I am a former U.S. Forest Service employee with 30 years experience in the science of range management. Much of that time was spent in helping to bring grazing lands back from disastrous past use and working with enterprising ranchers to develop and implement intensive management programs.
When properly managed, livestock grazing is one of the most effective tools we have. In many instances grazing has been the only tool found to encourage vegetative growth on seemingly sterile areas. An example of this is at the Phelps Dodge mine operation in numerous ways over a period of several years to no avail. Fifteen to 20 years ago on terraces which had been constructed in previous revegetation attempts, small pastures were fenced off. These units were then stocked with cattle one unit at a time. The cattle were fed baled hay for a short predetermined time then moved to the next unit. Even though precipitation was limited, the vegetation began to cover the slopes. This procedure has continued through the years. The slopes responded to the treatment and continue producing vegetation today. The Arizona Department of Mines recently presented Phelps Dodge with their 1999 Reclamation Award for this outstanding accomplishment. The project manager says this success would not have been possible without grazing impacts by the cattle.
Livestock tracks break up crusted soil allowing water to infiltrate rather than run off, carrying the top soil with it. This also creates a seed bed for new plant establishment by loosening the soil, mixing plant material into the soil and planting the seeds.
The disturbance by the cattle hooves leads to better utilization of any moisture that falls. Grazing will also cause tillering of grass and hedging of browse plants, which results in major increases in forage production.
I believe anyone knowledgeable in vegetation management will recognize the fact that plant needs are not very different from human needs. Both need food, water and exercise. Horticulturists practice what might parallel exercise to keep trees and other plants healthy and productive by pruning, mowing and other tasks which are impractical for man to do on rangelands. Proper livestock grazing is the best tool for accomplishing this task on these lands.
Well managed ranch operations, waters and other range improvements available to wildlife are developed and maintained by the grazing permitee. This improvement and maintenance is required as a part of their grazing fees. A large percentage of the improvements done by the ranchers is the development of waters in areas which are only available for browsing and grazing during rainy seasons. The piped water, dams or development of springs in these isolated areas allow for wider dispersion of wildlife, leading to healthier populations. This could contribute to the thinking that cattle are replacing wildlife. The wildlife are not seen as often because they are not along human travelways.In cases where cattle are removed from the allotments, waters often dry up or become unusable for wildlife due to lack of maintenance.
I strongly believe that the Endangered Species Act and the Wild Horse and Burro Act, as they are presently managed, are a detriment to our wildlife because it removes many opportunities and tools to improve the habitat for them. The present natural resource management is primarily political, based on emotions rather than the physiological needs of the vegetation.