THE CATTLE COMPROMISE:
LIVESTOCK GRAZING’S DAMAGING EFFECT ON WILDERNESS AND
THE WAY TOWARD A LIVESTOCK-FREE WILDERNESS SYSTEM
Livestock are authorized to graze over a quarter of the 52 million acres of protected Wilderness in the lower forty-eight states. Due to grazing language in the Wilderness Act and its 1980s-era corollary, the Congressional Grazing Guidelines, grazing has been occurring in otherwise-undomesticated Wilderness areas for over half a century. Grazing damages Wilderness, yet at one-tenth of a percent of all forage fed to livestock in the United States, grazing in Wilderness hardly contributes to the U.S. livestock industry. This whitepaper reviews the history of livestock grazing in Wilderness areas. It includes a brief discussion of the extent of livestock grazing that occurs in Wilderness and grazing’s harmful impact on Wilderness land and federal agency budgets. It concludes with recommendations to retiring grazing permits in order to protect Wilderness for wildlife, healthy ecosystems, and future generations.
I. Introduction: Livestock Does Not Belong in Wilderness
In the Wilderness Act, Congress exempted some activities that the Act would otherwise bar to allow preexisting, non-conforming activities to continue under some circumstances. Grazing constitutes one of the more troublesome of these activities due to its damaging effect on Wilderness lands and wilderness character.
II. History of Grazing Law and Policy in Wilderness
In 1964, Congress passed the Wilderness Act “to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.” The provision allowing grazing in the Wilderness Act is an exception to the general premise of the Act, which directs agencies to manage Wilderness areas to preserve their wilderness character and natural conditions.
IV. Extent of Grazing in the National Wilderness Preservation System
Livestock actively graze about 10 million acres of the 52.4 million acres of Wilderness in the lower 48 states. Most of the grazing in Wilderness areas takes place in arid or semiarid climates, areas particularly unsuited to grazing. Wilderness areas are unsuited to grazing, yet they are extraordinarily important for biodiversity, scientific study, recreation, and the preservation of wildness.
V. Grazing Economics
The federal grazing program in Wilderness operates at a loss to the U.S. Treasury. In addition to monetary costs, grazing in Wilderness has indirect and intangible environmental costs, including long-term damage to streams, negative impacts on native grassland ecosystems, losses of endangered species, and degradation of the wilderness visitor experience.
VI. Recommendations: Toward a Livestock Free Wilderness System
The most expedient and effective way to reduce and eventually eliminate the destructive impacts of grazing in Wilderness is via Congressional action.
The difficulty in finding effective solutions to the growing problem of grazing in Wilderness signifies that grazing in Wilderness should be reconsidered. Since grazing is inherently contrary to the concept of Wilderness, and since removal of grazing from Wilderness lands will present only minor impacts to the livestock industry as a whole, the most logical conclusion is that it should be phased out or eliminated, and not be allowed to continue in these special areas.