This page last updated February 08, 2009
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Page 17: Federal Rangeland "Management"
Manages to Destroy the Environment
by: Range Watch
Disclaimer: The locations of photographs
in this album have not been determined through survey. Due to the
intermingled nature of land ownerships throughout much of the west, some
photographs where the context or caption imply or otherwise indicate government
ownership may actually be located on intermingled or adjoining private lands.
Polluted Waters Flow By
|| Poso Creek is clear and looks picturesque and visitors to a nearby bed & breakfast are drawn to
t he appealing stream. However, they must be warned that the water is too polluted with bacteria from cattle feces for wading, fishing, let
alone drinking. The water coming off the Sequoia National Forest has been measured with fecal coliform bacteria levels five
times the State of California's standard for water contact recreation.
During the grazing season, when cattle trample streambanks and wade in waters upstream, Poso Creek turns the color of
coffee. The sediments introduced into the stream by cattle reduce the productivity of the habitat for fish and other aquatic
Cattle Related Sediments in the Stream Cause Problems
|Because fish need clean gravel in which to spawn and lay their eggs, stream sediments caused by grazing create problems. The unnatural silt and sand fills in spaces between gravel, reducing the flow of oxygen to fish eggs and smothering gill-breathing invertebrates which the fish need for food. With continued grazing, vegetation which provides shade is consumed and the resultant solar heating increases water temperatures. With ongoing trampling, the stream becomes wider and shallower, leading to higher water temperatures. High water temperatures kill fish eggs.
An Ungrazed Stream has Clean Spawning Gravel
||This photograph of a stream in Yosemite National Park shows naturally occurring gravel which is good spawning for fish eggs. With no commercial grazing and livestock-related sediments, grasses provide protective bank cover.
The Cows Upstream
|Through a gate and just a hundred paces upstream from the bed & breakfast on Poso Creek is an entirely different vista
composed of shades of brown. Here, the Sequoia National Forest is commercially grazed by private cattle. Nationally, the
government's grazing program costs taxpayers between $200 million and up to half a billion dollars each year.
Here, the streambanks are damaged. There is no vegetation to provide habitat for song birds, mammals and amphibians. In the
words of writer Edward Abbey, this creek is "cow burnt." Silt and sand clog the creek because the vegetation has been
trampled or eaten by cows for more than a century and a half. It no longer can act as a filter, to catch and hold sediment before
it enters the creek. On this creek, healthy streamside vegetation should be providing habitat for the important rare furbearers
which use the area's creek as transportation corridors. The vegetation also provides vital habitat for insects on which fish feed.
Downstream, Things Aren't Any Better
||Only shouting distance downstream from the bed & breakfast, Poso Creek looks terrible -- especially if you were a turtle, frog,
fish, or a bird like the willow flycatcher that needs willows in which to nest.
Upland Areas Are Also Livestock Damaged
|The livestock damage isn't limited to the stream areas. It is easy to find overgrazed, barren, unprotected, eroding hillsides a
short walk into the National Forest. Using video, Range Watch's Jane Baxter is documenting soils at risk due to improper
livestock grazing. Notice the old, stunted Mountain Mahogany plant. Each year all the new growth is cropped, leaving it in a
bonsai-like condition. This process is called "hedging." Ungrazed, these plants grow up to fifteen feet tall.
Where Cows Don't Graze, It Gets Green Again
||However, about a mile upstream in the National Forest, you find more stretches of lush, green, healthy vegetation. Why?
Protruding granite rock formations make this stretch of creek inaccessible to cattle.
An Ungrazed Meadow
|This ungrazed meadow in the Sequoia National Park has vegetation growing three to four feet high, with some plant species
standing head height. A healthy meadow acts as a giant sponge, helping to store water for gradual release during dry periods of
summer and fall. Meadows such as this one are vital habitat for forest wildlife (especially fish and deer) and are highly valuable
to the montane ecosystem.
A Similar Grazed Meadow
||This similar grazed meadow in the Sierra National Forest has been scientifically matched to the one above by the U.S. Forest
Service for elevation, exposure, slope, and hydrology. Its vegetation is not even ankle-high. The meadow looks more like a golf
course than a vital habitat for forest biodiversity. In a healthy meadow, water flows slowly and is not disturbed or damaged by
livestock hoof punctures, compaction, or tears in the fabric of the meadow sod. Both these above photos were taken during the
same week in October.
Another Overgrazed Meadow
|This is a heavily grazed meadow in the Sequoia National Forest at the end of the grazing season. The vegetation is less than two
inches, and the growing season is over so there will be no regrowth this year. It is easy to figure out which meadow you would
choose if you were a mother doe trying to hide a young fawn.
Well, you've seen the difference between grazed and ungrazed ecosystems. You've seen examples of how livestock, when
improperly managed, can cause severe ecosystem damage. Unfortunately, mismanaged rangelands are all too common. The
law governing public lands mandates that no use in an ecosystem (like livestock grazing) shall be allowed to diminish other uses
(like fishing, wildlife habitat, or recreation). But intent of the law has been
betrayed, and subsidized grazing continues to damage our public lands.