Wednesday, August 03, 2016

FWS working with ranchers to preserve range

...Recently, some public opinion has suggested that livestock grazing may be incompatible with conserving the sagebrush ecosystem, specifically sage grouse habitat.

Your U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Great Basin area State Directors are sharing our perspectives gained collectively through decades of both scientific study and on-the-ground learning from those who live on the land.

There are current and legacy examples of livestock grazing negatively affecting sagebrush ecosystems and sage grouse habitat. However, we are aware of many examples of ranchers grazing livestock in a manner that keeps the sagebrush ecosystem healthy for both wildlife and people.
This fact is important to recognize, learn from and share.

Livestock grazing may be the most widespread, long-term human influence on sagebrush ecosystems in the Great Basin since European settlement. But it is invasive plants, especially cheatgrass, which have changed how the sagebrush ecosystem responds to stress from wildfire and grazing.

Another threat is the degradation of riparian areas, wet meadows and springheads. Avoiding overgrazing – however that may be defined – is key to supporting a healthy sagebrush ecosystem, which includes abundant native bunchgrasses and forbs. These rangelands are less likely to host cheatgrass, have a higher resilience from disturbance such as fire and are less likely to be impacted by grazing.

While we acknowledge that improperly managed livestock grazing can facilitate threats to upland and riparian areas, we have also seen that proper grazing can achieve healthy outcomes.

For years the Service has collaborated with ranchers who have demonstrated an interest in and ability to graze livestock in a way that conserves sagebrush ecosystems and is consistent with objectives in the newly revised federal land management plans. Working cooperatively with the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service and state resource agencies, we are reaching out to ranchers more and asking them to teach us how their successful grazing management is promoting native plants, reducing cheatgrass, and ensuring healthy riparian areas and springs. This collaboration across federal, state and private land ownership is key to removing threats to sage grouse and sagebrush ecosystems.

 Ted Koch is U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service field supervisor for Nevada; Paul Henson is state supervisor for Oregon; Dennis Mackey is state supervisor for Idaho; and Larry Crist is state supervisor for Utah.

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