I recently spent a few days on the Dixie National Forest in southern Utah. One of the defining characteristics of the forest is that nearly all the acreage that is not a cliff or inaccessible canyon is used for cattle grazing. And without exception, almost all allotments are overgrazed and abused. Nearly all the allotments I visited were grazed down to golf course height or even bare dirt.
What I saw is essentially legalized vandalism. For example, if I were to tear down a Forest Service sign, I could be fined or perhaps even arrested, but you can easily replace a sign. This ecological damage is much more severe and long-lasting, yet the Forest Service does nothing to preclude it.
Incredibly, the “range cons” who are supposed to monitor and manage the livestock grazing here can somehow look at themselves in the mirror in the morning and still accept taxpayer-supported salaries while allowing this vandalism to occur.
Why is such abusive grazing terrible for the public? To start with, when the grass is cropped to one inch or less height, there is no hiding cover for small rodents, ground-nesting birds, and other wildlife.
Such heavy grazing also leaves little forage for other native herbivores, from ground squirrels to elk.
Short grass exposes the soil to more evapotranspiration and enhances desertification, which is already the dominant feature of this part of Utah.
Cattle grazing compacts the soil, reducing water infiltration, leading to rapid runoff from summer thunderstorms, contributing to the arroyo cutting prevalent throughout the forest.
There is widespread trampling by livestock of biocrusts that cap much of the soil in southern Utah. Loss of biocrusts increases wind and water erosion.
Nearly all the riparian areas were almost stripped of vegetation, while banks were trampled and broken. This loss of streamside vegetation is particularly deleterious in an arid land since 70-80% of the wildlife depends on these green lines of vegetation along streams.
The ranchers responsible for this vandalism should be fined and certainly should lose their grazing privileges.