Response to Rep. Tipton public lands livestock advocacy

Recently Colorado U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton was quoted during a congressional hearing of the House Natural Resource Committee recommending the government enlist ranchers and farmers to better protect federal lands.

“Some of the best custodians for public lands happen to be our ranchers,” Tipton, R- Cortez, said.

Tipton is ignoring the full impacts of livestock production on our public lands and waters.

Nearly all western ranchers rely on irrigated fields and pastures, hence are the major reason our rivers are dewatered. In Montana, for instance, 95% of the water removed from streams is for livestock hay and other forage crops.

Nearly all the dams in the West are built primarily for irrigation water storage and hence livestock hay and pasture. These dams block migration of fish species like salmon and change water quality so that native fish like humpback chub are negatively impacted.

Livestock transfer disease to wildlife (like bighorn sheep from domestic sheep).

Livestock trample riparian areas-and livestock are the leading factor in the destruction of western riparian areas and wet meadows which are critical habitat for 70-80 percent of all western wildlife.

Fences that are strewn across our public and private lands block wildlife migrations and are responsible for 30% mortality in sage grouse.

Fences also act as lookouts for avian predators on sage-grouse (why do we have fences other than for cows)

Livestock socially displaces native ungulates like elk, which means they are forced into the less suitable habitat to survive.

Cows are the biggest source of non-point pollution in the West. There are few streams where cattle/sheep are grazed for any length of time that does not exceed EPA E coli standards, not to mention excess “fertilization” from manure.

Cows/sheep trample soil biocrusts that prevent seedling establishment from exotics like the flammable cheatgrass that is hastening the destruction of our sagebrush steppe habitat through excessive fires.

Cows by disturbing soils also aid invasion by other weedy species from spotted knapweed to medusa head.

Cows consume the bulk of all forage on public lands which means that much less to support native ungulates from elk to grasshoppers. Even in Greater Yellowstone which has the greatest concentration of native herbivores, 90% of the forage on public lands in the GYE is allotted to domestic animals in the summer months.

The killing of wolves, grizzlies, etc. are routinely done to mollify ranchers. For instance, three wolves were recently killed in the Sawtooth NRA to appease a rancher.

The drainage or destruction of springs to water livestock has led to a huge decline in native snails and amphibians which rely upon these seeps and springs. In many areas, nearly all springs are “captured” for livestock use.

The cropping of grasses reduces hiding cover for many small mammals, birds, reptiles, etc. For instance, grouse tend to do poorly where stubble height is less than 7-10 inches depending on location. And I can attest that finding 10-inch stubble height left after grazing by cows is a rare occurrence.

Did I mention that livestock is among the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, leading to global warming?

There’s more, but I think you get the point.

There’s no way to operate livestock production in the West without having a significant impact on native ecosystems and wildlife. And Tipton is essentially advocating the destruction of our public lands.


  1. fred wreath Avatar
    fred wreath

    Best way to fight the rancher is to do what I did. Become vegan. I don’t buy there meat anymore.

  2. Mitzy katt Avatar

    I fully support protecting public lands habitat for wildlife and not to benefit individual farmers or ranchers. I no longer eat beef and don’t eat mutton or lamb. I revere wolves as well as other wild animals and see no reason for MY land, which public lands are, has no reason for one or two groups to monopolize most of it.

  3. Frank Krosnicki Avatar
    Frank Krosnicki

    Thanks to you Mr. Wuerthner for a comprehensive analysis of the situation. The problem is that Tipton and other elected officials probably get more contributions from ranchers than from the public in general. Until the real landowners wake up this kind of abuse to our environment and animals will continue.

  4. Bruce Bowen Avatar
    Bruce Bowen

    Another good article from George. However, we have a bigger problem as the executive branch of government does not trust science and wants its base of growling lackeys to deplore and shout down scientific analysis to benefit its corporate benefactors.

    Maybe we are just not noisy enough. We should demand that beef product prices be lowered by 94%. That is the discount federal grazers get on BLM mismanaged land.

    The republicans have always wanted to take over public land so it could be “privatized”. Part of their formula for doing so includes destroying its natural values so it can be acquired cheaply by corporate land speculators. They are succeeding.

    Even 35 years ago at least 85% of BLM lands were over-grazed and no one to my knowledge could find any habitats that were truly natural. We used to call the little tiny spots of land that still represented the old unadulterated habitat “relics”. They are now gone. We have no areas that we can look at to remind us of what is really natural.

    But as Plato once said “Democracy passes into despotism”.

  5. Kathleen Avatar

    “Diane Mitsch Bush opposes opening federal land to livestock grazing: Opponent Rep. Scott Tipton supports idea at congressional hearing”

    Excerpt: “Mitsch Bush is concerned that if local ranchers graze uncontrollably, ranges could be unusable and bodies of water could degrade. She said numerous range-management programs have been effective in mitigating the impact of cattle grazing on watersheds.

    “With all due respect to Mr. Tipton, I don’t think he has studied range management very closely,” Mitsch Bush said. “I think there are better ideas out there to deal with this.”

    Needless to say, I will be voting for Mitsch Bush.