While scouring the Internet for appropriate articles to fill our massive paper this week I looked into information related to grazing public lands. My findings included a vast number of Sierra Club, Waste of the West and similar interest group articles that tell an untruthful story. It makes me mad that people who may not know about livestock and grazing could be unintentionally misinformed by these articles.
So here's the way it really is.
The proper grazing of any landscape improves forage vitality and variety. It improves wildlife habitat and water resources in addition to reducing noxious weeds. It also helps preserve open spaces and healthy, natural environments.
The Society for Range Management is currently working on a dvd entitled Hope on the Range that will further explain the improved condition of grazed land over that without grazing.
Cows and sheep eat grass. It's just like mowing your lawn. If you don't mow it for several summers it doesn't grow as well and weeds move in. If livestock don't eat grass the same thing happens, just on a bigger scale.
Please keep in mind I am not suggesting peeling every shred of foliage off a pasture. Grazing should be done at a rate that is best for the landscape and the livestock.
Another point to consider is that livestock producers are the only people who pay to use public lands. Anyone can drive, walk, hunt or otherwise utilize these lands to their hearts desire. Ranchers can do these things for free also, but if they want to graze it they must pay a lease.
As with most things someone who pays for something takes much better care of it than someone who doesn't. If you compare a piece of public land surrounded by privately owned land and used for grazing purposes you will find little to no trash, fences that are generally in good repair and high quality forage, soil and water. Now stroll over to the piece that's just off a highway where people drive their 4-wheelers, hunt, hike and take their pets. Gates will be left open, trash is usually present everywhere and the pets and motorized vehicles have torn up the forage, soil and water.
Not that its a bad scenario, I guess it is PUBLIC land. But I much prefer a well-kept, natural setting that is conducive to wildlife. I like to take care of the land I use and most ranchers I know feel the same way.
We aren't out to destroy it, quite the opposite in fact. We work hard to keep it in the best possible shape with as much water, grass and wildlife as it will realistically support. Ranchers LOVE grass, it's what we raise.
So if you see a cow or sheep grazing on public or private land think about the benefits she is providing to the landscape. She isn't destroying anything, but is actually improving the landscape with every mouthful she eats.