The idea of drilling for oil in the Alaska wildlife refuge is repugnant to many people, yet there is a distinct possibility that the federal government might decide to go ahead with such a plan. Similarly, the idea of grazing cattle on federally protected lands seems preposterous; however, it has been going on for many years, yielding devastating results.
Bedsides the common presumption that protected lands are kept in their natural state, the conditioning that grazing cattle could not possibly be a harmful practice usually predominates. The truth is that grazing impacts as many species as mining and clear-cut logging combined, which represent two other creative uses for our public lands.
A growing campaign of regional organisations in the West has begun to take action to reverse the damage. In some areas, land that had become defoliated and eroded by overgrazing has been brought back to a healthy green and vibrant condition. The majority of affected land remains under grazing. So, what is it that turns placid cows into large-scale wreckers of environmental havoc?
Some of the surprising facts surrounding cattle ranching that help to explain the situation we see today are as follows. The habits of cattle are different than those of bison, which have grazed the grasslands for centuries. They might look like cousins, but in practice they are not interchangeable. Natural grasslands of the Midwest co-evolved with bison and are adapted to their grazing habits.
Unlike bison, which graze an area and move on, cows tend to stay near a water source. The result is overgrazing, making it difficult for grass to regenerate. Moreover, cattle stay near water and thus, their waste adds high levels of nitrogen and bacteria to the water. Streams where cattle graze become stripped of vegetation. Narrow deep waterways that are designed to be covered in a protective canopy of trees and foliage become widened, shallow and bare.
Consequences In addition, cattle compact the soil, making it impossible for burrowing animals such as tortoises, prairie dogs and burrowing owls to create shelters. Wholesale slaughter of predator species such as mountain lions, bobcat and coyote is legendary and carried out with little to no effort going toward prevention. The total income derived from cattle grazing on public lands is disproportionate to the degree of damage. Hopefully, the campaign to reclaim these lands will succeed and return the landscape of the West to its natural condition.