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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : opinions : letters May 26, 2016

10/11/2011 1:07:00 PM
Letter: Cattlemen’s argument laughs in face of forest science


Recently it has been proposed by a special interest group, The Arizona Cattle Growers Association, that more cattle be allowed to graze on our national forests in order to reduce fuels that cause intense and crowning wildfires. Opposing views counter that cattle are the root cause of the devastating fires and are not a cure but an exacerbation of the peril. These opposing views merit attention from a scientific and historical point of view.

Early American explorers in Arizona documented in journals, diaries and maps a land rich in savannas, streams, cienegas, grasslands, and forests with widely dispersed mature trees and with floors rich in ground cover. Historic photographs from pioneer days verify these recorded accounts.

The ecology of Arizona was perfected over many thousands of years and was ideal for the southwestern environment. The native grasses and flora provided perfect cover and protection for ground nesting birds and for a wide variety of mammals. This native flora also fueled the low intensity wildfires necessary to clean the forest floors of accumulated debris and of potential heavy fuels. These relatively cool fires provided nutrients needed to rejuvenate the land. These natural plants also served to keep the soil cool, moist and intact. Very importantly, these native plants provided shade that prevented sunlight from reaching the fallen seeds of invasive, woody plants. Shade prevented germination and growth of these undesirable plant species. Native plants cooled streams and prevented bank erosion. Rainwater was contained by plant life and the water was gently absorbed in place and filtered into an aquifer that manifested itself in springs, ponds and streams.

In the 1700s man introduced a new variable to Arizona. With the introduction of non-native grazing animals the landscapes were denuded of the native grasses, flora and other non-woody plant life. This devastation drastically changed the ecological communities of Arizona’s zones of life. Without the protection of the native flora negative environmental changes rapidly advanced.

Plant cover needed for ground-nesting birds and for mammals was devoured and as a result the native masked bobwhite quail is virtually extinct in Arizona and other bird species threatened. The Sonoran pronghorn continues to be endangered. Prairie dog colonies have disappeared.

Streams, springs, ponds and cienegas dried, and without sufficient plant life erosion destroyed stream banks. The land was unprotected from unrestricted water runoff that created deep arroyos and unimpeded flooding.

Without the low growing native flora to fuel the necessary low intensity wildfires and with the unrestricted germination of woody plants, mainly junipers, Jack pines, Manzanita, scrub oak and mesquite, forest fires became intense and amenable to crown fires. With the absence of the native flora that cattle ate or trampled, the fires burn intensely hot fueled with woody plants that the cattle will not consume. These intense fires sterilize the soil rather than nourish it. These fires leave the land vulnerable to flooding and mud damage.

To suggest that more cattle are needed to prevent forest fires laughs in the face of science and historical facts. Fewer, and better yet, no cattle in our forests would be a more healthy alternative for our public lands. A return to the historical environment of Arizona has little chance, but perhaps a small step can be taken in this direction.

Lastly, please observe the differences in land parcels separated by a fence on which one side there are cattle and on the other side there are none. With your observation, this case is rested.

Tom Henry


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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Article comment by: Frank Guisti

hal hal -

Just an observation: Argentinean beef doesn't come from the northern rain forest regions, it comes from the southern Pampas region. It has no impact on the rain forests. At all.

Posted: Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Article comment by: Science vs. opinion

The whole letter is based on scientific fact, verified observations, and empirical proof. That's what science is.

Opinions aren't scientific fact. Here's the difference. A statement like "NEPA is broken. The system doesn't work". That is an opinion.

You are welcome to your opinions. I am welcome to mine.

I see NEPA working. It is an objective tool and method to make good decisions about public land that works for everyone, not just special interests. Just because you don't like the decision doesn't mean the system is broken.

The 4 Forests project is an example of this. It's going through NEPA, it's based on good science, it has transparency and public input, and it will clean the forest and make it less susceptible to catastrophic wildfire.

I would say a system that produces close to $5 billion a year in revenue for Arizona ranchers while protecting the land is a system that's not broken, but is working just fine.

Posted: Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Article comment by: Wacka Wacka

@DPG Cottonwood
You said: "I saw nothing scientific in Mr. Henry's letter. Did you?"

The answer? Yes I did .. there were 4 paragraphs dedicated to science floral succession.

That part starts with "The ecology of ..." just in case you want to look.

Posted: Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Article comment by: DPG Cottonwood

I don't know about the rest of you, but I saw nothing scientific in Mr. Henry's letter. Did you?

