Eight researchers in a new report suggest that climate change causes stress to western rangelands, and land managers are advised to consider a significant reduction or elimination of grazing on public land.
A growing degradation of grazing lands could be mitigated on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service acres if livestock, wild horses and burros were kept out, and populations of deer and elk reduced, the report suggests.
This would help arrest the decline and speed up recovery of affected ecosystems, they conclude, and provide a basis for comparative study of grazing impacts under nature's changing climate. The direct economic and social impacts might also be offset by a higher return on other ecosystem service and land uses, they add, although the report focused more on ecology than the pivotal economics that should also be considered.
The report appears in the current edition of "Environmental Management," a professional journal.
"People have discussed the impacts of climate change for some time with such topics as forest health and increased fire," says Robert Beschta, lead author and former Oregon State University College of Forestry professor.
"However, the climate effects on rangelands and other grazing lands have received much less interest. 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 claim. But efforts to mitigate the effects of livestock have been minor, they believe, even as climatic impacts intensify.
Although the primary emphasis of this is ecological, the researchers admit that changes they suggest would result in negative economic impacts.