Thursday, February 14, 2013

Of cows and climate

...On Jan. 28, the BLM’s Owyhee Field Office in southwestern Idaho took the opportunity offered by the renewal of four grazing permits to lower the number of cows allowed on those permits. Specifically, the revised permits cut livestock numbers by one third to one half and limit the amount of time the cattle can be on the BLM land. The grazing cutbacks didn't come about just because the BLM was integrating new science, though. Rather, they are the culmination of an epic legal battle begun by the nonprofit Western Watersheds Project, whose pressure has forced the cutbacks. The group, known for its unwillingness to compromise and staunch opposition to public lands grazing, sued the BLM in 1997 for issuing nearly 70 permits without a thorough consideration of rangeland health. In 2002, a U.S. District Court judge ruled in WWP’s favor.  Because of that ruling, the agency is just now re-evaluating the health of the area, and an environmental analysis of the first four permits found that all of the allotments violated at least two, and sometimes four, of the BLM’s rangeland health standards, including water quality, endangered species habitat and native plant health. More importantly, the analysis determined that livestock were “significant causal factors” in the allotments’ failure to meet standards -- in other words, the cows are to blame. A small paragraph in document also notes that cattle are a stressor that adds to impacts already being wrought by climate change, and cites a paper published in January in Environmental Management that details the relationship between cattle and climate...more

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