Horse News

Livestock grazing extremists obscure real-world solutions

by Debbie Coffey

In my opinion…

We need to find a fix for the unhealthy populations of non-native, domestic cattle and sheep on public lands.

Imagine a proposal to introduce privately owned livestock onto the public lands of the American West.  The owners of the privately owned livestock would successfully gain use of 229 million acres of public lands in the West.   The livestock would be owned by a politically powerful industry that attracted a passionate following — people who love using public lands for their private profit so much that they influence the federal management of their privately owned animals so that they would rarely, if ever, be restricted by law.  Some of them would be so passionate that they would take over and occupy government buildings for 41 days, and end up costing taxpayers at least $9 million, including $2.3 million on federal law enforcement and $1.7 million to replace damaged or stolen property.

The downside of these privately owned livestock would be that they destroy native vegetation, damage soils and stream banks, and contaminate waterways with fecal waste.  After decades of livestock grazing, once-lush streams and riparian forests have been reduced to flat, dry wastelands; once-rich topsoil has been turned to dust, causing soil erosion, stream sedimentation and wholesale elimination of some aquatic habitats; overgrazing of native fire-carrying grasses has starved some western forests of fire, making them overly dense and prone to unnaturally severe fires.  Not to mention that predators like the grizzly and Mexican gray wolf were driven extinct in southwestern ecosystems by “predator control” programs designed to protect the livestock industry.

Livestock grazing of privately owned livestock on public lands is promoted, protected and subsidized by federal agencies.  A new analysis  finds U.S. taxpayers have lost more than $1 billion over the past decade on a program that allows cows and sheep to graze on public land.  Last year alone taxpayers lost $125 million in grazing subsidies on federal land.  Had the federal government charged fees similar to grazing rates on non-irrigated private land, the program would have made $261 million a year on average rather than operate at a staggering loss, the analysis finds.

Costs and Consequences: The Real Price of Livestock Grazing on America’s Public Lands

Just imagine what would happen if this livestock industry continued to thrive while all other natural resources were exhausted and while wildlife starved, died of thirst or became extinct.

Clearly, this is a difficult scenario to support.  Congress needs to overhaul the outdated livestock grazing program and reign in the use of livestock grazing on public lands.  These “welfare ranchers” treat public lands as if they are their own private lands and don’t want to share public lands with wildlife (unless that wildlife can be hunted).  The Bureau of Land Management is supposed to to “maintain a thriving natural ecological balance and multiple use relationship” but it heavily favors the livestock grazing industry, even though livestock grazing has damaged 80 percent of the streams and riparian ecosystems in the West.

There are currently very powerful lobbying efforts using misinformation to convince Congress to “euthanize” (kill) or sterilize over 46,000 wild horses and burros in BLM holding facilities, and tens of thousands more on public lands.  But what about the millions of privately owned cattle and sheep on public lands?

There was recently a secretive meeting (closed to the public) in Salt Lake City, Utah, called the National Wild Horse & Burro Summit.  The only groups invited were special interest groups that promote livestock grazing, and academia/universities who rely on money from these special interest groups and government agencies who favor these special interest groups.  The Summit focused on the supposed damage done by wild horses and burros on public lands, while ignoring the real source of the widespread and well documented damage to water and rangeland ecosystems:  domestically owned livestock.   Since they talked about killing our wild horses and burros, this conference was aptly dubbed the “Slaughter Summit.”

Cattle slurping up water in the West (photo: EPA)

Go to the websites of the livestock industry, and you’ll notice that there’s no mention that millions of domestically owned livestock graze on public lands and overgraze or harm wildlife species.  There is no mention that cattle and sheep are not native to North America, since they arrived on Spanish and English ships about 500 years ago.

These extremists try to justify their interests by claiming they grow food, but only 3% of beef grown in the U.S. is grazed on public lands.  Most privately owned livestock graze on privately owned land.

The wild horse & burro population estimates used by these special interest groups are compiled by the BLM and have been found to be scientifically impossible, since the BLM, per its own population estimates, has claimed some wild horse herds increased by as much as 750% or 1250% in only one year.

Fringe “cowboys” have been effective at lobbying for the slaughter of old, unadoptable – or really any – horses.  The BLM has taken away over 22 million acres from Herd Areas, which were supposed to be the federally protected areas for wild horses and burros, and allows livestock grazing on most of the remaining, smaller Herd Management Areas (in addition to millions of other acres on public lands).

