Public Land Grazing Maps
Most public land in the American West, including national forests and public domain lands managed by the US Bureau of Land Management, is grazed by private livestock. These maps show public land grazing allotments west-wide and National Forest grazing allotments on the west side of the Klamath National Forest, along the Siskiyou Crest and in or adjacent to the Marble Mountain Wilderness area.
Damaged Riparian Areas
As native bunchgrasses have been eliminated from the drier portions of mountain meadow systems through repeated grazing during a single grazing season, cattle and other livestock have become more and more dependent on grazing and browsing in wet meadows, willow wetlands and next to streams. The resulting damage to riparian areas includes trampled streambanks and removal of shade plants like willows. Damaged riparian areas release sediment into streams rendering them wider and more shallow. Violation of water quality standards for sediment, turbidity, fecal bacteria and excessively high stream water temperature are one result; damage to aquatic species which rely on cold water in streams below grazing allotments is another consequence.
While sheep, goats, horses and even llamas graze on public land, most western public land grazing is by cattle. When the grazers are cattle and they are not herded to rotate grazing impacts among the pastures (meadows) on a grazing allotment, the result is degraded wetlands. The wetlands may be the large willow stands in which Willow flycatchers and other birds nest or they may be wet meadows. But the water-saturated soil of wetlands are not suitable for grazing, particularly by cattle which weigh up to 1400 pounds. As a result hooves “punch” deep into the soil, compacting it. Over time cattle grazing dries out wetlands by lowering the water table. Willow wetlands are not only degraded but also fragmented when cattle push into and through large willow wetlands to graze on the grass below.
Devegetated Dry Meadows
The dominant form of management on western public land grazing allotments is known as Passive, Season-Long or “Christopher Columbus” grazing. Cattle and other livestock owners release their livestock onto public land when the grazing season begins and then “discover” them again in the fall when the snow flies and livestock must be taken to lower elevation. This method of grazing wipes out native bunchgrasses which dominate dry meadows because the bunchgrasses can't take repeated grazing during a single season. The result is vast “barrens” devoid of vegetation as shown in these photos.
Mountain meadows which have never been grazed or from which grazing has been excluded for some time do not contain the large patches of bare ground common where livestock graze year after year. Even on harsh soil like those found along the Siskiyou Ridge, bunchgrasses will recover when grazing ends.
Trampled Springs and Fens
On public land grazing allotments it is rare to find an unfenced spring or fen which has not been severely trampled and degraded as shown in photos in this section. Sometimes government managers fence the springs with taxpayer funds and pipe the water to a trough outside the spring area. But, as the Project to Reform Public Land Grazing in Northern California has documented, many of the fences put up to protect springs from grazing have been removed by unknown persons. Only the private individuals who graze livestock in these areas have an incentive to remove fences which protect springs from trampling.
Degraded Water Quality
When cattle and other livestock graze in springs, other wetlands and within riparian areas, they deposit bovine waste directly into streams and into locations where the waste will be washed into streams during the next high water. The result is fecal bacterial pollution, often in violation of standards established to protect public health and comply with the Clean Water Act. In Northern California, the Quartz Valley Indian Reservation has documented violations of fecal bacteria and nutrient water quality standards in Klamath National Forest streams issuing from grazing allotment. Similar violations have been documented in the Central Sierra Nevada Mountains and in other public land grazing locations across the American West.
Because Forest Service and BLM managers do not require grazing permit holders to employ modern grazing methods but rather allow them to leave their livestock on the public land for months without herding or supervision, some portion of most western grazing allotments are overgrazed while other parts of the allotment may only be lightly grazed or not grazed at all.
Damaged Vegetation and Wildlife Habitat
When cattle are not herded regularly to disperse grazing impacts among the various pastures on a grazing allotment, the cattle will find locations they prefer and remain there for long periods. The result is damage to water quality, wetlands, riparian areas and bunchgrasses. But each form of vegetation is also habitat for wildlife. For example, Willow flycatcher breeding habitat is destroyed by cattle when those cattle are allowed to graze in willow wetlands for long periods. Specialized habitats, for example bitter cherry stands and dry bunchgrass meadows are degraded when cattle are allowed to browse and graze on them for long periods.
Impacts to Recreation
National forest and especially wilderness recreation users avoid areas where cattle graze and may not revisit a wilderness area in which they felt like they were in a feedlot and where they were wakened at night by grazing livestock. Studies indicate that wilderness recreation is a far greater economic benefit to rural communities as compared to economic benefits resulting from public land grazing.
Bad Grazing Management
The District Rangers and BLM Managers responsible for assuring that public land grazing is done in a responsible manner are asleep at the wheel. These managers ignore the damage that is being done and refuse to require modern grazing management, for example, rest rotation grazing which can limit the negative impacts to water, land and habitat. They also don't maintain spring protection fencing and don't investigate when that protective fencing is removed. The Project found spring and wetland protective fencing has been removed on several national forest grazing allotments.