Oct 072010
Authors: Robyn Scherer

I’m betting most of you have been out to public lands at some point in your life. You may have hiked, camped or just gone for a leisurely afternoon drive. You have also probably seen cows on these lands.

Cattle play a very important role in public land management. Many of the lands that are considered improved were done so by cattle ranchers in conjunction with the National Forest Service or other organizations.

I know there are many people who think that livestock should be kept off of public lands, and I would love to know why. Many people think that cattle are only destructive and serve no purpose.
But that is not the case. Cattle graze the land, which in turn fertilizes the area. Cattle are moved on a regular basis per regulations by the National Forest and fenced out of areas that need to be kept from grazing.

Cattle will graze down the grasses, which actually helps the next year’s growth. When grass isn’t grazed down, it becomes what is known as litter. After several years of litter the new growth has a hard time reaching the light, and this will actually cause the overall forage to decrease.
This in turn affects the wildlife because they also rely on the grasses for food. Animals, such as elk, graze very similarly to cattle but will not stay in an area for long enough to do the same grazing that cattle do.

If you think cattle grazing is destructive, try looking at the ways the public impacts the land. Four-wheelers and dirt bikes can tear up the land and make it hard for the natural vegetation to return.

Hikers and campers can either be non-intrusive or can really hurt an environment. According to the organization Leave No Trace “The idea is simple –– leave the places you enjoy as good or better than you found them. There are both skills and ethics involved, as well as good decision-making. We believe that if people do something, even something simple, to help take care of the recreational resources they cherish, we will all benefit.”

However, many people do not follow these rules. They leave bottles, cans, plastics and bags that are not biodegradable. Sometimes animals will eat these things and can get very sick and die.
Many people will also cut down trees, which in reality can be too green to burn. Timber harvest can be beneficial for an area, but the average citizen does not know what is appropriate. There is a lot of dead wood that makes great firewood but may require a walk, which a lot of people do not want to do.

People will also disturb areas where wildlife tend to be, and this can disrupt the natural ecosystem. Cattle can also do this, but not to the same extent that people do.

However, these public areas are just that, public, which means several things to me. It means that, yes, you should be able to use the land. More importantly, however, it means that you are responsible for taking care of the land.

Many cattle ranchers make improvements to the land in addition to paying grazing fees and helping wildlife. Cattle need water to be able to move around, and wildlife also benefit from the increased water availability.

When using public lands and you see a cowpie, don’t think of it as a burden. Think of it as an animal that is helping to improve the land. Make sure to pick up your trash and keep the land in a better condition than when you found it.

Robyn Scherer is a graduate student studying integrated resource management. Her column appears Fridays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to news@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 2:56 pm

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