Center for Biological Diversity

Range Restoration and Grazing Reform

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.

photo by Shane Jimerfield


The Economics of Public Lands Ranching

GAO REPORT ON ECONOMIC LOSSES OF LIVESTOCK GRAZING

ASSESSING THE FULL COST OF THE GRAZING PROGRAM

PETITION TO CHANGE THE FEE FORMULA

Updates

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT LOWERS COST OF PUBLIC-LANDS GRAZING FOR LIVESTOCK OWNERS: COST RISES FOR TAXPAYERS

NOV 2006: LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION LINKED TO GLOBAL WARMING. UN REPORT SHOWS THAT REARING CATTLE PRODUCES MORE GREENHOUSE GASES THAN DRIVING CARS."

CENTER LAUNCHES WEBSITE AIMED AT PROTECTING THE SONORAN DESERT NATIONAL MONUMENT

JUDGE PROTECTS GILA CHUB ON AGUA FRIA NATIONAL MONUMENT

KEMPTHORNE APPROVES NEW CONTROVERSIAL GRAZING RULES

INTERIOR DEPARTMENT MOVES TO CUT CONSERVATION AND CITIZEN PARTICIPATION ON WESTERN PUBLIC LANDS

CENTER PETITIONS DEPARTMENTS OF AGRICULTURE AND INTERIOR TO RAISE GRAZING FEE

CENTER RESPONDS TO GAO REPORT ON COSTS OF GRAZING:

RE-RELEASED: STUDY FINDS FULL COST OF FEDERAL GRAZING PROGRAM MAY EXCEED $500 MILLION

CENTER MOVES FOR BIGHORN CRITICAL HABITAT PROTECTION: BUSH FOREST SERVICE HURTS SIERRA NEVADA RECOVERY

U.S. BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT BACKTRACKS ON GRAZING RULES: BLM WILL REWORK EIS; CONSERVATIONISTS FEAR MORE DISHONESTY

CONSERVATION GROUPS SUE TO PROTECT GLEN CANYON NATIONAL RECREATION AREA FROM ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE CAUSED BY LIVESTOCK GRAZING

FOREST SERVICE JEOPARDIZING SIERRA NEVADA BIGHORN RECOVERY WITH SHEEP RANCHING

U.S. BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT’S NEW REGULATIONS UNDERCUT PUBLIC PARTICIPATION AND THREATEN WILDLIFE & WATER WITH HAND-OUTS TO THE LIVESTOCK INDUSTRY

TONTO NATIONAL FOREST MANAGERS JEOPARDIZE DESERT BY RESUMING RANCHING WITHOUT THOROUGHLY EVALUATING DROUGHT IMPACTS

CONSERVATION GROUPS CHALLENGE BIG SUR GRAZING DECISION

FEDERAL COURT HOLDS RANCHERS IN CONTEMPT FOR GRAZING ON NATIONAL FOREST LANDS.

Healing the Gila! Three years after the Forest Service booted cows off some Southwestern rivers, the battle over grazing in the desert is still not over.
by Tony Davis, High Country News, October 22, 2001

Current Grazing Projects

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)

Resources

Cattle grazing and the loss of biodiversity in the East Bay (pdf)

Livestock Grazing and Forest Fires: A Literature Review (pdf)

The Taxpayer's Guide to Subsidized ranching in the Southwest

Livestock Grazing and the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan (pdf)

An Assult on Biodiversity in the Name of Wildlands & Habitat Preservation: by Greg Schneider

More...

THE CENTER'S RANGE RESTORATION CAMPAIGN

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.
Back