Grazing A Vital Part Of Our Ecosystem


by Carroll Cox
Why should we be concerned about "Ranching's Last Roundup" (Payson Roundup, Feb. 1)? Getting rid of cattle on public lands has long been the agenda of the feds and many environmental groups. They are only doing what they do best -- trampling on the heritage, culture and very civilization of some of the most stable, productive and enduring segments of American population.

But they are doing something else, too ... hastening the ruination of the very land they claim to be protecting.

In response to the nonsensical prattle about "biological diversity" from Forest Service lackeys and armchair environmentalists, let me tell you a story.

Years ago, my cousin, Jinx Pyle, and his father sold the ranch under the Rim that had been in the Pyle family for more than 100 years. As Bill Conway said in your article, any kind of rancher management is hamstrung on federal land. Jinx took over a neglected 1,600-acre ranch in Oregon that was choked with chaparral brush, poison oak, foxtail and blackberry thickets. He divided the ranch into 54 pastures, ranging from 10 to 200 acres each, separating them with an electric single wire. He moved his herd of 350 head of cattle from pasture to pasture -- yes, 350 head of cattle on 10 acres -- length of stay in each one depending on the time of year and amount of rainfall.

Within two years, perennial grasses -- clover, perennial rye, orchard grass -- were returning to the land. Deer began coming in about two pastures behind the cattle. Deer graze differently. They are primarily forb eaters. Turkey started showing up. Beaver returned to the creek and began building dams.

Jinx occasionally sprayed the brush thickets with salt and minerals so the cattle would eat and thin them. The cattle accessed the creek at different points for different time periods and trampled the eroded banks into gentle slopes that grass could grow on and prevent further erosion.

Within three years, the pastures were thriving with so much grass that winter feeding was no longer necessary except during a severe snowstorm. Several people from Payson visited the Pyles in Oregon and witnessed the transformation.

The point of this story is that overgrazing is a matter of time upon the land, not numbers of cattle.

The rich grasslands of the West were developed over thousands of years by millions of hoofed animals. Before the 15 million buffalo of last century, there were mammoths and members of ancient cattle, deer and horse families. Like in Africa, they bunched in vast herds and moved from place to place with predators, leaving behind tilled and fertilized earth that new seeds could germinate in.

Two cows on five acres permanently creates a moonscape. One hundred cows three or four times a year for short periods can produce lush ground cover, organic matter, earthworms and millions of invisible microorganisms doing their work in the soil and thus, biological diversity.

In brittle, arid environments such as ours, old plant growth takes years to break down naturally. Any local gardener knows that our soil is lacking in humus and organic matter. Hoofed animals on the move provide that organic matter. Day by day, year by year, I watch the results of federal land management on the soil around Payson. Ground that is capped and becoming steadily more sterile and eroded, growing only noxious weeds, brush thickets and puny junipers sucking up the scarce water and nutrients, fuel for massive fires and cripplers of the water cycle. And in recent years, cactus -- a graphic sign of the process of desertification.

But never mind. While the land goes to pot, the Forest Service can stay productive by doing paperwork, responding to litiguous ignoramuses and putting up their little signs, "this fire caused by humans." And we can comfort ourselves with our Wal-Mart Supercenter, gated communities and magnificent golf courses.

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