Rocky Barker's blog: Changing climate in Idaho

Barker writes about Idaho farming and the changing climate. He suggests legislation that would pay farmers for “sequestering or capturing carbon in the soil through new farming practices and by planting trees.”

I would suggest that one of the most cost effective measures would be to retire public grazing allotments in order to sequester carbon, because livestock-grazed range is usually a carbon source, rather than a desirable carbon sink because the cattle wipe out native plants, erode the carbon rich top soil, and indirectly promote range fires by opening the land for for invasion by flammable weeds like cheat grass.

Barker’s blog.

post 1091







  1. todd ringler Avatar
    todd ringler

    agricultural sequestion is yet another attempt at another subsidy. it is a 1% to 5% solution, meaning it can capture about this faction of the carbon needed to stabilize at around 550 ppm. it also assumes every farmer in the US participates.

    farmers will want to be paid up front, but society needs to be assured the carbon will remain in the ground for 100+ years. who is going to guarantee that? and who will refund societies money when, in 20,50, or 100 years the new owner decides to till the ground and release the carbon? who is going to go out to the farmer each year and verify the carbon is still where is was paid to be?

    paying to sequester carbon is like taking out a loan — you get something up front but pay interest on it forever in this case. this should be contrasted to enery efficiency — a pound of carbon that is never released never has to be sequestered ….

    sequestering carbon by eliminating public lands grazing has more merit, assuming the models show that an uptake will occur (those models are still in development as far as i know). it has more merit because it works by eliminating a land use (which is easy to verify) as opposed to altering a land use (ag sequester) which is nearly impossible to verify.

    the next five years are going to critical in terms of carbon management. we will get a good read on whether we actually want to solve the problem or want to use it as an excuse to reaffirm the status quo subsidy system …


  2. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf

    Actually Ralph, I’m going to suggest that ranching, including range livestock, has the potential to help with carbon sequestration.

    When you think of the alternative to a ranch; a development, the carbon sequestration issue becomes more clear. Development takes down trees; a sink for carbon. Livestock management, properly done, especially in riparian areas, can promote growth that not only sequesters carbon, but filters sediments and nutrients. Yes, livestock do mostly make riparian areas worse; but the alternative is development; which completely eliminates riparian areas, trees, and carbon sinks altogether where they occur.

    I suggest that once ranching operations move towards better management practices, which is currently under way, that we should seek to actually preserve them. Of course, I aim to work towards this aim myself with my research facility when I get it up and going.

    And yes, you are hearing this from an advocate for wolves.

    Developers, extractive operations; these are the real threats to the climate and to the west, and of course, to wolves, Ranchers make a MUCH better habitat for wolves than housing tracts.

  3. be Avatar

    development as a forgone conclusion to the retirement of grazing allotments is wrong. public lands aren’t private lands –
    market forces (i.e. real-estate appreciation) is the culprit here and considering the price of corn, the likelihood of drought, and just the inherent insolvency of the enterprise in general – the market forces will continue to increase pressure.

    trees are wiped out all the time for grazing – Spruce Mountain is a reprehensibly illustrative example of this. Why? Cattle don’t eat trees. Acres and acres of forested public lands, trees that have sequestered significant carbon for 200 – 400 years, chained and burned to provide forage for cattle. this hyper-anthropogenic- ‘management’ is tantamount to development – and again, it’s on public land that is not subject to private development.

    “Livestock management, properly done,”
    good luck…

    better management practices would be nice – but asking anyone to believe that agency enforcement/regulation of such principles will be made in good-faith is absurd considering agencies’ inability/willingness to enforce current standards/laws on the books now. they don’t and they won’t. pass the laws though –

    “Developers, extractive operations; these are the real threats to the climate and to the west”
    Public lands ranchers are developers and their operations are vastly extractive. and it’s not just on private land – it’s on public land that belongs to all of us.

    “Ranchers make a MUCH better habitat for wolves than housing tracts.”
    In their proposal to delist wolves in the northern rockies, FWS a priori excluded habitat adjacent to livestock allotments from being considered ‘suitable’ for ‘sociological’ reasons.

    then you’ve got the direct mitigation of methane – which contributes to warming at a rate of 26 times that of carbon. feedlots – as horribly disgusting as they are, are efficient enought to sequester the vast quantities of methane produced by the innefficiencies if enteric fermentation. the lots are able to do so by containing harvested waste and burning the methane as fuel – less methane in the air – and given it can produce relatively clean energy – offsetting energy consumption for production. you can’t do so efficiently with cattle production on public land.

    Livestock’s Long Shadow – a recent UN report which analyzes the entire livestock commodity chain and concludes that it contributes more to global warming than the transportation sector…

    Either way – if Barker, the state or fed legislature, or anyone is to get serious about global warming – a blanket carbon/carbon-equivalency tax which abstains from an ag exemption would fluster industry just enough to start deploying technologies and efficiencies already at hand – but shelved as a result of the twisted legal subsidies that reward inffeciency. – it would also squeeze welfare ranchers enough to inhibit the subsidized destruction of our land, water, and air. TAX THAT GAS!!!


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan