To promote the health of our federal public lands by eliminating the adverse effects of livestock production on native species and their habitats on all federal public lands.
Posted by: Mike Hudak at 9:16PM PST on December 21, 2009
The Grazing Team in 2009 directed its activities through two projects: the Resilient Habitat Chapter Activists Project and the Rural Economic Vitalization Project.
The first project, under the direction of former National Board Member Jim Catlin, this year has had two components: 1) aspen surveys, and 2) production of a guide for volunteers who want to improve the land management practices on specific public lands grazing allotments. Here is how Jim describes his project:
No other tree is more symbolic of Rocky Mountain forests than the aspen. Often growing as a single plant, stands can be over a hundred years old. In recent years, aspens have seen increased mortality. Stressed aspen stands are also more vulnerable to climate change.
The Sierra Club in partnership with other organizations has been collecting data in the field to better understand the causes behind this accelerated mortality, and to document the regeneration of aspen stands. Our data collection methods are simple, objective, and well proven by scientists. Volunteers with minimal training are fully qualified to gather these data.
Field data collection involves counting the number of aspen stems seen in a two-meter-wide band along a 33-meter transect. The height of the aspen stem is recorded and, if taller than two meters, the diameter recorded.
During 2009 in northern Utah forests we conducted a dozen transects of data which we will combine with a larger number of transects from southern Utah. Thirty-five people participated in this survey, about which we are writing a report.
We have found that weakened aspen stands have very few stems under two meters tall, whereas healthy stands have thousands of stems under that height. The primary stressor appears to be ungulate browse. While this includes wildlife, cattle appear to be the dominate stressor in most areas.
Land managers have not collected these kinds of data because they know that it will identify problems in their management programs. This makes our volunteer work especially important.
Based on our findings thus far, we conjecture that aspen stands can be strengthened against the increased stress from climate change through improvements in range management.
Volunteer Guide to Address Livestock Grazing Impacts on the Environment
Livestock grazing has impaired the health and resilience of habitat more than any other land use. When you come across an environmental problem on public lands caused by livestock grazing, what can you do? Good luck trying to influence Forest Service or BLM range managers to alter their management of the grazing.
To make your task a little easier, though, I have compiled a set of simple activities that any volunteer can undertake to collect objective information that can be used to influence agency decisions. Working with partners, these activities were presented to eighty people at a recent gathering in Escalante, Utah.
I hope to develop this activity guide into a web-based resource. And I further hope that the data collected in accordance with the methods described in the guide can then be placed on the web in addition to that data being provided to land management agencies.
Monitoring the condition of the land may be the most important thing a volunteer can do to help prepare habitat for climate change. Based on data collected using the methods in our volunteer guide, we find that today’s rangelands have one-quarter to one-fifth of the native grass production they should. Plant community shifts to grazing tolerant plants, coupled with increased bare ground and erosion has led to habitat loss for a wide number of wildlife species. These stressed rangelands will see amplified impacts on wildlife due to forecasted climate changes. Reducing the stressor to these habitats can restore their resilience and help reduce the impacts of climate change.
For more information about the Resilient Habitats project, please contact Jim Catlin at email@example.com.
The Grazing Team’s second project for 2009, known as the Rural Economic Vitalization Project under the direction of Grazing Team Leader Mike Hudak, has focused on reintroducing federal legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that would establish a program through which ranchers could voluntarily retire their federal grazing permits in return for financial compensation.
This program would reduce environmental impacts of ranching on federal lands. It would save taxpayers money by reducing the subsidies to operate the federal grazing program. And it would benefit ranchers and rural communities through an economic stimulus. In the long term, natural recovery of the formerly ranched landscapes may invite recreational activities that would bring further economic benefits to rural communities.
Our initial activity this year focused on building a coalition of organizations in support of this legislative proposal. Thus far, thirty-three organizations and two celebrities have signed onto the Sierra Club’s support letter for this initiative.
The project has also produced a fact sheet to inform members of Congress about the benefits of our proposed legislation. Project members met with aides from a total of fifteen U.S. House members at their Washington, DC, offices as part of our search for a legislative sponsor.
In early September, we found a House member who offered to introduce our
bill with certain modifications. Grazing Team members then reworked the bill to the Congressman’s satisfaction, while leaving intact the bill’s basic principles.
Subsequently, we have met with aides from fourteen congressional offices in our search for initial cosponsors of the revised legislation. As the bill may be further modified prior to its introduction, I think it prudent to not disclose specific details of the legislation at this time. We expect that the bill will be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives around the end of January 2010.
At that time, our fact sheet in support of the legislation will be installed on the Grazing Team website.
We would appreciate your help in lobbying for the enactment of this legislation once it is introduced. For more information, please contact Mike Hudak at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To join the Grazing Team, visit our webpage at http://connect.sierraclub.org/Team/Grazing_Team.
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