Bookmark and Share

More press releases

For Immediate Release, November 26, 2012

Contact: Taylor McKinnon (928) 310-6713

Climate Report Calls for Grazing Reductions on Public Lands

TUCSON, Ariz.— A newly published report in the journal Environmental Management describes how climate change threatens to worsen impacts on public lands, watersheds and wildlife by grazing of domestic and feral livestock and unnaturally large native ungulate populations. The report calls on federal agencies to protect large tracts of public lands from livestock grazing to restore ecosystems, help lands and wildlife adapt to climate change, and provide ecological services and future benchmarks for grazed lands. It details how grazing reductions are within the legal authority of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, which together administer livestock grazing across 258 million acres of public wildlands. 

“We want to be able to rely on healthy, resilient wild places in this era of climate change, so that our country’s heritage wildlife can survive. That’ll mean cutting back on harmful land uses like cattle grazing; it’ll mean bringing back the carnivores that keep native populations of elk and deer in check,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity, which has worked for more than 20 years to reduce overgrazing on western public lands. “By looking at the combined impacts of grazing and climate change, this report is the first of its kind, and it underscores the need for immediate action from federal agencies.”

Domestic livestock are grazed across 258 million acres of western land administered by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management — 81 percent of the land administered by the two agencies in the 11 western states. Those lands provide critical refuge for native biological diversity and offer vital ecological services like clean air, water and recreation to society. There are approximately 23,600 public-lands ranchers, representing about 6 percent of all livestock producers west of the Mississippi River. 

The report concludes that:

  • In the western United States, climate change is expected to intensify even if greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically reduced; threats facing ecosystems as a result of climate change are invasive species, more frequent wildfires and declining snowpack.
  • Climate impacts are compounded from heavy use by livestock and other grazing ungulates, which causes soil erosion, compaction, and dust generation; stream degradation; higher water temperatures and pollution; loss of habitat for fish, birds and amphibians; and desertification.
  • Encroachment of woody shrubs at the expense of native grasses and other plants can occur in grazed areas, affecting pollinators, birds, small mammals and other native wildlife.
  • Livestock grazing and trampling degrades soil fertility, stability and hydrology, and makes it vulnerable to wind erosion. This in turn adds sediments, nutrients and pathogens to western streams.
  • Reestablishing apex predators in large, contiguous areas of public land may help mitigate any adverse ecological effects of wild ungulates.

Livestock grazing is one of the most ubiquitous and destructive uses of public land. It is also a contributing factor to the imperilment of numerous threatened and endangered species, including the desert tortoise, Mexican spotted owl, southwestern willow flycatcher, least Bell’s vireo, Mexican gray wolf, Oregon spotted frog, Chiricahua leopard frog and dozens of other species that occur on western public land. 

Public-lands livestock grazing is also a primary contributor to unnaturally severe western wildfires, watershed degradation, soil loss and the spread of invasive plants — as well as annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to that of 705,342 passenger vehicles.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Go back