Posted: Monday, October 17, 2011
Article comment by: hal hal

To Arizona native: You talked about Brazil and Argentina haveing great beef production and that they embrace it. Ya if I did not care about rainforest and no Epa to monitor what I was doing ya the beef production would be huge. The rainforest are being completley destroyed every month because of the cow grazing industry there. But who cares about the rain forest right lets just tear the planet up till theres nothing left. Im not against ranchers but Cattle grazing does effect the enviroment. Remember the biggest wild fires in arizona were caused by man.

Posted: Monday, October 17, 2011
Article comment by: Arizona's native elk are extinct

Mr. Scott seems confused on this.

People aren't complaining so much about the rancher as they are trying to make the point that we want to protect and properly manage our public land.

Ranching can be part of that, but it must be balanced and reasonable. NEPA is the tool to manage that. It works.

No one is saying put the rancher out of business. Another poster already stated ranching is close to a $5 billion business in AZ. So ranchers are in fact working just fine in this state, and with NEPA, and with the protections of the Endangered Species Act. We know that. This is proven.

And we non-ranchers don't have to be experts in cattle in order to make an informed judgement and reach reasoned conclusions about our public land either. Believe us, we know enough.

For instance, I wouldn't be bragging too much about how the rancher has taken care of Arizona's native elk population.

Arizona's native elk are extinct.

The native elk to Arizona, the Miriam's elk, was last seen around the 1930s. Gone, man, and that's a damn shame.

Every elk you see in Arizona today is an offspring from a herd that was transplanted from Yellowstone National Park decades ago.

They are not Arizona's native Miriam's. They are Rocky Mountain elk.

Today, with proper management of public land, Arizona again supports a healthy population of elk, but they are Rocky Mountain elk, also known as wapiti. That's what we've got now.

And I'm sure I speak for the vast majority when I say we don't want any more of God's creatures to go extinct than already have. That's just wrong, man, morally wrong.

The sad story of Arizona's native elk only proves again why it is not wise to throw out environmental protections and science-based management of our public land.

Posted: Sunday, October 16, 2011
Article comment by: Gregory Scott

You people that want the cattle off public land.. think about this..
The deer dont compete with cattle for food usually... deer brouse, cattel graze and elk graze for the most part.... deep snow changes things for sure...
think about this real hard now...
who is going to fix all the water catchments??? who is going ot haul salt by the tons that the deer and elk take full advantage of????
if it had not been for the Rancher there wouldnt be the elk herds in the southwest today that we have.... now you people besure and tell me that your family did it for the animals 300 yrs ago.. lol or that the people that want cattle off public land will get the water and salt taken care of by doing the ranchers job... half of you people complaining on this site are complaining about the rancher when most of you dont know a thing about ranching...

Posted: Saturday, October 15, 2011
Article comment by: This land the cows are running on belongs to WE THE PEOPLE!

Not the city council or Andy. Wouldn't it be great to see more elk and deer running on OUR land instead of it being made into profit and overgrazed by private businesses? Remove the cows, and let the wild horses run free again.

Posted: Friday, October 14, 2011
Article comment by: Gregory Scott

The USFS continues to cut ranchers alotments and the loggers are all gone..now for 20yrs.. and you people think that is protecting The National Forest.... lmao
Do you think your going to protect the next big fire from burning YOUR FOREST.. lmao
ONE THING FOR SURE, IF THE NATIONAL FOREST ISNT CLEANED, BACK BURNED AND TAKEN CARE OF..ITS ALL GOING TO BURN. watcj amd see...The Forest fires will continue to get bigger and bigger and burn out of control...which will lead to bigger hot shot crews more fire fighting equipment etc... which puts America deeper in debt... but its ok because your National Forest was used for collateral at the world Bank for $ so the USA could use it for a credit card...

Posted: Friday, October 14, 2011
Article comment by: So what's the problem?

"Overall, the study pegged Arizona's total livestock production value at $4.45 billion dollars. Livestock were the largest segment of Arizona's agricultural economy."

I'll buy that. That's from 2009 according to the UA, a very reliable source.

So this is livestock, all forms. And it's already almost a $5 billion industry, the largest ag component, bigger than cotton.

And I would remind you this is 2009 with NEPA, with the ESA, with everything the government is doing to responsibly protect and manage the land. And still generating close to $5 billion!

So where's the problem? There is no problem.

The 4 Forests project will thin the forests and create jobs for loggers and mills, and reduce the risk for catastrophic forest fires.

So there is no problem. The system we've got now works. It's not broken as some people have alleged.

There's no need to get all worried about NEPA and the ESA, they're doing their jobs. And according the stats the ranchers are doing theirs.