It’s easy for people in the other 40 states to be swayed by the livestock grazing extremists.  They look like real cowboys.  But many “ranchers” are large corporations.  Their efforts are responsible for the current situation, in which taxpayers support their private businesses of grazing millions of privately owned livestock on public lands, leaving us with no end in sight, not in numbers, not in funding, not in ecological damage.  What is a real-world solution?

33 replies »

  1. Just for some sense of scale, Americans were estimated to spend over $9B just on Halloween, or over $85 on average. Each American’s share of our current wild horse and burro program is less than 25 cents. The livestock grazing program loses us all about 3x more than that, excluding other related costs like wildlife services, remediation, diversion of water sources, lost tourism value (nobody wants to pitch a tent in a campsite full of cowpies) etc.

    “This holiday that celebrates all things dark and wicked is the nation’s second-largest holiday, and is projected to rake in $9.1 billion in sales. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), Americans will spend an average of $86.13 on candy, costumes and creepy confectioneries.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • By the way, those are some VERY skinny cows in the (undated and uncaptioned) photo.

      They should be both pregnant and nursing, times of maximum nutritional demands which the photo shows is not available to them. This is evidence of poor management on many levels.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I haven’t, although I did send this article to Mr. Calvert, the editor at High Country News, to ask if he’d print an opposing opinion.
        Sharon O’Toole is a sheep and cattle rancher. Per their website, Sharon’s husband, Pat, has served in the Wyoming House of Representatives, the Western Water Policy Commission, and is currently President of the Family Farm Alliance, representing irrigators and water users in the western United States. I wonder if he was invited to the Slaughter Summit along with Sharon.


      • Pat “O’Toole calls litigious green groups — he included the Western Watersheds Project, Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians, among others — “the haters,” and collaborative conservation groups — Environmental Defense Fund, the Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited, among others — “the hopefuls.”

        One of the “haters,” the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, filed a lawsuit in 2012 aimed at blocking the O’Tooles’ sheep from accessing the forest. BCA has since closed its doors, but the lawsuit is still working its way through the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming.

        Peer-reviewed scientific studies have confirmed that domestic sheep can transmit a pneumonialike disease to bighorns when they come in contact on Western rangelands. The disease has caused major die-offs of bighorns of as much as 50 percent. It’s a conflict the Forest Service is trying to resolve across the West — one that has major ramifications for sheep ranchers.

        The BCA lawsuit seeks to prevent the O’Tooles’ sheep from making contact with the Encampment River herd.”


  2. Grazing Fee Drops in 2017, Further Undervaluing Public Lands
    By Press Release On January 31, 2017

    LARAMIE, Wyo. -The public lands management agencies announced the grazing fee for federal allotments today, which the federal government has decreased to a mere $1.87 per cow and her calf (or 5 sheep) per month, known as an Animal Unit Month, or AUM.

    Liked by 1 person


    Banjo Sheep Company LLC received payments totaling $661,187 from 1995-2016
    Salisbury Livestock Co received payments totaling $505,546 from 1995-2016
    Ladder Livestock Company LLC received payments totaling $255,179 from 1995-2016

    USDA subsidy information for Patrick Otoole
    Banjo Sheep Company LLC Moffat County, Colorado 50.0 %
    Salisbury Livestock Co Moffat County, Colorado 15.5 %
    Ladder Livestock Company LLCMoffat County, Colorado 33.3 %

    USDA subsidy information for Sharon S O’toole
    Banjo Sheep Company LLC Moffat County, Colorado 50.0 %
    Salisbury Livestock Co Moffat County, Colorado 38.5 %
    Ladder Livestock Company LLC Moffat County, Colorado 33.3 %



    Click to access SheepFinal.pdf

    The United States sheep industry is rooted in history and tradition, dating back to the second voyage of Columbus in 1493. Domesticated sheep were used by colonists primarily for wool for home-produced textiles and, to a lesser extent, meat. Today the U.S. sheep industry is one of the most complex industries in animal agriculture. Sheep provide lamb and mutton (mature sheep) meat for consumption, wool and pelts for textiles, and milk from the emerging dairy sheep industry.

    Despite the sheep industry’s long history and versatility, the dominant feature has been the steady decline in the number of sheep and lamb since the mid-1940s. (Figure 1) From a record high of 56 million head in 1942, inventories have declined to 6.2 million head as of January 1, 2007, the lowest level in recorded history.



    Economic considerations of livestock grazing on public lands in the United States of America
    Neil R. Rimbey, John A. Tanaka, and L. Allen Torell
    doi:10.2527/af.2015-0044 32 Animal Frontiers

    Dependency on Public Lands
    Public lands supplied about 14.7 million AUMs of forage in 2013. Dividing the public land AUMs (14.7 million) by our estimate of forage required to maintain the livestock herds results in an estimated dependency on public lands of 4.0%.In other words, using these gross figures, we estimate that 4% of annual livestock forage is coming from western US public lands, and sheep producers depend on public lands for about 9% of their annual forage requirements.

