Thanks to John Kappelman for his op-ed headlined “It is time to get private livestock off public lands” (Herald, July 27). It is past time!
Livestock grazing is the most ubiquitous and destructive commercial use of our public lands, costing taxpayers dearly. About 250 million acres – more than half of federal lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management – are grazed by livestock, and yet these lands produce less than 3 percent of our nation’s beef. This production is heavily subsidized with below-market grazing fees – a paltry $1.35 per month for a cow and calf to consume whatever is edible on public lands compared to an average rate in 2013 of $17.50 per month on private Colorado lands, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. The government spends more money to manage public lands than is brought in by grazing fees.
But that is just the beginning. Think degraded riparian habitat and water quality, conflicts with recreational users, and publicly funded “predator control” killing wolves, coyotes, and beaver that rightfully belong on our public lands. Entire aspen groves are dying because livestock mow young sprouts before they can get tall enough to survive. There are adverse impacts to endangered plants and wildlife such as sage grouse, cutthroat trout, and Mexican gray wolves; destruction of soil crusts that stabilize soils and prevent erosion; plus proliferation of invasive and noxious weeds. Seeding of non-native grasses that results in loss of biodiversity and habitat for native forest residents, the spread of disease to native wildlife, and the loss of economic opportunity related to fishing, hunting and tourism.
The list of adverse impacts of domestic livestock grazing on our public lands is shocking and mostly ignored. The myth of the American cowboy is sadly alive and well. Cows and sheep are sacred.
Please, support the San Juan National Forest’s efforts to change the paradigm and manage for land health based on science and the greater public good instead of a handful of private ranchers. The Weminuche Wilderness deserves the chance to be livestock free.