So quit your complaining and get back to work. '-)

Posted: Friday, October 14, 2011
Article comment by: Gregory Scott

Phil Falbo
LMAO give me a break,,, you talk a line of crap... like you were here on earth 300 yrs ago.
your Quote: "Seems the Earth had done quite well without man's intervention before Evoulution interjected us into the mix."
How do you know what the earth was like if it did well or not???? its your warped line of Evolution that interjected you same believers with....lmao just like a enviro to talk smack about what happened 300 yrs ago.. and try to get people to jump on the same band wagon..
It proves to me one thing.. results of woodstock left some brain dead people...

Posted: Friday, October 14, 2011
Article comment by: No wonder you're Unemployed!

You don't think cattle ranching creates local jobs? It won't be profitable much longer if you keep preventing ranchers from doing their jobs! Here is an excerpt from the Cattlemen's SAFE plan. I'm sure you haven't actually read it, so here you go: "In April of 2009 the University of Arizona completed a study titled, "Impacts from Agricultural Production on the Arizona Economy, Jorgen R. Mortensen," which quantified an economic multiplier of 3.46 for livestock production in Arizona. Using this study the loss of beef production means a loss of $126,739,800 (3.46 x 36,630,000) to Arizona's economy. Overall, the study pegged Arizona's total livestock production value at $4.45 billion dollars. Livestock were the largest segment of Arizona's agricultural economy."

Posted: Friday, October 14, 2011
Article comment by: Bad Gremlin

@Arizona Native
Arizona Cattle Grower's Association = Special Interest Group

Special Interest: a body of persons, corporation, or industry that seeks or receives benefits or privileged treatment, especially through legislation.

Association an organization of people with a common purpose and having a formal structure. Synonyms alliance, union society, company band, group.

"You form your opinions and rattle off your political slogans without knowing the truth"
So you say we should stick to facts and not form opinions on the subject.

"I believe there would be less antelope, elk and deer in the area if it were not for these watering holes." 0_0 Didn't you just say we should stick to facts and not opinions?

"The wild game are much more likely to over-graze the land than the cattle"
Can you site a source for this?
"Ranchers have always improved the land, not damaged it."
The letter above this forum gives a brief history that should prove to you how false your opinion is.
"the REVENUE and JOBS it creates"
Really? How many jobs does it create? Any of them local? I could use one instead of writing here...
"an Arizona tradition" "The rancher was in Arizona long before you ever were"
Poppycock! Read some Arizona history. First there were the Sinagua, then the Spanish, followed by trappers & mountain men. Ranching in Arizona didn't start until the 1700's. An excerpt from a pro ranching document: "The vast Arizonian countryside was converted into a large livestock ranch in a short amount of time. The climate was favorable, enabling plenty of forage to grow. However, ranchers overgrazed the pastures in a period of 20 years." ~Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/2817299

Between the mining, the Billions of tons of Arsnic the two smelters caused, the logging that took place to support the smelters, and the over grazing of cattle, we are lucky there is any flora or fauna left in the verde valley.

Posted: Friday, October 14, 2011
Article comment by: Calm down Arizona Native

OK calm down here, let's give this some perspective.

No one is saying put the rancher out of business. No one is saying people should go extinct.

Whew, sit down. Get a grip.

What you are hearing from us is when it comes to public land, we want it managed by good public policy. We want it transparent. We want to protect the land and all the species it supports. All of the species are important, and we have a moral responsibility to be good steward of the land. We want balance that includes ranching, logging, and protection of the resource.

The best way to get this is through NEPA, and the ESA provides the teeth to protect critical habitat.

If you don't like NEPA, if you think it can be improved, fine. Work with the system to improve it.

But don't ask us to throw it out. We don't think that's wise. The alternative is no disclosure of what's going on, no transparency. Back room deals between special interests and bureaucrats replace an open public process, and that ain't good.

And yes if you are a rancher you have an unavoidable conflict of interest. You cannot make an objective decision about management of our public lands if you are ranching on them because you have a pecuniary interest. That's just a fact.

I have no problem with you profiting off public land, but the land does not belong to you. All of us have the right to have a fair say and be represented in how its managed.

That's all we're saying.

Posted: Friday, October 14, 2011
Article comment by: Arizona Native

Hey, Mr. Falbo:

Why are you so obsessed with preventing the extinction of plant and animal species when it appears the only thing you really want is for ALL of us to go extinct?

Wouldn't that just be the ultimate solution! -) Go ask Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot how that idea worked out for them!

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