FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Grazing the Spotted Dog Wildlife Area

Recently the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MDFWP) Commission voted to permit cattle grazing on the Spotted Dog Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Approval of livestock grazing on the WMA is based on the theory that a quid pro quo allowing ranchers to graze their cattle on public land will reduce animosity towards wildlife that may inhabit their private holdings.  I’m not aware of any study that has substantiated that theory.

As with almost all decisions to allow livestock on a wildlife area, the commission ignored the cumulative impacts of cattle on wildlife (all wildlife) as they are required by law to do, once again demonstrated that politics trumps science.

There is an abundance of studies that demonstrate that cattle diets overlap with elk diet. Depending on the study, cattle forage preferences overlapped with elk anywhere from 30-85%. Of course, every blade of grass going into a cow is that much less for an elk as well as other native herbivores.

MDFWP suggests that livestock grazing enhances forage quality for elk and that elk preferentially graze livestock areas.  However, elk don’t “need” livestock to prosper. Elk survived centuries without the “benefit” of domestic livestock grazing. Elk in places like the Bob Marshall Wilderness or Yellowstone National Park persist quite well in the absence of cattle grazing.

Many other species depend on the forage grasses and forbs (flowers) that livestock consume from ground squirrels to grasshoppers to bees to butterflies. In heavily grazed areas, there is that much less plant life for food as well as hiding cover.

If cattle grazing results in a reduction in their numbers, this affects a lot of other species. Fewer grasshoppers might mean less food for trout. Fewer ground squirrels impacts birds of prey like hawks and eagles. Fewer bees may indicate less pollination of shrubs. Less cover may expose pronghorn or deer fawn to more predation.  Whether these are a problem with the proposed livestock use of Spotted Dog WMA is unknown because there was no review or discussion by MDFWP.

One documented impact, however, is that cattle socially displaces native ungulates like elk and deer. Under a similar grazing system implemented at Fleecer Mountain WMA near Butte 94% of the elk locations were in pastures without cattle, suggesting that if given a choice, elk avoid cattle.

Cattle grazing of riparian areas seeps, and springs are yet another issue. Cattle evolved in moist woodlands. They spend an excessive amount of time in damp areas that are similar to their evolutionary habitat.  Soil compaction that reduces water infiltration, along with bank trampling both reduce the size and effectiveness of wet areas, this negatively impacts water flows and native fish habitat.

Wetlands, seeps, and springs are also critical for native amphibians like Columbia spotted frog, snails, and many songbirds.

Cheatgrass, a highly flammable annual grass that has led to fires which is a significant cause for the loss of sagebrush ecosystems across the West has been documented on over 600 acres of the WMA. Cattle trample soil crusts. Crusts cover the soil and restrict seed establishment of cheatgrass. Cattle preferentially consuming native grasses results in a competitive advantage for cheatgrass, thus exacerbates the spread of exotic grasses.

Few areas in the state are livestock-free. The Spotted Dog WMA should remain one of them.

 

More articles by:

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
February 28, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Bernie Sanders and the Socialism Question
Vijay Prashad
Witnessing the Hell a Migrant Can Face
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Knives Out
Andrew Levine
Bloomberg: What Is He Good For?
T.J. Coles
The Space Force Becomes a Weapons System, Arms Companies Profit
Henry Giroux
Cult-Like Ignorance is Death: Trump and the Coronavirus
Paul Street
The So-Called Party of the People: From Nevada to South Carolina
Matthew Stevenson
Carolina and Super Tuesday on My Mind
Robert Hunziker
Forever-Chemicals Tap Water
Pete Dolack
No Thinking Please, We’re Red-Baiting
Nick Pemberton
If Bernie Sanders Is Unelectable, Then What The Hell Are The Rest Of You?
Jacob Hornberger
Immunity for Killings by Immigration Police
John Curiel – Jack R. Williams
Analysis of the 2019 Bolivia Election: No Evidence of Irregular Trends or Fraud
Ramzy Baroud
Israel at the Cusp of a Bleak Era
Ron Jacobs
Bloomberg’s Billionaire BS
Farzana Versey
Who Will Douse Delhi’s Flames?
Joseph Natoli
Dispelling the Darkness
Marshall Auerback
Boris Johnson, Not Donald Trump, is the Real Blue-Collar Conservative
Steve Early
VoteVets for Buttigieg:  Who’s Really Keeping Us in the Dark About Campaign Funding?
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: Those Meddling Kids …
Arshad Khan
Trump Visits Modi and Delhi Erupts in Anti-Muslim Riots
Karen J. Greenberg
How Democracy Ends
Tom Clifford
Corona and Flu in Beijing: a Report From the Chinese Capital
Scott Tucker
Pete Buttigieg: The Energizer Bunny of Hegemony
Victor Grossman
Breakthroughs Against the Rightwing Menace in Germany
William Hartung
It’s Time to Debate Pentagon Spending
Seth Sandronsky
Struggling for Shelter: Resistance to California’s Housing Crisis Grows 
Daniel Warner
The UN, Homeostasis and China
Eve Ottenberg
Police Torture in Chicago
Kenn Orphan
The Ruling Class Will Stop at Nothing
Sean Reynolds
A Difficult Peace
W. T. Whitney
For the Climate: Protecting the Commons and Fixing Democracy
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, Political Offences and Legal Restraints
Dedrick Asante-Muhammad – Jamie Buell
Does This Economy Work for Black Americans?
Tracey L. Rogers
Reflections on “Black Excellence”
Jill Richardson
Stop Calling Harmful Bigotry “Religious Freedom”
Barbara G. Ellis
Don’t Depend on FEMA to Save Us From Global-Warming’s Armageddon
Mike Garrity
Why We Sued Trump’s BLM Over Its Sagebrush-Juniper Burning Project in Montana
Christopher Brauchli
The Modi/Trump Anti-Muslim Alliance
John Kendall Hawkins
Science and the Turf Wars of Consciousness
John Peeler
Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
Nicky Reid
Socialism Without Anti-Imperialism: A Different Flavor of Tyranny
Louis Proyect
Spies, Lies and Videotapes
David Yearsley
The Beef with Kobe
Andrew Stewart
How Netflix And “Manning Marable” Killed Malcolm X (The Third Time)
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail