Friday, October 17, 2014

Livestock grazing is no friend to rangelands


    I would like to response to John Peavey’s assertion (Guest opinion, Oct. 10, “Watching grass grow—how exciting is that?”) that grazing benefits Idaho’s rangelands. As a rancher, Peavey’s comments are self-serving as well as lacking in ecological understanding.
    First, bluebunch wheatgrass, one of the common perennial grasses on Idaho rangelands, are long-lived plants. In a sense, most perennial grasses can be thought of as “old growth grasses.” They only produce successful seedlings infrequently, but that is OK because they live 100 years or more. In order to replace themselves on rangelands, they only need an occasional good year for seed production and seedling establishment. But the years when such conditions exist are unpredictable and infrequent. If perennial grasses are grazed by livestock during that year, it may eliminate the only successful replacement cycle for years or even decades. Over time, a few missed good seed years lead to rangeland degradation—which is exactly what has happened to Idaho grasslands.
    Grazing does not benefit grasses. It harms them just as humans do not benefit from being cut or battered. We have the ability to recover, but only if we are not experiencing continued abuse. It’s the same for grasses. When cropped by a cow or sheep, the grass shifts energy from production of roots and seeds to new leaves since it needs new leaves to photosynthesize. Repeated grazing, even if spaced by several years, gradually wears down the plant’s reserves. Unfortunately, because most Idaho rangelands are grazed every year, and/or even alternative years as under the rest-rotation grazing Peavey champions, most native grasses never have time to recover from grazing events. And if that once-in-a-decade-or-so good conditions for seed production and establishment come along, native perennial grasses like bluebunch wheatgrass may not have the energy to produce seeds. That is why Idaho’s grazed rangelands continue to decline in ecological vitality.
    By contrast, annual grasses like cheatgrass are designed by nature to produce seeds every year. When rangelands are grazed, it favors the annual grasses, which are adapted to rapid seed production and seedling growth. Grazing by livestock further favors cheatgrass by trampling of soil biocrusts—lichens, algae and mosses—that reduce soil erosion, add important nutrients and most importantly preclude the establishment of annual grasses like cheatgrass. By contrast, the seeds of native grasses are adapted to biocrust, and long intervals between successful seed years. All one has to do is visit the places where livestock have been excluded, whether by law or by natural barriers (like grass islands in lava flows such as at Craters of the Moon National Monument) to see that native grasslands thrive in the absence of domestic livestock grazing.

    George Wuerthner is ecological projects director at the Foundation for Deep Ecology.

About Comments

Comments with content that seeks to incite or inflame may be removed.

Comments that are in ALL CAPS may be removed.

Comments that are off-topic or that include profanity or personal attacks, libelous or other inappropriate material may be removed from the site. Entries that are unsigned or contain signatures by someone other than the actual author may be removed. We will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or any other policies governing this site. Use of this system denotes full acceptance of these conditions. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

The comments below are from the readers of and in no way represent the views of Express Publishing, Inc.

You may flag individual comments. You may also report an inappropriate or offensive comment by clicking here.

Flagging Comments: Flagging a comment tells a site administrator that a comment is inappropriate. You can find the flag option by pointing the mouse over the comment and clicking the 'Flag' link.

Flagging a comment is only counted once per person, and you won't need to do it multiple times.

Proper Flagging Guidelines: Every site has a different commenting policy - be sure to review the policy for this site before flagging comments. In general these types of comments should be flagged:

  • Spam
  • Ones violating this site's commenting policy
  • Clearly unrelated
  • Personal attacks on others
Comments should not be flagged for:
  • Disagreeing with the content
  • Being in a dispute with the commenter

Popular Comment Threads

 Local Weather 
Search archives:

Copyright © 2020 Express Publishing Inc.   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.