Local Conservation Groups Challenge National Forest Grazing

by Caroline Griffith


Eat Beef: the West Wasn’t Won on Salad (from a bumper sticker seen on trucks throughout the Western U.S.)

Since 1934, the Bureau of Land Management has regulated livestock grazing on 155 million acres of public land in the western U.S. The Forest Service also permits grazing on over 102 million acres within the National Forest System lands spread across 29 states. The popular narrative of how the West was “won” by cowboys tending their herds on the open range leaves out important details, like how heavily subsidized and environmentally destructive this industry is. In 2019, the Trump administration lowered the monthly fee for grazing on public lands and national forests from $1.41 to $1.35 — the lowest price allowed by law (though still too high for some trespass ranchers, like the infamous Bundy family). According to the Center for Biological Diversity, in 2018 grazing fees brought in by the federal government didn’t even cover the cost of administering the program, let alone mitigating the environmental damage done by grazing.

Overgrazed public land due to lack of modern grazing methods and herding supervision. Location_ Big Meadows Allotment. Photo source_ The Grazing Reform Project.

Locally, The Grazing Reform Project, Western Watersheds Project, and Environmental Protection Information Center recently objected to a decision by Forest Service managers to reauthorize grazing within the Klamath River’s Beaver Creek watershed. According to the groups, “the decision to reauthorize grazing, if it is implemented, will result in unacceptable damage to Critical Habitat for Coho salmon and will continue unacceptable damage to riparian areas, wetlands, and water quality in headwater basins of the Klamath and Applegate Rivers.”

Laura Cunningham, California Director for Western Watersheds Project (WWP), questioned why Forest Service managers are allowing cattle to degrade Coho Critical Habitat: “We can’t recover Coho salmon and all the benefits they bring to river and coastal communities if we allow cattle to trample their habitat, degrade water quality with fecal waste and remove willows and other shade plants which keeps the water cool,” she said. “By reauthorizing grazing without requiring adequate herding, the Forest Service is prioritizing the income of a few ranchers over the many economic and social benefits that accompany healthy salmon populations. That is not only wrong, it is illegal.” 

For the past seven years, volunteers with the Grazing Reform Project (GRP) have documented the damage and have supplied that documentation to Forest Service managers along with recommendations for how to improve grazing management. GRP Coordinator Felice Pace explained how those reports and recommendations have been received by Forest Service managers: “For the past seven years, Forest Service officials responsible for managing grazing on the Klamath and Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forests have ignored our recommendations for how to reduce grazing-caused degradation. Now they seek to reauthorize the same grazing practices that degrade headwater basins, which should be producing the highest quality water for communities and fisheries downstream, but which instead are fouling those streams and rivers with cattle feces and fine sediment from streambank trampling.” 

The Grazing Reform Project (grazingreform.org) is a 100% volunteer effort to assure that public land grazing in Northern California is either managed properly and responsibly, or ended. The Project is always seeking volunteers who are willing to carry a pack and hike off-trail to monitor and document how grazing is managed. As Tom Wheeler, executive director for the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) says, “We know Forest Service managers can do better. The public, downstream communities and our salmon deserve responsible grazing management on public land.”