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Conservation NGOs

Background

It is not grazing on public land that is damaging to the arid grassland and shrub-land of Nevada, but the BLM’s poor management that has allowed the continued overgrazing, an incredibly damaging act, to occur. According to a report written by the Center for Biological Diversity, an organization that has done extensive work in the American West investigating grazing’s effect on biodiversity, “in the arid West, livestock grazing is the most widespread cause of species endangerment,” (“Grazing”). The soil compaction and fecal matter from livestock lead to stream sedimentation, soil erosion, and contaminated streams. Predator control programs to protect cattle are causing the local extinctions of keystone predators such as the grizzly bear and Mexican grey wolf (“Grazing”).

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service lists 53 endangered, threatened, proposed, and candidate species in the state of Nevada (“Nevada’s Protected Species” 2014). The majority of these species’ ranges overlap with BLM grazing lands. Some of these species live in the riparian environments that now have high nitrate levels that often lead to algal blooms caused by high levels of fecal matter entering the river system from livestock. Overgrazing additionally reduces ecosystem resilience. This means that habitats will be less able to recover from the extreme droughts and higher temperatures attributed to climate change that the West is already experiencing (Beschta et al. 2012).

Four non-governmental organizations that have been actively working in Nevada to conserve and protect wildlife and represent environmentally sustainable positions include Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Earth, National Wildlife Federation, and the National Resource Defense Council. Although each of these organizations represents slightly different interests, their goals are similar.

 

Policy Proposal

The Defenders of Wildlife propose the BLM transition land from grazing land to protected land in order to improve ecosystem resilience. They also suggest the BLM create incentives in the forms of deferred grazing fees, reimbursements, and cash payments for ranchers who practice grazing that is beneficial to wildlife conservation efforts (Salvo 2013).

In a 2010 report, Friends of the Earth proposed a $105,000,000 cut over 2011-15 in the federal grazing program’s budget as well as a $49,000,000 cut over the same timeframe from the Bureau of Land Management Public Domain budget (Hanna and Schreiber 2010). Although that time has passed, they stand by their suggestion of cutting funding to force the BLM to raise its grazing fee to cover the costs of managing rangelands instead of charging taxpayers for its current non-competitive permitting process.

The National Wildlife Federation supports the protection of fragile riparian environments from harmful cattle grazing. They also lobby against the transfer of United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to the state of Nevada, due to concerns rooted in past behavior that the state of Nevada would sell the land to generate revenue and the conservation of those habitats would cease (Tennesen 1997), “Recreational Impacts of USFS and BLM Land Sell-off in Nevada”).

The National Resource Defense Council would like a greater obligation on the part of the BLM to notify and consult with the public when they alter grazing policy. They also support a higher standard for data collection by the BLM so that the agency can better monitor and react to the overgrazing that is currently occurring on public lands (Lustig et al. 2005).

 

Counter Arguments

Many of these NGOs do not take into consideration the effects their policies would have on the ranchers. Although only three percent of the food forage fed to livestock in the United States comes from Western Federal Rangelands, those rangelands still support a large number of ranchers who depend on the low grazing fees to remain competitive in the livestock business (“Grazing”). Large cuts in BLM funding would currently be very detrimental to conservation efforts in Nevada and other western states. Although the National Resource Defense Council’s call for more data is noble, current relations between the government and local ranchers remains too hostile to collect those data on much of the Nevada grazing lands.

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