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Should Livestock Graze on Public Lands?

Sierra, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Should Livestock Graze on Public Lands?


A cowboy working for cattle grazers recently ordered hikers to leave Grand Teton National Park because they might upset the cows. Livestock do not, and should not, have priority on designated wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, and national parks. Cattle and sheep can also introduce disease to other animals and overgraze native vegetation needed by wildlife. Livestock grazing on public lands should only be permitted if it does not take precedence over clean water, habitat for wildlife, and the right of citizens to enjoy solitude and pristine beauty on their public lands.

Meredith Taylor, Wyoming representative, Greater Yellowstone Coalition

The open spaces and natural beauty of the West, which draw people from around the world, depend on the relationship between private and public lands. Without public-land grazing, many ranches would lose their economic viability. The rancher would have to sell land to survive, and critical habitat and open space would be replaced by condos. Society provides incentives to private landowners for preserving wetlands and protecting riparian areas. Livestock grazing controls weeds, enhances deer habitat, and reduces wildfires. Why aren't we creating incentives that will allow ranchers to provide such ecological services and open space on private and public lands?

Howard Johnson, rancher and chair, Utah Grazing Lands Conservation Institute

Properly managed grazing can improve species diversity, maintain wildlife habitat, and forestall commercial development of public lands. More than 50 percent of commercial beef operations graze their cattle on federal lands. If they were not able to graze on public lands, they would have to either increase livestock operations on private land or subdivide and sell it for development. Such actions would likely lead to the decline of rural communities and leave these public lands in poorer ecological condition.

Martin A. Massengale, director, University of Nebraska Center for Grassland Studies

We talk about ecosystems as if they were nice places to visit and imagine nature to be healthiest when it's sheltered from humans.

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