Rainfall follows the fence and other lessons from HCN

  Dear HCN,

It was fortunate that your 10/2/95 issue had in it both the essay by Dave Brown and a letter from William Dickinson. They allowed me to synthesize a new perspective on the effects of cattle grazing on riparian areas. It is now obvious that cattle are the victims of incredible bad luck. They had the misfortune to arrive on the scene just prior to when massive climate-induced riparian degradation began in the West. They also were subjected to stricter controls in the latter part of the century in some areas just as climate change was about to make things better. What incredibly poor timing this has been. It would appear to the naive that there was some cause-and-effect relationship, when it is in fact just bad luck.

Of course, this hypothesis must be fleshed out with several corollaries to explain apparent anomalies. These are:

* Fenced riparian corridors are vastly improved over adjacent unfenced areas. This can be explained by a variation on the 19th century belief that "Rainfall follows the plow." It now equates to "Rainfall follows the fence."

* Riparian areas under strict control through improved grazing regimes show marked improvement over adjacent areas with poor grazing management. This can be explained by a further modification of the above corollary, which can be expressed as "Rainfall follows the good grazing plan."

Certainly the greatest measure of bad luck has befallen the cattle who must graze riparian areas without benefit of fencing or good management. They will still be blamed for conditions that are in reality the fault of climate change or a lack of one of the above-described modifiers. Such is the nature of fortune.

Jeffery Grandison

Cedar City, Utah