Grazing is Annual Clearcutting

Many conservationists, most journalists, most government officials and, indeed, most Americans, do not appreciate the damage that livestock cause to the environment. Most people have been conditioned to view pastoral scenes as "natural," at least when compared to more developed areas.

Because cattle have been so pervasive throughout the American West for so long, few examples of ungrazed (by livestock) ecosystems are readily visible to the public. Pristine ungrazed areas are difficult, though not impossible to find.

When people compare an ancient forest and a clearcut, the view generally favors the standing forest and disfavors the dead clearcut. Even if the observer cannot articulate ecological, social or economic reasons favoring the real versus the removed forest, they know intuitively that one is right and the other is wrong.

Ecologically, the annual removal of vegetation by non-native livestock in deserts and grasslands is comparable to clearcutting forests. However, because few pristine grasslands and deserts exist, similar "clearcut" comparisons are difficult to make. Livestock have grazed the American West for two centuries. Present generations experience nature in grasslands and deserts (and some forests) with livestock. They have never seen nature-or can hardly imagine what these landscapes could be-without livestock.