.  Because of their unique position at the interface between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, riparian zones play a critical role in controlling the flow of nutrients from watersheds.

 

Within streams organic inputs from the terrestrial ecosystem such as leaves, litter, woody debris, insects and photosynthesis provide the food or energy base supporting the aquatic biota.  Algae, bacteria and fungi use organic substrates, nutrients and light for growth.   Invertebrates process plant and other organic material, algae and microbes.  Fish are adapted at various lifestages from larval to juvenile to adult to use these sources of energy in their different forms.  Many other forms of life including birds and mammals also depend upon these various organisms as a food source.

 

Livestock can interrupt the balance of this dynamic and diverse system by removing vegetation from upland areas resulting in compaction of soils which increases runoff, removal of vegetation which increases temperature and promotes drying of soils, the lowering of water quality in streams, increasing temperature in streams.  Removal of streamside vegetation  reduces in-stream cover, changes stream channel morphology, shape and quality of water column and the structure of streambank soil. These changes result in changes in stream biota.  The following describe the direct and indirect effects of these alterations in the terrestrial ecosystem on the physical, chemical and biological components of stream ecosystems.

 

Stream Channel Morphology

 

The removal of riparian vegetation has severe effects on stream channel characteristics. Streambank stability is reduced due to fewer plant roots to anchor soil, less plant cover to protect the soil surface from erosion, disturbance and the shear force of trampling hooves.  Impacts include increased streambank sloughing, increased erosion, increased channel width and reduced depth.  Streambank undercuts are reduced due to streambank breakdown by sloughing and trampling.The stream channel contains fewer meanders and gravel bars due to increased water velocity.  Pools decrease in number and quality from increased sediment and loss of woody debris (Belsky et al 1999).  Marcuson (1977) found average channel width in a grazed area to be 53 meters and in an adjacent ungrazed area 18.6 meters while the ungrazed area had 686 meter/km of undercut banks and the grazed area only 224 meters/km.  Duff (1979) found the stream channel width in a grazed area was 173% greater than the stream channel not grazed for 8 years.  Platts (1991) stated, “When animals graze directly on streambanks, mass erosion from trampling, hoof slide and streambank collapse causes soil to move directly into the stream.

 

The loss of stream channel integrity and diversity results in impacts to fish populations.  For example, Marcuson (1977) studied the difference in habitat and fish populations in grazed and ungrazed stream sections.  The study documented 80% more stream alteration in the grazed area than in an adjacent ungrazed area with the grazed area losing 11 acres of  a 120 acre pasture.  The ungrazed section produced 256 more pounds of fish per acre than the grazed section. An exclosure study  of a ¼ mile section of Big Creek , Utah after three years documented 3.6 times more fish in the ungrazed section than in the grazed reach downstream.  Habitat studies showed the habitat inside the exclosure recovered significantly while areas outside the exclosure continued to decline under continued livestock use.  Instream bank stabilization and habitat structures washed out in grazed areas but remained functional and in place within the exclosure.  Native willows showed vigor and regrowth after four years rest (Duff 1977).

 

Sedimentation

 

Sediment load and turbidity increase from watershed inputs, instream trampling, disturbance and erosion from denuded streambanks, reduced sediment trapping by riparian and instream vegetation, loss of bank stability and increased peak flows from compaction. Fine sediments increase in depositional environments (pools, quiet water areas)  from the increased erosion.  White et al (1983) found sediment yield 20-fold higher in a grazed watershed when compared to an ungrazed watershed.  USDA (1981) reported that topsoil erosion rates from grazed forest and rangeland were 4.2 tons/acre-year and 3.1 tons/acre-year compared to less than 1 ton for healthy forest and range.  Packer (1998) documented that loss of soil in Utah and Idaho watersheds through erosion and runoff increased as ground cover decreased.  A decrease in ground cover from 40% to 16% resulted in 6 times more runoff and 5.4 times more sediment yield.  Belsky et al (1999) cite Trimble and Mendel (1995) who estimated that peak storm runoff from a 120 ha basin in Arizona would be 2 to 3 times greater when heavily grazed than when lightly grazed.

 

Sediments cover and fill rocky substrates, entomb eggs and larval fish and hinder emergence of hatched fish.  Water flow in gravel is impaired, developing embryos do not receive sufficient oxygen and metabolic wastes are not flushed.   Foraging succes of aquatic organisms is reduced, fish migration can be disrupted, gill and respiratory systems of invertebrates and fish can be impaired. Species composition and numbers of  invertebrates are changed by increased sedimentation and resultant habitat changes.  Pools can be filled, dam and reservoir capacity reduced and filtration costs for domestic water supplies increased. Belsky et al (1999).  Mortality for rainbow trout can exceed 75% when water column sediment concentrations approached 200 ppm.  When sediment approaches 30% of substrate, <25% of eggs develop to emergence compared to >75% at sediment fractions <20% (Armour et al 1991). 

 

Streamflow

 

As discussed above, overland flow increases due to reduced water infiltration into soils from compaction and loss of ground cover.  This increases sheet and rill erosion and flooding.  Groundwater recharge is reduced and the water table is lowered.  Peak flows increase from larger runoff volumes flowing directly into the channel.  Higher peak flows increase water velocity due to reduced resistance from streambank and instream vegetation and woody debris.  The increased erosive energy results in downcutting, removal of submerged vegetation and woody debris for pool formation and reduced habitat diversity.  Summer and late season flows are decreased due to less water stored in soil and lowered water table. The end result is loss of aquatic and riparian species, perennial streams become ephemeral and ephemeral streams are lost.  Belsky et al (1999).

 

Nutrients

 

Nutrient concentrations increase as a result of runoff from disturbed watersheds, livestock urine and manure deposited on the watershed and in the stream.  Nutrients are concentrated in reduced quantities of water (Belsky et al 1999).  Saxon et al (1983) documented increases in runoff from more heavily grazed pastures when compared to those with less pressure.  They suggested a linear relationship between runoff volume and nutrient loss.  Hubbard et al (1987) studied runoff from land application of dairy cattle wastes.  Nutrient concentrations in runoff were directly related to the application rate of dairy wastes.  Schepers et al (1982) found that precipitation, stocking rate, hydrologic characteristics and sediment content in runoff were directly related to nutrient and chemical outputs.  From leachate tests, they suggested that manure and standing plant material were the likely sources of most chemical constituents in runoff water.

 

Temperature

 

The widening of stream channels, lowered summer water flows, loss of streamside vegetation, undercut banks and their shading effect result in warming of the water due to increased solar exposure. Removal of streamside vegetation in the hot, arid west can result in stream water temps >85 F (Armour et al 1991)   Claire and Storch (1983) cited in Platts (1991) found that willow cover in an ungrazed area within a livestock exclosure provided 75% more shade to the stream than was found in the adjacent grazed area where willows were less abundant.   Streams with little or no vegetative canopy are very susceptible to the formation of anchor ice Platts (1991).

 

Impacts of increased temperature include increased evaporation and salinity and a poor to lethal environment for salmonids and other temperature sensistive cold-water species.   Fish growth is reduced due to an increased metabolic rate and supression in appetite. High temperatures can be acutely lethal, promote disease because of increased stress, adversely impact spawning and reproductive success and impede growth and migration (Armour et al 1991).  These factors and increased competition from warm water fish which are more temperature tolerant can bring a shift from salmonids to non-game fish.  Belsky et al (1991).

 

Dissolved Oxygen

 

Dissolved oxygen levels decline due to higher water temperatures which lower the oxygen holding capacity of water.  Algal blooms deplete oxygen by respiration at night or high oxygen demand for decomposition of  algae and fecal material.  This lowered oxygen environment means insufficient oxygen in spawning gravels, reduced rate of food consumption, growth and survival of salmonids and other aquatic species, especially at their early life stages.  Belsky et al (1999).

 

Pathogens

 

Pell (1997) in a review of 60 peer-reviewed scientific papers summarized major pathogens and health effects associated with dairy wastes.  Numerous organisms causing health effects in humans from gasteroenteritis to death were discussed.  Protozoan species including Cryptosporidium and Giardia; bacteria species including Salmonella, Ecoli O157:H7, Brucella, Leptospira, Chlamydia, Rickettsia, Listeria, Yersinia, and others were discussed.  Cryptosporidium oocysts in the Milwaukee water supply in 1993 affected 403,000 people.  E. Coli O157:H7 is of concern because many outbreaks have been traced to ground beef and raw milk.  E. coli O157:H7 can lead to kidney failure and death in some individuals.  Pell (1997) said, “Aside from the problem of disease transmission among animals, more than 150 pathogens can cause zoonotic infections (from animals to humans).

 

Fecal coliform bacteria are a group of bacteria that reside in the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals and are used as indicators of water pollution related to waterborne disease (EPA 1976).  Cattle have been shown to produce 5.4 billion fecal coliform and 31 billion fecal streptococcus bacteria in their feces per day.  Since cattle spend a significant portion of their time in or near streams, lakes and wetland areas and average 12 defecations per day, they can contribute significant numbers of these organisms to surface waters (Howard et al 1983).

