Public grazing study divides
Researcher: 'These kind of papers are a slap in the face'
By MITCH LIES
A USDA rangeland scientist disputes the findings of a recently published report that grazing on public lands exacerbates the effects of climate change.
Tony Svejcar, research leader of the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Service Center in Burns, said the report highlights isolated examples of poorly managed allotments and fails to present an accurate picture of the overall effect of grazing on federal lands.
"You can go out and pick spots like that and compare that to no grazing and find that there are impacts," Svejcar said. "The question is, on what portion of the landscape is that occurring?"
In the report, published Nov. 15 in the online publication Environmental Management, the scientists wrote that livestock production on public lands "can alter vegetation, soils, hydrology and wildlife species composition and abundance in ways that exacerbate the effects of climate change on these resources."
"Removing or reducing livestock across large areas of public land would alleviate a widely recognized and long-term stressor and make these lands less susceptible to the effects of climate change," they wrote.
In a phone interview, Robert Beschta, lead author of the study and a Oregon State University forestry professor, disputed Svejcar's claims that the instances of poor grazing management are isolated and minimal.
"We would suggest that the effects have been widespread and they are far-reaching and they are not minimal," Beschta said.
Beschta said the eight scientists wrote the report because they are concerned over how public lands are managed.
Svejcar, however, said federal land managers are doing a good job of protecting resources, particularly in recent years.
"In general, there has been a lot of attention focused on (grazing management) and managers have responded to that," Svejcar said. "It is nothing like it was 30 or 40 years ago."
In reference to photos of overgrazed areas that accompany the report, Svejcar said: "If that is happening somewhere, it should be fixed. The (Bureau of Land Management) probably needs to do something about it.
"But we don't see that much of that anymore," he said.
"These kind of papers are a slap in the face for those managers who have put a lot of effort into fixing these things," Svejcar said.
The eight scientists behind the report include Cindy Deacon Williams of Medford, who earlier this year was appointed to the Oregon Board of Forestry; Debra L. Donahue, a University of Wyoming law professor; Dominick DellaSala, president and chief scientist of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Ore.; Portland hydrologist Jonathan J. Rhodes; J.R. Karr from Sequim, Wash.; M.H. O'Brien of Castle Valley, Utah; and T.L. Fleischner of Prescott, Ariz.
In addition to advocating a dramatic reduction of grazing on federal lands, the scientists also call for more wolves: "Reestablishing apex predators in large, contiguous areas of public land may help mitigate any adverse ecological effects of wild ungulates" such as deer, elk, wild horses and burros, they wrote.
"We recognize wolves are controversial," Beschta said, "but on large blocks of public lands, it may be necessary for wolves to reestablish themselves to restore ecosystems."
Svejcar characterized the report's authors as longtime anti-grazing advocates.
"They just periodically come out with stuff like this," he said. "I can't see anything new here.
"It is the same stuff that has been around for a while," Svejcar said.
"It is something that we have been through before with this individual and his associates," said Curtis Martin, president of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association. "It is just kind of more of the same."
Beschta acknowledged the scientists used existing studies to reach their conclusion.
"We basically delved through literature and tried to put together a coherent study on what the literature was telling us," he said.
Asked why the scientists concentrated on public lands to the exclusion of private lands, Beschta said: "We think perhaps there is more of a chance to influence change and there are better opportunities to restore ecosystems on public lands."
The report concludes with a call to action for federal agencies.
"If effective adaptations to the adverse effects of climate change are to be accomplished on western public lands, large-scale reductions or cessations of ecosystem stressors associated with ungulate use are crucial," the report stated.