    These gross estimates of dependency gloss over important considerations relating to the regional importance and seasonal dependency upon public land forage. Using ranch sales data, Torell et al. (1992) estimated that about half of the ranches in New Mexico (a state that is 33% public land) have very little if any public lands. Other ranches depend almost totally on public lands for grazing capacity, especially during selected seasons. Taylor et al. (1982) used 1977 data in Colorado to estimate seasonal dependencies on federal land forages. They found that public-land dependencies during the summer and fall were as high as 50 to 60% in Colorado. Rimbey et al. (2003) found that year-long dependencies on public land in Owyhee County, Idaho ranged from 25 to more than 70%, and seasonal rates were highest during the spring–fall grazing seasons.

    • Many livestock ranches in the western states of the United States of America depend on public lands for a viable economic enterprise.
    • Dependency on public-land forage resources varies by region and season of use throughout the west.
    • Public land grazing fees were originally set to equalize public land grazing costs with those found on private lands.
    • Operating a public-lands-based ranching operation in an economically profitable manner has become more difficult due to increases in public-land regulations and requirements.
    • Proper grazing of livestock on public lands is being recognized as an important ecosystem service derived from those lands.

    Similarly, Gentner and Tanaka (2002) surveyed western US ranching operations with public-land grazing permits and found high seasonal dependency levels for public-land forage. For example, for a dependent family ranch, seasonal dependency averaged 25% in spring, 51% in summer, 34% in fall, and 14% in winter. Similar estimates of dependency on public lands were apparent for the other types of ranches categorized by the authors. Sheep ranches exhibited the highest levels of dependency of all ranches included in this western US ranch survey (Gentner and Tanaka, 2002). Our estimates of forage demand versus public land forage supply in the western US region indicate that about 19% of the forage in the western US is provided by the BLM and FS (Table 1). These estimates of regional and seasonal dependencies on public lands are similar to the calculations of Backiel (1985) in a congressional briefing paper: “Federal rangelands provide forage for approximately 3% of the US beef cattle population and 28% of the total sheep but provide 17% of the forage in the West.”

    …For more than 90% of the New Mexico ranch sales, US$1 in livestock income adds less than US$5 to ranch value on a per acre basis (Torell et al. 2005). In the Great Basin (Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho) ranches we analyzed, livestock income explained less than 3% of ranch value (Rimbey et al. 2007).


    • After skimming thru this – sounds like the only thing saving public lands from development is ranching & livestock??? Yet it does verify that only 3% of beef cattle forage comes from public lands!
      Maybe my take on it is wrong?


  6. The solution is to decrease the welfare cattle and sheep populations on public lands,

    — give back millions of acres of land HMAs take away from wild horses,

    — return the wild mustangs and burros in holding pens to these public lands

    to live out their lives in freedom,

    —— And NOT KILL healthy wild horses and burros.

    Please use your voice to protect them before they are gone forever

    So that future generations can see them in the wild and

    not just on TV or in the movies.

    —— Our Senators need to know that the public cares.

    Please call your Senators to Vote Against killing healthy wild horses and burros.

    Thanks for your attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes!
      Achieving justice for our wild horses and burros depends on BLM officials exercising their authority to legally reduce private, usually corporate, domestic livestock grazing in the wild horse and burros’ legal areas, whether on BLM or USFS lands. Such exercise would be legally covered under 43 Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) 4710.3-2 and 43 C.F.R 4710.5(a). In particular, 43 C.F.R. 4710.5 clearly states that the Bureau of Land Management can legally reduce livestock grazing in order “to provide habitat for wild horses or burros.”
      § 4710.5 Closure to livestock grazing.
      (a) If necessary to provide habitat for wild horses or burros, to implement herd management actions, or to protect wild horses or burros, to implement herd management actions, or to protect wild horses or burros from disease, harassment or injury, the authorized officer may close appropriate areas of the public lands to grazing use by all or a particular kind of livestock.


    • Well said, “Federal grazing permits/leases do NOT convey “grazing rights” on federal public lands. Grazing permits issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service allow the permit/lease holder the privilege to use publicly owned forage on federal public lands. The permits do not confer a right to permittees/lessees to graze public lands.”


