Guidelines For A New Style Of Rangeland Management Sensitive To Biodiversity

Recent happenings in the Interior Columbia Basin are symptomatic of the start of a new era in land management. When human populations were lower and demands on resources were less, we could encourage development without much concern for other species or equity to the future. It is becoming obvious now that more consideration for present neighbors and future generations must be consciously given. Environmental impacts no longer have only local consequences. Biodiversity can be viewed as a natural treasure and as having a role in the maintenance, cleansing, and repair of ecosystems at local to global scales (Chapin et al., 1997). Development plans of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the World Bank now require consideration of biodiversity within their environmental impact sections.

We are seeing enhanced efforts to inventory, monitor, and zone with biodiversity in mind. National, regional, and local rankings of organisms and system rarity and endangerment (e.g., the GAP analysis, Scott et al., 1993) are leading to plans to create core reserves, buffer, corridor, multiple-use, and intensive-use zones. Some graziers and other rangeland consumptive users are bound to be either displaced or have their activities altered by these designations. The consequences could be complete removal of livestock in some places of special sensitivity. In most other situations, more thoughtful and careful pastoralism can complement conservation (Friedel, 1994). Areas too small and dispersed to be managed efficiently within a reserve could instead be managed by the permittee on public rangelands. Such areas are called Excised Management Units in Australia (Morton et al., 1995). Where livestock use is critical only at certain times, Restricted Use Units may be designated. Where such designations cause economic hardship, land trades or subsidization may help ease the transition. It is becoming clear that no modern government or nongovernmental entity can afford the expense of buyouts of increasingly greater blocks of reserves. Furthermore, unless reserves are well managed, they can be just as deleterious to the conservation of biodiversity as have been exploitative pastoral systems. Such unmanaged areas can quickly become havens for predators, feral animals, and noxious weeds (Friedel and James, 1995).

In cases where restoration is being attempted, it seems only right that displaced graziers be employed to stay on the land and actively work to heal it. After all, these are people who best understand the local environment. Their children should be assisted in training for other jobs and professions.

Not all healing of degraded rangeland ecosystems requires complete displacement of livestock grazing. Fleischner (1994) and Noss and Cooperrider (1994, Table 7.1) provide a comprehensive discussion of the negative ways management of rangelands and attendant activities (e.g., irrigating winter fodder, predator control, etc.) influence biodiversity. Brussard et al. (1994; 1995) and Brown and McDonald (1995) point out the imbalances of Fleischer's and Noss and Cooperrider's presentations. To help further balance those discussions (see Laycock et al., 1996), I wish to add some positive aspects of the interactions of rangeland livestock husbandry and biodiversity.

First, full-time ranching provides daily contact with the land at all seasons and thus provides experience and a degree of attention to the land that occasional field visits by agency personnel and intermittently interested environmentalists can never replace. Indeed, the Nature Conservancy is calling on such full-time ranchers to manage some of their properties actively with continued livestock grazing, yet with enhanced sensitivity to biodiversity. The Nature Conservancy realizes that simply buying up key properties and eliminating direct human influence is not a viable way to conserve biodiversity on a grander scale. It realizes that humans are part of the ecosystem and that it could not purchase and preserve all the desirable properties anyway. Instead, it understands that encouraging management in economically, as well as ecologically, sustainable ways is the long-term answer to holding on to the maximum biodiversity across the rangelands of the western U.S. The conservancy intends to lead by developing examples that neighboring ranchers will emulate. It has already established worthy examples in places such as Red Canyon Ranch, Wyoming.

Conservation biologists often mistakenly assume that, because mismanaged livestock have done much damage to rangelands in the past (a fact that even livestock-oriented scientists don't deny, e.g., Pieper, 1994), simply removing them permanently will automatically result in the return to similitudes of a romanticized pre-Columbian Eden. In many ways, Euroamericans have enhanced biodiversity by their activities on rangelands (Johnson and Mayeaux, 1992). So many aspects of environment and biota have and are currently undergoing change that it is fruitless for us ever to expect equilibrial scenarios henceforth (Botkin, 1990; Pimm, 1991; Allen and Hoekstra, 1992; Vitousek et al., 1997). The only rational choice is to monitor and adjust through adaptive resource management (Kessler et al., 1992).

