Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Professor misrepresented grazing impacts

    In a recent article about sage grouse, Karen Launchbaugh, range professor at the University of Idaho, was quoted with misleading statements that did not provide context about livestock and sage grouse.
    For instance, Launchbaugh suggests that grazing can minimize wildfires. What she does not say is that in order to reduce fuels sufficiently to preclude fire, you would have virtually remove nearly all vegetation, cropping down to stubble, much like a putting green at a golf course. Doing so would destroy many other values, including loss of vegetation for feeding other native wildlife, compaction of soils that would reduce infiltration of water, and the destruction of bio-crusts that prevent invasion of cheatgrass and other exotics.
    Furthermore, livestock grazing is the chief factor in the spread of cheatgrass. By trampling biological crusts that normally cover the soil and preclude cheatgrass seed establishment, and by selectively grazing the native grasses and reducing their vigor, cattle assist the spread of cheatgrass.
    Finally, all the development that goes with livestock grazing also impact sage grouse. Fences, for instance, provide perches for sage grouse avian predators such as hawks. Also, sage grouse often fly into fences and die. Cattle water developments become the source for breeding mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus. The consumption of wet meadows and trampling of riparian areas reduces or degrades these habitats, which are essential for sage grouse chicks.
    In short, when one considers all the multiple ways that livestock degrades sage grouse habitat or directly harms the birds, it is disingenuous for someone like Launchbaugh to suggest there is any benefit to livestock grazing with regards to grouse. But then again when you are a hand maiden to the livestock industry, it is not entirely unexpected.
George Wuerthner
Bend, Ore.

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