  7. Just ONE example/NEVADA


    Location: Northern Nevada, United States Mine Type:Ranch Employment†: 20 employees

    Elko Land and Livestock Company (ELLCo), a subsidiary of Newmont, owns and operates several ranches in Nevada. In addition to exploring and developing mineral resources, Newmont’s four major ranches – TS, Horseshoe, Big Springs and IL – are also managed for traditional uses, such as livestock production and agriculture, as well as for renewable resource development. Combined, the ranches include 750,000 acres of private land and 1.5 million acres of grazing allotments on public lands. Most significantly, the ranches provide land management and mitigation resources to support our mining operations.

    All of our ranches have federal grazing allotments and associated grazing permits. The ranches are located in the following Nevada counties:
    • TS Ranch – Eureka and Lander counties
    • Horseshoe Ranch – Northern Eureka County
    • Big Springs Ranch – Elko County
    • IL Ranch – Elko, Pershing and Humboldt counties
    The ranches’ elevations, soils and vegetation vary from salt-desert shrub in the lower elevation valleys, to sagebrush on the mountain slopes, to aspen trees at the higher elevations. Irrigated croplands and meadows represent the ‘farmland’ on the ranches. Dispersed throughout are riparian areas and associated meadows, springs and streams. Wildlife is abundant and includes many species of neo-tropical birds, waterfowl and upland birds, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and other species. Some of the streams on our ranch land support Lahontan Cutthroat Trout – a threatened species.
    The TS Hay Program
    The TS hay program began in the early 1870s, when William Dunphy, the founder of the TS Ranch, constructed an irrigation system along the Humboldt River and the Rock Creek floodplain in Boulder Valley. Since that time, both flood and sprinkler irrigation has been expanded and improved. Today, alfalfa, grass, and grain hay are produced and hay is raised primarily as winter-feed for the TS cowherd. The top end hay is directed to the California dairy markets, with the balance of the hay crop being consumed by the TS cowherd or sold to neighboring ranchers.
    The TS Cowherd
    The TS cowherd comprises approximately 5,500 commercial cows, 750 replacement heifers and 250 herd bulls. These animals are wintered on private pasture lands and spend the summers grazing on public and private rangelands. The herd has been deliberately developed over the past 20 years and is carefully managed for genetics, health and production.


  8. Big Talk, No Change from Newmont Mining
    Katherine McDonnell, May , 2015

    We were conducting a fact-finding trip to Cajamarca, Peru, to interview people about the contentious Conga gold and copper mine project being developed by Colorado-based Newmont Mining, through its joint venture Minera Yanacocha. A lawyer for the Peruvian civil society organization Grufides, Mirtha represents many people affected by the mine project. Her clients include Father Marco Arana, an activist and former priest who has been beaten by police and targeted in a complex spying plot by Newmont’s private security company, and Maxima Acuña, a farmer who has been harassed, intimidated, beaten, and sued for simply wanting to remain on her family’s land.

    There is a long history of tension between community members who oppose the proposed Conga mine (because of the irreparable damage it will cause) and Newmont, whose Minera Yanacocha is funded by the IFC, the World Bank Group’s private lending arm. Both the Peruvian National Police – hired and paid by Newmont – and Newmont’s private security continue to use violence and intimidation against the opposition.

    The national government has even enacted laws to repress protest by targeting protestors as terrorists, making protesting (or suspicion of planning to protest) serious crimes with exaggerated punishments. At the same time, laws protect the police from liability for any injuries or deaths at their hands during protests. Newmont has powerful friends in Peru.

    To make light of a serious situation, where peoples’ homes, livelihoods, health, physical security, and even lives themselves are being threatened by the actions of Newmont – where people have already been harassed, beaten, and even killed – is in very poor taste.
    Especially when speaking at a conference on business and human rights.


  9. All of this is true, and so thorough. I am going to post a link for this article on twitter to combat the recent fraudulent letter sent to Congress by the Cattlemen’s Association. Every single thing that this letter addresses is a LIE. ALL OF IT! I wish the NRDC would sue them, and expose them for what they truly are. I don’t see any other way to stop these horrible people. Most importantly is the LIE THAT WILD HORSE POPULATIONS HAVE GROWN 1250%!! This has been established that the numbers are scientifically impossible and the BLM claims they’re true, because they work for the special interests of cattlemen. This agency has been perverted from its’ original purpose. THEY MUST BE STOPPED! I think it is necessary to create a committee of non-partisan professionals who can organize groups to literally count the wild horses and burros left of the public lands. We cannot rest on the false reporting of the BLM. They are not unbiased. WE FIRST NEED REAL NUMBERS TO EXPEL THEIR CLAIMS OF OVERPOPULATION AND GO ON FROM THERE.

    Liked by 1 person

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