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Livestock have done more damage to the Earth than the chainsaw and bulldozer combined. Not only have livestock been around longer than developers, miners, and loggers, but they have grazed nearly everywhere. On public land across the West, millions of non-native livestock (including cattle, sheep, goats and horses) remove and trample vegetation, imperil species, damage soil, spread invasive weeds, despoil water, deprive native wildlife of forage and shelter, accelerate desertification and even contribute to global warming.
"Livestock grazing is the most damaging use of public land."
While causing extensive environmental damage, public lands ranching offers few benefits, even to those in the livestock business: only 3% our nation’s beef supply comes from federal public lands and only 3% of American ranchers are federal grazing permittees - many of whom make little to no profit notwithstanding federal subsidies.
WildEarth Guardians and Public Lands Grazing Reform
WildEarth Guardians’ campaign to reduce and eliminate public lands grazing dates to our founding in 1995. We employ a variety of tools to expose the environmental harm, and fiscal, economic and social effects of public lands ranching and build public support to reform public lands grazing.
Because federal land management agencies continue to coddle ranchers and ignore long-standing and widespread environmental damage, litigation based advocacy has been an essential component of our public lands grazing campaign. The ubiquity of livestock production and the diversity of landscapes and resources damaged by grazing means that there are a diversity of opportunities to hold ranching accountable under federal environmental laws. We have litigated to enforce the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Wilderness Act and numerous other environmental statutes in an effort to protect western streams, rivers, wetlands, forests, grasslands and deserts from the harmful effects of livestock grazing. One of our major legal victories resulted in the elimination of livestock grazing from more than 300 miles of perennial streams on national forests throughout the Gila River watershed.
In addition, we have exposed ‘cowboy socialism’ in Arizona and New Mexico by participating in the free market to “unranch” state school trust lands and demonstrate that these lands are grossly undervalued. These efforts highlight the welfare ranching theme, by juxtaposing ranching subsidies and cut-rate grazing fees with the needs of public school children, who would benefit from increased revenue generated by more equitable and democratic leasing policies. In New Mexico we have acquired numerous state land leases and engaged local schools in restoring damaged lands, maximizing public education and support for ending livestock industry hegemony over state lands. In addition to our state lands program, we work to expose and undermine federal fiscal policies that subsidize the livestock industry on federal public lands.
WildEarth Guardians also has invested major organizational resources to protect imperiled plants and animals threatened with extinction by pursuing protection for them under the Endangered Species Act. WildEarth Guardians Endangered Species Act Listing program focuses on obtaining ESA listing for hundreds of imperiled species. Once these species are listed, invoking the ESA on western public lands and waters will dramatically increase the pressure on grazing permittees to concede that livestock production is unsustainable in these ecosystems.
Finally, in 1999 WildEarth Guardians became a founding member of the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign that seeks to introduce federal legislation to authorize voluntary federal grazing permit retirement.