Implications of Longer Term Rest from Grazing in the Sagebrush Steppe: an Alternative Perspective
In the inaugural volume of this journal, Davies et al. (2014) attempt to make a general case that livestock grazing is benign in sagebrush steppe, and long-term rest is not beneficial because modern “properly managed” grazing produces few significant differences compared to ungrazed areas. In this brief review, we point out the problems with this broad theory, not the least of which is a lack of supporting evidence that this “modern” grazing is afforded in the studies cited. Additionally, areas with invasive species such as cheatgrass are conflated with areas lacking these species, while threat of fire is used to drive management decisions to include livestock grazing as a tool for fire control regardless of the state of the land or the presence/absence of invasives. Davies et al. shed light on an important problem we face in the range science literature. They correctly note that the effect of light to moderate grazing, and other grazing management scenarios, have received relatively little study compared to long-term rest on sagebrush community recovery. One reason for this may be the scarcity of established large, grazing-free reserves or control areas in the western U.S. that include sagebrush steppe habitat. Establishing large, ungrazed areas throughout the sagebrush steppe may be one of the key steps we need to take to better understand the impacts of livestock grazing on our western rangelands as our climate changes.
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