First, trade-offs must be made between maximum production of livestock and the best possible wildlife habitat, watershed, and soil protection under the ecosystem management philosophy (Kessler et al., 1992). No matter what the manager does or does not do, habitat of some species will be enhanced and that of others simultaneous diminished (West, 1993). For instance, in a recent rangeland study in Australia (James et al., 1997), about one quarter of the biota was disadvantaged by livestock grazing, about half was neutral to grazing, and about one quarter was increased. Humans have to make the choices of what is favored. Grazing by livestock can be advantageous or disadvantageous to wildlife and other land uses depending on species, uses and values, and their ecosystem context (West and Whitford, 1995). Retention of total species richness, featured species, and stenotypic species cannot usually be simultaneously maximized on the same small piece of land. Such objectives have to be managed for on landscape and regional bases (Friedel and James, 1995), thus inevitably involving many landowners and institutions.

Midseral and even early-seral conditions are not detrimental to all wildlife species. Some species require these conditions to complete their life cycle (West,

1993). Maser et al. (1984) found that the greatest species numbers and highest population levels of most featured vertebrate species of sagebrush steppe are in midseral condition. Thus, maintenance of disturbances to create early to midseral conditions is desirable on at least some parts of a landscape. This is one reason why total removal of livestock from public rangelands would not necessarily lead to optimal habitat for either featured species or total species richness. Furthermore, prohibiting livestock grazing would lead to more fine herbaceous fuels and thus hotter, more frequent, and larger fires and eventual takeover by introduced annual plants in sagebrush steppe (Figure 1) as well as many other kinds of adjacent rangelands.

Domestic livestock management directly affects wildlife in two major ways: (1) consumption of forage that could be used by wildlife and (2) alteration of vegetation as it influences escape and thermal and protective cover (Noss and Cooperrider,

1994). Most animal species are more adapted to gross vegetation structure for thermal and hiding cover than they are to particular plant species for food (Dealy et al., 1981). Structural diversity of rangeland vegetation also relates positively to wildlife species richness, except if the mosaic is on a scale too small to meet the home range needs of species that require large blocks of uniform vegetation. For example, optimum spacing between stands of big sagebrush and crested wheatgrass for black-tailed jackrabbits (Lepus californica) requires that the wheatgrass openings be no more than 600 m across because rabbit use of wheatgrass occurs mostly within 300 m of the type edge (Westoby and Wagner, 1973).

Domestic livestock management indirectly affects wildlife by (1) human and livestock presence, (2) fencing, (3) salting, (4) water developments, (5) roads, (6) trails, (7) predator control and other physical and chemical manipulations, such as prescribed burning, chaining, cabling, root plowing, brush beating, reseeding, and herbicidal application. The latter treatments usually simplify and homogenize habitat structure, but mosaics and edge can be increased with planning and plant species richness enhanced by interplanting in areas with large expanses of currently homogeneous vegetation.

Better planning and management could result in retention of livestock and their use as tools for constructive improvement of wildlife habitat and watersheds. Deseret Ranch in northern Utah is an example of a commercially viable operation that has derived income from both consumable and nonconsumable wildlife while increasing both livestock use and stabilizing range condition (Wolfe et al., 1997). Roads can be closed and off-road vehicles prohibited, especially at critical times. Scattered trees could either be retained or planted to provide shade and storm cover for both livestock and wildlife, simultaneously enhancing their overall distribution.

Use of electronic sensors on livestock and thoughtful placement of invisible electronic boundaries offer promise to foregoing building more fences and possibly even to removing the existing ones eventually (Fay et al., 1989). We should recognize, however, that fences serve as perch posts for some birds (Graul, 1980), and, thus, unintended impacts of fence removal and pole line installation could ensue.

Some feel that there is promise in either selecting domestic animals that naturally spend less time in sensitive areas (e.g., riparian zones) or training them to avoid such areas through adversive conditioning. Indeed, some progress has been recently made in doing just that (Howery et al., 1998).

Some water sources can be completely or selectively closed off to favor certain species. Development of naturally occurring springs and seeps through installation of perforated pipe and water troughs at a distance from the water source has made more water available for drinking by both ungulates and birds. Unfortunately, the natural wetlands around the original springs have often been highly altered. We can, however, pipe out the overflow and create new fenced-out wetlands to replace those altered (Kindschy, 1978).

We could even fertilize certain portions of some plant communities to increase and freshen (make more palatable) some areas to draw animals to them to enhance fire control, strutting, feeding, and nesting grounds. Guzzlers (artificial water catchments) can be built in areas with limited free water for drinking by both wildlife and livestock.

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