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BLM is ‘cowed’ by livestock industry

Editor:

The recent August 11 editorial approving of Secretary of Interior Zinke’s review of the sage grouse recovery plans may sound good to the livestock industry but it does not represent the best science.

As a former BLM botanist and an ecologist, I can attest to the fact that the BLM is “cowed” by the livestock industry. And the assertion that “well managed” grazing “may” be beneficial to sage grouse, is like saying chemo treatments might be good for one’s health. Only in rare instances, can livestock be considered “beneficial” to sage grouse.

The fact remains that livestock grazing is the SINGLE biggest negative impact on sage grouse. Livestock production impacts sage grouse at multiple stages of its life cycle. For instance, the BLM and the editorial in the Elko Daily appear to suggest that “invasive plants (meaning cheatgrass) and wildfire are the greatest threat to sage grouse.”

This is true as far as it goes. It’s like suggesting that diabetes is a threat to American health without naming sugar and obesity as the ultimate factors. Livestock, by disturbing biocrusts, promotes the establishment of cheatgrass. In addition, by preferentially consuming the native grasses, livestock reduces their competitiveness, giving the advantage to cheatgrass.

Of course, the widespread invasion of the highly flammable cheatgrass, promoted by livestock grazing, is a major factor promoting so many large range fires.

Livestock also consumes the forbs (read flowers) that sage grouse chicks need during the first few months of their lives. Sage grouse chicks also require wet meadows and riparian areas for foraging on forbs and insects, and nothing has done more damage to western arid riparian areas and wet meadows than trampling by livestock.

Let’s not forget that fences are a major source of mortality for the slow flying sage grouse, and what factor is responsible for most of the fences on western rangelands? Livestock!

Livestock grazing, by reducing the height of residential vegetation, also reduces the hiding cover for chicks and adult grouse, making them more vulnerable to predators. And fence posts are a preferred lookout for raptors which can prey on sage grouse.

Indeed, due to predation risk, some studies suggest sage grouse will avoid fence lines for up to a mile—removing a significant amount of the habitat that might otherwise be available to them.

Stock troughs are also a breeding ground for mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus, which in some parts of the sage grouse range is a major source of mortality.

These are only a few of the ways that livestock production harms sage grouse. The only reason the BLM says livestock may be beneficial is that it is weak-kneed and has been systematically had its scientific staff ignored, demoralized and eliminated.

George Wuerthner

Bend, Oregon

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