Critique of Montana Outdoors proposed “Green” Grazing article

Dear Tom

I see that you are planning an article in Montana Outdoors on “green grazing”.
Without having read the piece, I can say that it will perpetuate the myth of “well managed” grazing. For every example of “green grazing out there I can show you 100 examples of where livestock production is destroying and degrading our natural landscape. Why not do everyone a real favor and do a piece on the multiple ways that livestock production harms our wildlife and biodiversity.
I would argue that you can mitigate the negatives from grazing, but you cannot entirely avoid them. Here’s a short list, and i could add much more should you ever feel compelled to provide the public with the honest truth about how livestock production is overall negative for wildlife.
Sorry for being so harsh, but I get tired of all the happy talk about “good grazing”. As a BLM botanist and biologist and in researching dozens of books on western landscapes,  I saw first hand the bogus arguments that “Good grazing” was good for wildlife. It’s like saying that city dumps are good for wildlife because ravens and gulls love them. You can always point to some wildlife that benefits from habitat destruction or degradation, but it’s the big picture that is important. And the “good grazing’ misses the big picture.
1. Dewatering of streams to the detriment of aquatic ecosystems.
2. Conversion of native riparian habitat and sage brush steppe to hay pastures of exotic grasses.
3. Trampling of biological crusts and contribution to soil erosion.
4. Trampling of biocrusts which facilitate cheatgrass invasion.
5. Soil compaction which decreases water infiltration.
6. The trampling of riparian areas and springs reduces it’s ability to soak up water and store for late season flows. It also destroys habitat for native mollucks.
7. Water troughs are breeding grounds for mosquitoes that carry west nile virus (and harm sage grouse).
8. Fences block migration and are a major source of mortality for sage grouse.
9. We kill all kill all kinds of predators and other wildlife (like prairie dogs) as pests and “varmints”.
10. The eating of riparian vegetation eliminates hiding cover and habitat for many species from songbirds to sage grouse chicks.
11. Forage competition. On many public lands, the vast majority of forage is allotted to domestic livestock. Many wet meadows, etc. are grazed to golf course height to the detriment of native wildlife.
12. Disease transfer such as occurs with domestic sheep and wild bighorns.
13. Weed invasion–grazing of native perennials and trampling and disturbance of soils favors weedy invasions.
14. Even where grasses are meeting “objectives” like 4 inch stubble height that is not enough to hide ground nesting birds. For instance, grouse require at least 10 inches of stubble height which you seldom see where there is significant grazing.
15. Effects on fire regimes. The invasion of cheatgrass, created by livestock disturbance, is a major factor in the burnout of sage brush habitat. Similarly, grazing can enhance conifer establishment in the ponderosa zone, including stand densities, again affecting fire regimes.
16, Cows are a major source of methane and thus GHG emissions contributing to global warming. Worse than all the transportation put together.
17. Most of the dams built-in the West are for water storage to provide for irrigation. These dams change the water characteristics of rivers and block migration (think of salmon). While you might say a few situations where dams have created trout habitat below them as “good”, this doesn’t account for the numerous losses imposed by dams.
18. Grazing favors invasives and exotics over native plants. Grazing has dramatically altered many native plant communities.






  1. Linda Avatar

    “Green Grazing” is a phrase just like “clean coal.” It’s an oxymoron and doesn’t exist–just a term that someone made up to look good in print.

  2. Dr. D.W. Johnson Avatar
    Dr. D.W. Johnson

    I’ll hope that George’s expertise and energy continues to inform the public for decades to come. It is certainly needed. Don

  3. HoofHugs Avatar

    The modern horse evolved about the same time as grasslands emerged in North America and Eurasia. Grasslands also developed in South America where modern horse, mammoth, and mastodon fossils were found off the rocks of the Argentina coasts. The truth is found in the distinct patterns of the upper and lower molars of the horse. Both the Pleistocene and the Younger Dryas ended with rapid, abrupt periods of global warming interrupted by a second glaciation which temporarily halted the warming and put an end to ice melt. Horses and other mammals walked across Beringia and either through Northern Eurasia along the Arctic grasslands or traveled South to Spain where they became isolated for thousands of years following a geological event that separated the Iberian peninsula from the European mainland. The horse settled in on coastal and then inland grasslands where he was domesticated at different times by different groups of people. After extensive research on the causes of the disappearance of horse in the Americas, scientists now believe that the amount of water from the ice melt that flooded the mainland and raised sea levels flooding the coastal grasslands where horse and other grazing herbivores had survived for millions of years of constant CC from warming periods to glacial periods. By the Spanish returned with the Iberian horses which was around 1500 along the Carolinas’ coasts, the grasslands had taken hold again, and when the horses were turned loose or escaped they found themselves once again in their homeland. Having said this, I must confess that the phrase that finds horses trample the grass and their grazing makes them pests of plants makes me wonder what on Earth ecologists believe God made grass for if not to feed His creations. Carolinas wild horses have existed for 100’s of years on the coast of the Outer Banks. Genetic testing of these Bankers reveals links to the Iberian horses that may indeed among the last living offspring of the smaller horses that lived in the Alaska region. In the winter horses find water, and break through snow and ice helping wildlife find food and water. In summer they eat the seeds of Cheatgrass, and thus, remove much of the possible fuel for forest fires which have grown larger and more harmful since the BLM began their illegal removals.

  4. Pamela Williams Avatar
    Pamela Williams

    So well written! I appreciate the detail and will find it useful in my criticisms. Thank you, George, for sharing your wisdom and educating me.


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner