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Center for Biological Diversity:
Casper Star-Tribune, November 17, 2012

University of Wyoming professor helps write controversial grazing/climate change report
By Laura Hancock

Fewer species of grass. Erosion. Small bodies of water drying up. Arid land becoming more arid.

For true believers, that scenario describes global climate change in the American West.

Coincidentally, it’s also a well-documented result of the effects of grazing cattle, sheep, deer, elk and wild horses and burros in the West.

Put together, climate change and grazing could devastate rangeland, “where the sum of one and the other is greater than the sum of the two,” University of Wyoming law professor Debra Donahue said Thursday.

Donahue was among a handful of authors who recently published a paper in the journal "Environmental Management” that reviewed science and U.S. land policy and offered recommendations that are already proving controversial.

In addition to Donahue, the report was co-authored by researchers from Prescott College and the nonprofit Geos Institute and led by Robert Beschta, a professor emeritus at Oregon State University. The authors recommend no more livestock, horses and burros on large areas of public lands to establish benchmarks to study the effects of grazing versus nongrazing lands. On some lands, animals could graze, but at lower levels and with government monitoring effects on the ecosystem, they say.

State and federal governments should accommodate natural predators to reduce impacts of elk and deer in places where plants have been degraded, the report says. “A potentially important tool for restoring ecosystems degraded by excessive [grazing] is reintroduction or recolonization of apex predators.”

The authors recommend removing livestock, horses and burros from national parks, monuments, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges, and controlling populations of deer and elk to minimize effects on soil, water, vegetation and wildlife populations.

Indy Burke, an ecosystem ecology professor at the University of Wyoming, disagreed with some of the study.

She said that most government land managers and ranchers understand that during a drought, there is less grazing on the land. She doesn’t necessarily believe there should be policy changes when land managers and ranchers make adjustments to be good stewards of the land.

She said it’s the role of scholars to bring forth data and findings, not to make recommendations.

“The paper ends with some personal viewpoints of the authors,” she said. “Those reflect those individuals’ extrapolation of what they’re talking about and certainly doesn’t represent anyone else at the university.”

Beschta said while much attention is focused on a warming climate’s effects on forest health and wildfires, climate impacts on range used for grazing have received much less scrutiny.

“Entire rangeland ecosystems in the American West are getting lost in the shuffle,” Beschta told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “If we don’t get recovery under way soon, we may lose that opportunity. The clock is running and it’s running pretty fast.”

A meeting in Denver among the paper’s authors — there are nine published in the journal — began the study. Donahue formerly studied in wildlife biology. The other authors have doctorates in science. They believed there was a gap in the understanding of the relationship between global climate change and grazing on rangeland.

“We got together, and we had an all-day meeting in which we brainstormed and talked about what we all knew and what our thinking was,” Donahue said. “Then we outlined the kind of article we wanted to write.”

She said there were many drafts before it was accepted in the peer-reviewed journal.

The paper didn’t consider modern grazing techniques that use grazing to reduce invasive species and wildfire danger, said Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.

“The real fault, instead of looking at livestock management as a tool for resource management, the authors of this paper looked at livestock management as an obstacle to resource management,” he said. “It’s either short-sighted or an agenda that they have.”

© Copyright 2012, trib.com, Casper, WY

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton