Grazing thickens forests


A June 12 report from the Oregon Natural Resources Council blames livestock in addition to the usual culprits - fire suppression and poor logging practices - for the declining health of Western forests. The group's ecologists, Joy Belsky and Dana Blumenthal, reviewed four case studies from Washington, Utah, Idaho and the Southwest, and all show that consistent grazing removes grasses that compete with tree seedlings. The result can be unnaturally dense stands of trees called "dog hair" thickets. "Scientific studies comparing forests that had never been grazed to nearby grazed forests, concluded that livestock grazing was the dominant factor converting healthy, open forests into dense, fire-prone thickets," say the ecologists. Although the studies are not new, Belsky thinks they have been overlooked because foresters are too specialized to concern themselves with grazing issues. The Southwest Center for Biological Diversity and the Southwest Forest Alliance, both in New Mexico, outlined the same studies in a June 6 letter to the U.S. Forest Service's Southwestern Regional Forester Charles Cartwright. Although Cartwright said he agrees with the findings, he has not agreed to change forestry policies. For a copy of the environmentalists' letter, contact the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity at 505/538-0961. The 29-page report, Effects of Livestock Grazing on Upland Forests, Stand Dynamics, and Soils of the Interior West, is available for $5 from the Oregon Natural Resources Council at 522 S.W. 5th Ave., Ste. 1050, Portland, OR 97204 (503/223-9001).