Lost or Spoiled Hunting and Fishing Opportunities

Grazing Impacts on Hunting

Domestic livestock grazing reduces wildlife populations by competing for food, water, and space, and degrading wildlife habitat. Habitat degradation caused by grazing also exposes prey species to increased predation (due to lost vegetative cover for concealment and escape), resulting in further declines in wildlife populations. The vast majority of forage and water resources in the West are devoted to domestic livestock grazing, depriving hunters and fishers of what could be incredible sporting opportunities. Ironically, despite the preference it receives, livestock grazing provides less economic benefit to local, regional and national economies than does the presence of wildlife. Every economic study done comparing grazing to hunting/fishing/watching/photographing elk, deer, trout, waterfowl, wolves and even songbirds (which attract birdwatchers) demonstrates that native wildlife has a higher economic value than producing livestock with the same natural resources (Duffield, et al.1994, Campbell 1970, Loomis, et al. 1989, Duffield 1989).

Range resources in the arid West are finite and the past and present practice of allocating the majority of forage, water, and space to horses, cattle and sheep on public lands has seriously affected the carrying capacity for native species. (Wuerthner 1992). Every blade of grass consumed by domestic livestock is unavailable to wild herbivores. For example, a study of antelope and domestic livestock in New Mexico showed that pronghorn diets over-lapped 39 percent with domestic sheep and 16 percent with cattle (Howard, et al. 1990). And Mackie (1970) reported forage competition between deer, elk and livestock in Montana's Missouri Breaks. Similar findings of dietary overlap of deer and elk with domestic livestock were reported in Oregon (Miller and Vavra 1982) and Alberta (Teller 1994).

The mere presence of domestic livestock also causes a shift in habitat use by native species, often relegating native ungulates to less suitable habitats with a resulting decline in vigor and survival. For example, mule deer have been discovered to shift their habitat use in response to livestock grazing (Lott, et al. 1991). Elk in Montana have also moved away from pastures that were actively grazed by cattle (Frisina 1992), and elk and mule deer in Arizona have declined after cattle were introduced to pastures (Wallace and Krausman 1987). Both deer and elk vacated preferred habitats after livestock were introduced into areas in Alberta (Teller 1994).

Disease transmission from domestic livestock to wildlife is yet another problem. Many bighorn sheep herds in the West are decimated by disease transmitted from domestic livestock (Goodson 1982, Berger 1990, Krausman, et al. 1996). Indeed, the presence of domestic sheep in bighorn range is the major factor that precludes the restoration of wild sheep to many former and otherwise suitable habitats throughout the West.

Many gamebirds are also negatively affected by livestock grazing. Sage grouse populations are declining throughout the West due to a host of problems created by livestock production (Connelly, et. al. 2000). The loss of hiding cover in heavily grazed rangelands exposes nesting grouse and other species like quail and sandhill crane to higher predation rates (Gregg et. al 1994, Brown 1982, Littlefield and Paullin 1990). Grazing on wet meadows used by sage grouse chicks reduces food availability and increases losses to predators. Fences used to contain livestock become perching sites for avian raptors that prey on grouse. And haying operations, along with grazing negatively impacts many ground nesting bird species (Kirsh, et al. 1978). Waterfowl production also suffers as a result of grazing and haying operations that reduce hiding cover, resulting in higher nest failures (Greenwood, et. al. 1988, Gilbert, et al. 1992).

Grazing Impacts on Fishing

Livestock grazing is also responsible for major declines in fish populations throughout the West, including species prized by anglers like trout and salmon (Li, et al. 1994, Dudley and Emburgy 1995, Duff 1977, Marcuson 1997, Platts 1981, Shepard 1992). Livestock trampling and grazing in riparian areas has greatly altered aquatic habitats (Chaney, et al. 1990, Kauffman and Krueger 1984), reducing their carrying capacity for native fish. Proposed solutions such as fencing riparian zones are exceedingly costly and have other ecological consequences as well (Platts and Wagstaff 1984).

In addition to direct impacts to fisheries from trampling and grazing, livestock production accounts for the greatest withdrawal of water in the West (Reisner and Bates 1990). Streams are often totally dewatered for irrigation, especially for hay and alfalfa for livestock feed. Dewatering is a major factor in the decline of native fish (Minckley and Deacon 1990, Moyle and Williams 1990), causing declines in water quality with higher temperatures and greater concentration of pollutants, and eliminating spawning and feeding habitat for fish. Loss of fish in irrigation ditches is also a significant problem (Good and Kronberg 1986).

Hunters, fishers, and simple lovers of wildlife have good reason to support the removal of domestic livestock from public lands. As livestock numbers are reduced, hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching opportunities will increase, as well as the quality of the experience.


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Text by George Wuerthner; edited by Mark Salvo.