The San Francisco river in the Gila National Forest. On the right shows a recovering riparian zone after cattle have been removed for 10 years. On the left, cattle had just been fenced out after Center suit to protect endangered species.
Participating in BLM planning on Arizona National Monuments: The Sonoran Desert NM, the Agua Fria NM, and Ironwood Forest NM to ensure livestock will have minimal impacts on these precious resources. To learn more about livestock grazing on the Sonoran Desert NM, click here.
Bringing national attention to the inadequate and unfair grazing fee on public lands.
Following Forest planning where livestock and Endangered Species are in conflict.
Monitoring problem allotments on public lands throughout Arizona, New Mexico, and California.
Supporting regional and national public lands buy-out campaigns, which would pay ranchers to permanently remove their livestock from federal leases. (For more info, CLICK HERE)
Reforming public-land livestock grazing in the West is one of the Center for Biological Diversity's top priorities. Through monitoring of agency records, on-the-ground field monitoring and scientific research, and participation in management planning for National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management grazing allotments, the Center is putting public lands grazing in the Southwest in the spotlight. We are constantly monitoring for neglect and mismanagement and pressuring the agencies to fulfill their obligation to protect native wildlife, watersheds and ecosystems.
MYTH AND REALITY
The cowboy is one of America's most cherished mythical figures: symbols of frontier courage, independence, and rugged masculinity. Ironically, cowboys have long since become just the opposite, and have become pro-establishment employees of large corporate landowners who depend on government aid to keep their ranches profitable. The last vestiges of the tired cowboy myth are propping up a ranching industry that is destroying the western public lands, one of the most extraordinary and unique birthrights of American citizens.
Cattle trampling a natural spring on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in 2005. Sights like this are all too common on our public lands. (Photo by Erik Ryberg)
LIVESTOCK AND ARID LANDS DON'T MIX
NEW! Watch: Desert or Pasture? Cattle and the American Southwest
In the Southwest, livestock grazing is the most widespread cause of species endangerment, affecting many federally listed threatened or endangered species. In dry regions, grazing wreaks catastrophic destruction on rivers, deserts, grasslands and forests over large areas-at very low productivity and with little economic justification. The desert's fragile ecosystems will take centuries to recover from the damage that's already been done.
Cattle trample and consume delicate plants, damage soils and alter streambanks, contaminate waterways with fecal waste, and remove native vegetation from rivers. Historically-lush streams and riparian forests have become nothing more than flat, dry wastelands after decades upon decades of grazing. Topsoil has turned to powder and has eroded away, increasing sedimentation and silt in waterways and destroying the fertility of the land. Numerous species have been driven to the brink of extinction; predators like the grizzly and Mexican Gray Wolf were driven extinct in the Southwest largely because of mass killings by the livestock industry. Ranchers have remained the leading opponents of otherwise popular Mexican Gray Wolf reintroduction efforts in Arizona and New Mexico.
Mountain lion heads, after a slaughter to protect cattle on public lands. photo courtesy of Steve Johnson
In the forests of the inland Southwest, grazing is a major destructive force. Grazing is the principle cause of excessive tree densities in western forests; large mature trees in the Southwest have declined by 48% in the last 20 years alone, while thick young growth poses catastrophic wildfire hazards. Livestock grazing permanently altered western grasslands, replacing them with thickets of shrubs and changing the landscape. Without regular grass fires, forest ecosystems are more vulnerable to large-scale catastrophic fires.
CORPORATE WELFARE FOR THE RANCHING INDUSTRY
In spite of the death toll on native species, federal and state land agencies continue to promote and protect livestock grazing on public lands in the West. Taxpayers are footing the bill for ranchers to run livestock on 270 million acres of federal public land in the 11 western states-an area that represents fully one third of these states' total land area.
Livestock ranching on federal public lands is subsidized to the tune of at least $100 million annually in direct payments; indirect subsidies may be three times that. On the Tonto National Forest in Arizona in 2004-2005, ranchers were subsidized under just one federal program to the tune of $3.5 million for “range improvements.”
It isn’t simply the direct subsidies and federal assistance programs that public lands ranchers are relying on. The federal grazing fee is unreasonably low, creating a de facto subsidy to the livestock industry. The ranching business would evaporate as suddenly as fur trapping if it had to pay market rates for the services it gets for free from the federal government. Private, un-irrigated rangeland in the West rents out for an average of $11.90, while grazing fees on federal lands are set at a paltry $1.79 per animal month (2005). Despite the extreme damage done, western federal rangelands account for less than 3% of all forage fed to livestock in the US. If all ranching on public lands in the West were suddenly called to a halt, beef prices would be unaffected.
ACHIEVEMENTS IN GRAZING REFORM INCLUDE:
Litigation forcing the Forest Service to do an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the impacts of grazing on 13 endangered species;
In 1997, actions compelling the Bureau of Land Management to remove cattle from all or part of 32 allotments along the middle Gila River;
In April 1998, along with Forest Guardians, actions compelling forced the Forest Service to remove cattle from 250 miles of streams on 52 allotments in the upper Gila Basin;
A leading role in the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, including drafting of a report criticizing the proposed "Ranch Conservation" element of Pima County's Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, and promoting alternative recommendations to stop grazing in critical habitat for imperiled species;
In 1999 and 2000, pressure and lawsuits resulting in cows and sheep being removed or restricted on over 2.5 million acres of habitat for the desert tortoise, southwestern willow flycatcher and Least Bell's vireo in the vast California Desert Conservation Area.