Teddy Roosevelt would have agreed with us


by Bob Witzeman


Wild beasts and birds are by right not the property merely of the people who are alive today, but the property of unborn generations whose belongings we have no right to squander.

–President Theodore Roosevelt



When I came to Arizona in 1958 it would have been unthinkable to believe logging on public lands would ever end. BLM and USFS logging today represents less than 5% of  U.S. wood products consumption.  The annual USFS cut now is a fraction of what it was a decade ago.  More than 80% of U.S. wood products today come from private lands in the U.S. – mostly in the South. Whether the new Bush Administration will be successful in turning the clock back to the aggressive logging cuts of the Bush/Reagan years, remains to be seen. 


Public lands grazing is under the same fire public lands logging was a decade or so ago. While conservation groups are seriously mobilizing opposition to this scourge, the flawed economics of the industry may be hastening its self-destruction. 


Public lands grazing (BLM, USFS, NPS, NWR etc.) today produces only 2% of the nation’s beef.  Despite the huge subsidies to public lands grazing, more beef is produced in Iowa than on all the public lands in the West.  This 2% comes at a taxpayer cost and resource damage to public lands amounting to an overall cost of about a half billion dollars annually.


Many environmentalists are now advocating congressional legislation allowing voluntary (willing-seller/willing buyer) retirement of federal public lands grazing permits.  At the current market price of $50-$100 per animal unit month, the total pricetag for retiring all federal lands in the West would be about $1.6 billion.  Such a buy out would quickly pay for itself.  This is because of the industry’s costs due to (1) taxpayer subsidies, and (2) natural resource damages such as soil erosion, forest fires, and lost hunting, fishing and recreational revenues.


As you read in the last Cactus Wrendition, 23 of the 29 state-list threatened avian species in Arizona are impacted adversely by grazing according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department. By contrast, only three of those 29 threatened avian species are impacted by logging. Since public lands grazing occurs throughout most of Arizona, the benefit to wildlife and the environment would be immense.


Let us summarize what has become the single most pervasive and damaging activity on Western public lands. 


1.      Grazing has severely damaged western seeps, springs, creeks, rivers and lakes, the organisms in them and the vegetation around them.

2.      Grazing has caused massive losses of western soils. 

3.      Public lands grazing promotes the replacement of native plants by invasive exotics and noxious weeds.

4.   Public lands grazing is the single greatest contributor to the loss of biodiversity and the imperilment of threatened and endangered species in the West.

5.   Livestock on public lands directly compete with wildlife, which is of far greater economic, ecological, and aesthetic value than domestic livestock.

6.   Public lands grazing involves the killing, at taxpayer expense, of large numbers of wild animals every year, such as prairie dogs, coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, bears and bison, disrupting ecologically crucial predator/prey relations;

7.  The Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service too often mismanage public lands to serve the livestock industry.

8.  The continuance of public lands grazing requires massive subsidies from American taxpayers, who thereby finance the degradation or destruction of their own public lands;


Photo caption:


The Arizona Grasshopper Sparrow, Ammodrammus savannarum ammolegus, is an isolated, unique population of the Grasshopper Sparrow restricted primarily to southeastern Arizona and northern Sonora.  Cattle grazing is one of the impacts this vulnerable population faces.


Photo by Jim Burns