 

Why Stream Health Problems Persist

 

In spite of the documentation of the level of watershed and habitat damage, and water pollution, public lands agencies universally protect the livestock industry, persist in denial about the negative effects of livestock on the landscape and engage in obfuscation when confronted with evidence.  Agriculture and its non-point pollution have been effectively exempted from environmental regulation by delay, lack of monitoring and enforcement. The bottom line is that little change comes about in the face of the ongoing damage.  GAO (1988) found that grazing levels were not reduced on some allotments due to permittee and political pressure. EPA admits that regulatory and voluntary efforts to date have been insufficient to solve the environmental and health problems associated with AFOs (EPA 1998a).  Many environmental advocates and scientists have worked on these issues, providing overwhelming documentation of the problems.  Willow Creek Ecology, Inc., a Utah-based non-profit organization uses science to work for change in Public Land management.  The following discussion revolves around documentary evidence collected by Willow Creek Ecology, Inc. and its founder, Dr. John Carter in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest and the denial and obfuscation used by the Forest Service to continue livestock use.  Three examples are used (1) watershed health, (2) riparian health and (3) water quality.

 

Watershed Health

 

During 10 years of monitoring vegetation, ground cover and soil conditions in allotments in the Logan Ranger District, extensive degradation has been documented in two allotments covering over 28,000 acres. Ground cover is low in grazed areas compared to ungrazed controls (Figure 1).  In fact, over the ten year period, annual measurements have demonstrated that there is no significant improving trend in ground cover.  Soil  pits excavated in ungrazed and grazed areas showed soils in ungrazed areas had well developed soil profiles with good root structure and low erosion potential while soil profiles in grazed areas had poor root structure and high erosion potential.  Winward (1998) in a tour of the area commented that one to two feet of topsoil had been lost in the grazed area being examined.  Composite soil samples taken from each monitored location showed a reduction in soil  nitrate and total nitrogen in grazed areas when compared to ungrazed areas, reflecting the ground cover conditions (Figures 2 and 3).  This illustrates the watershed principles discussed earlier where removal of vegetation and ground cover increased runoff and erosion, carrying with it the associated soil and soil nutrients.

 

Numerous photos, letters and reports have been submitted to the Forest Service over a ten year period in an effort to get the Forest Service to address these issues.  In spite of evidence such as this the Forest Service has failed to take action to protect these watersheds.  The position of the Forest Service has been to deny damage, contend that their management will continue improving conditions (while failing to monitor) and that we don’t know the difference between use and abuse. 

 

 

 

 

 

Riparian Condition

 

Spawn Creek is a tributary of the Logan River in the Logan Ranger District, Wasatch-Cache National Forest.  A portion section of this stream is annually grazed by 700 cattle.  In 1997 Willow Creek Ecology, Inc. conducted a habitat survey to determine the condition of habitat attributes related to livestock use.  The evaluation used methods described in USDA (1992).   Bank stability, livestock trampling and instream cover were measured.  Cattle were in the riparian pasture for one month.  The evaluation documented that 89.5 percent of streambanks were disturbed by livestock and were unstable.  Undercut banks were found in only 3.5 percent of the stream, woody debris was lacking, providing less than 1 percent cover, shrubs provided almost no stream cover at 1.6%, stream substrate was embedded with silt, pools were lacking and average water velocity was high.  All these factors indicate degraded stream habitat.  Because Spawn Creek lacked significant riparian shrubs, during 1998, after one year’s rest from livestock, willow growth was measured.  It was determined that over 400 willows had appeared and were actively growing in an area that had been eaten to the ground during the previous grazing season while the cattle were present.  Even though elk consume some portion of the willows growth, the evidence is clear both from this data and the literature that livestock are the principal mechanism for removal of willows. 

 

These degraded habitat conditions were documented with photographs and a report submitted to the Forest Service (WCE 1998).  Two years later, after resting the pasture during 1998 and 1999, the Forest Service conducted a habitat survey and found only 6% unstable streambanks, declaring that Spawn Creek was healthy and in excellent condition.  The Forest Service response to our complaint about livestock damage was, “You suggest these impacts are directly related to livestock.  In my response, I believe that it is important to recognize that livestock is only one part of the overall picture of activities within the Spawn Creek drainage.  We should also recognize the other man-related impacts which occur in the drainage.  These include fishing, hunting, horse riding, camping, ATV traffic, all of which have the potential to impact the vegetation in the riparian and upland zones.  It should also be recognized that wildlife have the potential to impact vegetation and bank structure.” Ferebee (1999).

