Livestock Impacts Hunters and Fishers.
by George Wuerthner. 4-17-02

     If you are a hunter or fisher, livestock production has numerous impacts that negatively affects these activities.

     Livestock affects huntable wildlife in a number of ways that reduces the overall availability of animals by degrading habitat, competing with native species, and increasing losses to predators. There is no free lunch. You simply can't be putting the majority of forage, water, and space into exotic animals like domestic sheep and cattle without seriously affecting the carrying capacity of the land for native species. Counter arguments that livestock production benefits wildlife need careful review and evaluation. In most cases there is no control, or alternative management options would produce the same or better results (Wuerthner 1992).

      Every blade of grass consumed by domestic animals is that much less forage available for wild herbivores. Domestic livestock are direct competitors with wild ungulates and other wildlife for habitat, and also contribute to significant habitat quality declines. The ironic fact is that using public forage, water and space to support domestic livestock makes far less economic sense than using it to produce native fish and wildlife. Every economic study done comparing elk, deer, trout, waterfowl, wolves and even songbirds that attract birdwatchers demonstrates that native wildlife has a higher economic value than producing livestock with these same resources (Duffield et al 1994, Campbell 1970, Loomis et al. 1989, Duffield 1989).

     The single biggest factor affecting hunting opportunities is livestock-wildlife forage and water competition. For instance, a study of antelope and domestic livestock in New Mexico showed that pronghorn diets over-lapped 39% with domestic sheep and 16% 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 livestock were reported in Oregon (Miller and Vavra. 1982) and Alberta (Teller 1994).

     Moreover, the mere presence of domestic livestock often causes a shift in habitat use by native species. Often these shifts place native ungulates in lower quality habitats with a resulting decline in individual vigor and survival. For instance, mule deer in California were found to shift their habitat use in response to livestock (Lott et al. 1991). Elk in Montana also moved out of pastures that were actively grazed by cattle (Frisina, M.R. 1992). Elk and mule deer in Arizona also decreased after cattle were introduced on to pastures (Wallace and Krausman 1987). And both deer and elk shifted use from preferred habitats in Alberta after livestock were introduced into the area (Teller 1994).

     Disease transmission is 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 livestock is the major factor that precludes the restoration of wild sheep to many former, but not empty ranges throughout the West.

     Many game birds are also negatively affected by livestock production. For instance, sage grouse populations are in decline throughout the West due to a host of problems created by livestock production (Connelly et. al. 2000). 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 of wet meadows used by grouse chicks reduces food availability and increases losses to predators. And fences used to contain livestock creates 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).

     The net result is a decrease in overall wildlife populations.

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

     In addition to these direct impacts to fish habitat from livestock trampling and grazing, livestock production accounts for the greatest water withdrawals in the West (Reisner and Bates 1990). Dewatering of streams for irrigation, particularly of hay and alfalfa is the single largest consumer of water in the West and one of the major factors in the decline of native fish (Minckley and Deacon 1990, Moyle and Williams 1990). Loss of fish in irrigation ditches is a significant problem (Good and Kronberg 1986). Needless to say, dewatering not only causes a decline in water quality with higher temperatures and greater concentration of pollutants, but also eliminates spawning and feeding habitat for fish.

    In short, if you hunt or fish, you have good reason to support the removal of domestic livestock from public lands. As livestock numbers are reduced, hunting and fishing opportunities will increase, as well as the quality of the experience.


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