What about the cows...

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Throughout the Western United States, no matter how rugged or wild the land, you have a good chance of seeing livestock on our public lands. It might be a few cows or hundreds of sheep, but they are everywhere and in my opinion, places they shouldn’t.

Livestock grazing is the most widespread land management practice in western North America. Seventy percent of the western United States is grazed, including wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, national forests, and even some national parks. The ecological costs of this nearly ubiquitous form of land use can be dramatic. Examples of such costs include loss of biodiversity; lowering of population densities for a wide variety of taxa; disruption of ecosystem functions, including nutrient cycling and succession; change in community organization; and change in the physical characteristics of both terrestrial and aquatic habitats. - Ecological Costs of Livestock Grazing in Western North America

Last weekend, I ran an ultramarathon in Moab, Utah, a unique desert environment where the race director reminds the runners to stay on trail.

Don’t bust the crust.

I don’t and am incredibly careful to avoid impacts. It drives me crazy seeing footprints or tire tracks going through the crust. It’s amazing stuff and incredibly important.

Cryptobiotic soil crust - Nihonjoe, CC BY-SA 3.0

Cryptobiotic soil crust - Nihonjoe, CC BY-SA 3.0

This is reinforced by signs from the BLM and Arches National Park has a page dedicated to discussing the importance of the cryptobiotic crust or biological soil.

Areas that have been stripped of crusts are vulnerable to erosion, flooding, dust storms, loss of organic materials, and invasion by non-native weeds that thrive on disturbed soil.

Without crust, porous desert soils retain little water. Sheaths swell like sponges, absorbing and storing the desert’s limited precipitation. Water infiltration rates are significantly lower in disturbed areas than in pristine areas, resulting in fewer seedlings and greater erosion.

This is good and I support protecting the environment, but what about the cows? No really, why are there signs up along trails reminding users to stay on the trail, when the entire area is turned to powder due to cows grazing in the desert.

This isn’t unique to Moab. I’m writing this from Sedona, AZ where livestock no longer graze the area immediately around the beautiful red rocks, but if you go a few miles in almost any direction, the desert landscape will be trampled by livestock. It’s disgusting and the laws and policies of our federal government that permit it must be changed.

Hypocrisy of a sign telling hikers to stay on trail where cattle are grazing. © Justin Poehnelt

Hypocrisy of a sign telling hikers to stay on trail where cattle are grazing. © Justin Poehnelt

The greenwashing by public land management agencies is ridiculous. 😡

To make real change, please support your local environmental advocates. For a more regional approach to stop this abuse of our public lands, support organizations such as Western Watersheds Project. 💵

Western Watersheds Project is a non-profit environmental conservation group that works to influence and improve public lands management throughout the western United States in order to protect native species and conserve and restore the habitats they depend on. Our primary focus is on the negative impacts of livestock grazing, including harm to ecological, biological, cultural, historic, archeological, scenic resources, wilderness values, roadless areas, Wilderness Study Areas and designated Wilderness.


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