 

Mr. Ferebee’s (Logan District Ranger) response is based on hypothetical statements rather than reflecting reality.  In the reach of Spawn Creek under debate, little camping occurs because the area is fouled with cattle manure.  ATV use is not on the stream banks and is restricted.   Hunting and fishing activities are not significant and do not impact the streambanks. Wildlife use is from a small elk herd of 40 animals that migrates through and impacts less than 1% of the stream at crossings.  Horse riding is largely by livestock permittees while over 700 cattle graze there.  Mr. Ferebee later stated that conditions in this allotment were not a concern.  So here we see how the Forest Service masks any complaint about livestock impacts by implicating every other possible use even in light of detailed photographic and quantitative data.

 

Water Quality

 

During 1997 fecal coliform bacteria were monitored in Spawn Creek and its tributaries in relation to the presence/absence of cattle.   Concentrations upstream of the cattle varied from zero to 16 fc/100 ml while in Spawn Creek downstream of the cattle concentrations ranged up to 201 fc/100 ml.  Small tributaries of Spawn Creek ranged up to 1370 fc/100 ml when cattle were present.   Tributary inputs from an adjacent upland pasture kept fecal coliform levels elevated in Spawn Creek months after the cattle were removed from the Spawn Creek riparian pasture.  A clear example of the dynamics of fecal coliform concentrations in relation to livestock presence is provided by data collected in 1998 in Paris Creek, another stream in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest (WCE 1999) in Idaho (Figure 4).  Paris Creek arises as a spring, flowing through an ungrazed portion of the Forest, into a cattle allotment and private grazing land, then downstream into private property where livestock are excluded.  Data was collected on two dates, when cattle were present (10/1/98) and after they were removed (10/27/98).  During the 10/1/98 sample, approximately 100 cattle were present in the allotment and a similar number present on the private land.  The area occupied by cattle was between miles 0.8 and 1.5.  Upstream and downstream, cattle were excluded.  The pattern of fecal contamination clearly shows when cattle are present, fecal coliform levels are elevated, and after they are removed, fecal coliform numbers decline to near background.

 

The Forest Plan for the Wasatch Cache National Forest (US Forest Service 1985)  states that water “leaving the Forest” meets water quality standards.  The State of Utah (Utah DEQ 1996), based on a single station representing 106 miles of the Logan River, states that water quality meets criteria.  Yet site-specific studies by Willow Creek Ecology demonstrate that when cattle are present, water quality in tributary streams exceeds beneficial use criteria and is degraded, further violating anti-degradation standards.  This is borne out by the huge volume of historical studies represented in the scientific literature.

 

Conclusion

 

The impacts of livestock on watersheds and water quality are predictble. .  The literature and our data show this to be the case.  However, government agencies persist in denial, rarely monitor and refuse to use current science.  The reliance on water quality monitoring data to document impacts or loads to streams is a flawed process in that it does not address localized impacts and water quality degradation throughout the watershed and presumes single, remote stations are representative.   Because monitoring requirements are time consuming, expensive and seldom carried out, it is time to act based on our knowledge and require land managers and livestock operators to meet ground cover and water quality, have discharge permits, conduct monitoring, meet standards and keep livestock away from streams. 

 

References

Armour,  C.L., D.A. Duff and W. Elmore.  1991.  The effects of livestock grazing on riparian and stream ecosystems.  Fisheries 16(1): 7 – 11.

 

Belsky, A.J., A. Matzke, and S. Uselman. 1999. Survey of livestock influences on stream and riparian ecosystems in the western United States.  Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 54(1): 419-431.

 

BLM. 1996. Public land statistics 1994/1995 Volume 179/180. Bureau of Land Management, Washington, D.C.   BLM/BC/ST-96/001+1165.

 

Burkholder, JoAnn M. 1999. The lurking perils of Pfiesteria.  Scientific American. August:42-49.

 

Carlson, Cathy and John Horning.  1992.  Big profits at a bif price – Public Land ranchers profit at the expense of the range.  Publication No. 79950, National Wildlife Federation, 1400 Sixteenth St. N.W. Washington, D.C. 64p.

 

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[1] Animal Feeding Operation defined in 40 CFR122.12(b)(1) as a facility in which “... animals have been, are or will be stabled or confined and fed or maintained for a total of 45 days or more in any 12-month period, and crops, vegetation, forage growth, or post-harvest residues are not sustained in the normal growing season over any portion of the lot or facility.”

[2] Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation defined in 40 CFR 122 Appendix B as a facility that “Confines more than 1,000 animal units (AU); or confines between 301 to 1,000 AU and discharges pollutants: into waters of the United States through a man-made ditch, flushing system, or similar man-made device; or directly into waters of the United States that originate outside of and pass over, across, or through the facility or otherwise come into direct contact with the animals confined in the operation.”