I appreciated the issue on recreational impacts, but have a question regarding Mindy Sandler's essay on her experiences as a wilderness ranger (HCN, 9/4/95). Being a former backcountry ranger myself, and having noticed an increase in litter, fire rings, etc., in my wanderings this summer, I read her account with some interest.
Sadly, much of what she writes rings true, yet nowhere in her piece do I find a mention of cows. My question then is, who came up with the title, "And you thought cows were bad ... ?" You see, I do think cows are bad. And even though I abhor the negligence of backpackers whose trash I carry out, I think it would be very difficult to make a case that recreational impacts are anywhere near as great as the overall impacts of grazing.
Certainly some areas such as Moab, Utah, could be cited as an exception to this, but overall, the impact of a several-hundred-pound bovine who eats the vegetation, spends most of its time along riparian corridors and fails to bury its feces under a rock is much greater than many, many hikers and climbers.
Recreational impacts are locally severe and should be censored, yet are largely aesthetic in their impacts. The impacts of grazing on Western North America are widespread, pervasive, and ecologically devastating.
The writer is a botanist.