Climate change increases prioritization restoring grazed public lands

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Eight researchers in a new report suggesting that climate change is causing additional stress. Stress to many western rangelands. Worst is, land managers must consider things now. Firstly a significant reduction of public lands. So climate change is eliminating livestock. Worst is and other large animals from public lands.

A growing degradation of grazing lands could be mitigated. Yes mitigated. That’s  if large areas of Bureau of Land Management and USDA Forest Service lands became free of use. Use by livestock and “feral ungulates”. That’s wild horses and burros and high populations of deer and elk. If not expect reductions. That’s what the group of scientists saying about the forest Service lands.

This would help arrest the decline and speed the recovery of affected ecosystems, they said, and provide a basis for comparative study of grazing impacts under a changing climate. The direct economic and social impacts might also be offset by a higher return on other ecosystem services and land uses, they said, although the report focused on ecology, not economics.

These USDA Forest Service lands in Montana show impacts of livestock grazing, including bare soil, lack of ground cover, lack of aspen recruitment and channel incision. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)

Their findings were reported in Environmental Management; a professional journal published by Springer.

“People have discussed the impacts of climate change for some time with such topics as forest health or increased fire,” said Robert Beschta, a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, and lead author on this study.

“However, the climate effects on rangelands and other grazing lands have received much less interest,” he said. “Combined with the impacts of grazing livestock and other animals, this raises serious concerns about soil erosion, loss of vegetation, changes in hydrology and disrupted plant and animal communities. Entire rangeland ecosystems in the American West are getting lost in the shuffle.”

Livestock use affects a far greater proportion of BLM and Forest Service lands than do roads, timber harvest and wildfires combined, the researchers said in their study. But effort to mitigate the pervasive effects of livestock has been comparatively minor, they said, even as climatic impacts intensify.

Although the primary emphasis of this analysis is on ecological considerations, the scientists acknowledged that the changes being discussed would cause some negative social, economic and community disruption.

“If livestock grazing on public lands were discontinued or curtailed significantly, some operations would see reduced incomes and ranch values, some rural communities would experience negative economic impacts, and the social fabric of those communities could be altered,” the researchers wrote in their report, citing a 2002 study.

Among the observations of this report:

  • In the western U.S., climate change to intensify. That’s even if greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically reduced.

  • Among the threats facing ecosystems as a result of climate change are invasive species. Plus, elevated wildfire occurrence, and declining snowpack.

  • Federal land managers have begun to adapt to climate-related impacts. However not the combined effects of climate and hooved mammals, or ungulates.

  • Climate impacts are compounding from heavy use by livestock and other grazing ungulates. All causing soil erosion, compaction, and dust generation; stream degradation. Degrading like higher water temperatures and pollution. So expect losing habitats for fish, birds and amphibians. And then desertification.
  • Encroachment of woody shrubs at the expense of native grasses. As well as other plants occurring in grazed areas. Thereby affecting pollinators, birds, small mammals and other native wildlife.

  • Livestock grazing and trampling degrades soil fertility, stability and hydrology. Worst is making it vulnerable to wind erosion. This in turn adds sediments, nutrients and pathogens to western streams.
  • Water developments and diverting for livestock reducing streamflows and increasing water temperatures. Thereby degrading habitat for fish and aquatic invertebrates.
  • Grazing and trampling reducing the capacity of soils. Soils not being able to sequester carbon. Plus various processes Re contributing to greenhouse warming.
  • Domestic livestock now use more than 70 percent of the lands. Public Lands managed by the BLM and Forest Service.  Plus their grazing is the major factor negatively affecting wildlife. Wildlife in 11 western states. In the West, about 175 taxa of freshwater fish. Those fish being considered imperiled. All due to habitat-related causes.
  • Removing or significantly reducing grazing will be more effective. Especially in cost and success. Rather than piecemeal approaches.

The advent of climate change are adding to historic and contemporary problems. Problems resulting from cattle and sheep ranching. Thereby prompting federal regulations since the 1890s.

Wild horses and burros are also a significant problem. As well as high numbers of deer and elk occurring in portions of the West. All due to the loss or decline of large predators. You know, such as cougars and wolves. So we must be restoring those predators. Predators must be part of this comprehensive recovery plan.

The problems are sufficiently severe. Thereby esearchers concluding they know. They know the burden of proof shifting must change now.  Changing to those using public lands for livestock production. They should have to justify the continuing  using ungulated grazing.
Finally, Collaborators on this study including researchers. Researchers from the University of Wyoming, Geos Institute, Prescott College. As well as other agencies.

The study this story is based on is available in ScholarsArchive@OSU: http://bit.ly/PJux3q