Armed herders invade Kenya’s most important wildlife conservancy

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Eastern Escarpment of the Great Rift Valley, Northern Kenya (Photo by the Luxury Safari Company)

GR: Combine global warming-forced drought with politics and you get indigenous people destroying nature so that they can live a richer life than their neighbors.

Drought in Samburu, to the north of Laikipia, has led to herders ranging further afield than normal. Photograph: Stephen Morrison/EPA

“Thousands of heavily-armed herders are invading conservancies, private properties and smallholdings in Laikipia, one of Kenya’s most important wildlife areas, as they search for pasture for their cattle.

“Over the past couple of weeks, about 10,000 nomadic herders, armed with automatic rifles and driving 135,000 cattle, have left a trail of destruction and chaos in the county, just three hours drive from Nairobi. The herders have indiscriminately killed wildlife – from elephants, giraffes, zebras and lions to family dogs. Residents have been injured, some seriously. At least one person has been killed, according to reports.

“This is just the latest but most serious clash between the herders and the residents of Laikipia, after a series of incursions dating back at least a few years. This time private game lodges, ranches and smallholdings owned by farmers are being targeted systematically. David Mwaweu, who owns a small farm, said that armed herdsmen passed his way as they marched towards private land where they have since been “stealing grass for their cows”.

“The wildlife deaths appear to be a tragic byproduct of the violence. At least six elephants have been killed in the last two weeks, and graphic photos of a decapitated zebra and a skinned buffalo, among many others, have been posted on Twitter and Facebook.“

An elephant carcase found at a Laikipia waterhole. The elephant had been shot. Photograph: Laikipia Farmers’ Association

“The elephants are being shot for several reasons,” said Max Graham, CEO of Space For Giants, a conservation organisation headquartered in Laikipia. “First, the herders are coming into conflict with elephants at water points, and shooting at them to scare them away. Second, some of these herders now in Laikipia, but not indigenous to the area, are traditionally hunters: to kill an elephant is a rite of passage in their culture.” –Adam Cruise, Armed herders invade Kenya’s most important wildlife conservancy | Environment | The Guardian

Rangeland forage availability and management in times of drought – A case study of pastoralists in Afar, Ethiopia

Poor Management of Livestock Grazing

Wild Horses and Weeds

Wild Horses on a Former Great Basin Shrubland Destroyed by Livestock Grazing, Invasive Plants, and Fire. Abusive practices allowed by U. S. land management agencies continue at this site even now that little is left.

GR:  The researchers that performed this study end their report with an urgent call for range science to make Ethiopian grazing sustainable. It is probably a futile call. Range scientists studied and developed sustainable grazing systems in the U. S. almost a century ago. U. S. government land-management agencies applied various “rest-rotation” systems to millions of acres of public lands beginning in the 1930’s. Nevertheless, U. S. ranges have steadily lost productivity. Vast areas have deteriorated beyond any hope of recovery. This happened because desires of an industry consisting of ranchers and corporate conglomerates opposed scientific management from the beginning. U. S. Government agencies under the control of politicians representing the grazing industry never properly applied the restrictions required for sustainable management. Along with lost cattle-raising possibilities, there has been a massive loss of wildlife and native plants. It is now clear that range science cannot prevent short-term human desires from trumping wise management and long-term sustainability.

Grazing Research Highlights

  • “Afar pastoralists mainly depend on natural rangeland resources for their livestock.
  • “Supplemental feeds (e.g., crop residues) were not frequently used.• Average herbaceous cover of rangelands was <25%.
  • “In times of severe drought, migrating with livestock was most common.
  • “Afar pastoralists applied little rangeland conservation and mitigation efforts.

Grazing Research Abstract

Many Eastern African rangelands comprise marginal land, where climatic conditions are poor, access rights are increasingly limited, and land degradation is progressing. We conducted participatory land use mapping and vegetation assessment to identify the most important rangeland locations and their condition in Afar, Ethiopia. Further, we conducted 79 interviews across six villages to assess pastoralist adaptation strategies during drought times. In the dry season, livestock feed resources represented rangelands far away from the village (in 76% of the cases) while 50% and 40% of pastoralists also used cake concentrates and crop residues, respectively. During the wet season, rangeland resources close to villages, albeit with rather low herbaceous cover (<25%), contributed 80% to livestock forage. In times of severe drought, migrating with livestock was the most common (70%) adaptation, in combination with purchasing feed (50%) while <40% of the pastoralists sold or slaughtered animals. Afar pastoralists applied little conservation and mitigation methods, most commonly they removed livestock pressure to allow the pasture to recover. Overall, pastoralists in Afar still strongly depended on natural rangelands and their resources. Hence, to manage these sustainably a monitoring scheme must urgently be established for investigating rangeland quality and resilience to drought and grazing pressure.” –Anna C. Treydte et al. (Continue reading:  Rangeland forage availability and management in times of drought – A case study of pastoralists in Afar, Ethiopia).

Watch “The Sagebrush Sea” Tomorrow

The sagebrush vegetation of the Great Basin is the most abused and devastated ecosystem in America. Livestock grazing, introduced invasive plants, and wildfire have replaced it with invasive alien plants.

Natural History Wanderings

This Wednesday, May 20 the PBS show Nature is showing “The Sagebrush Sea”, a documentary shot, edited, and produced by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s multimedia team. The film focuses on wildlife and conservation in the threatened sagebrush region that covers 250,000 square miles of North America. Watch the trailer at Sagebrush Sea Trailer. Check your local PBS station for broadcast time. Learn more at The Sagebrush Sea.

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Forbes Billionaires Top US Welfare Ranchers List

welfare ranchingWhat do the Koch Brothers, Ted Turner, and the Hilton family have in common with Cliven Bundy? They’re among a group of powerful welfare ranchers that take from the public and keep for themselves.

Source: dailypitchfork.org

GR:  Effective lobbying to control Congress requires lots of money. So it’s no surprise that much of the subsidized rangeland is owned by the ultra-rich.
The photograph illustrates one of the devastating aspects of ranching on the western US ranges. After rains, ranchers haul in livestock and water so the cows can clean up the weeds and grasses that spring up. When the new growth is gone, it’s back to the feedlot. The problem is that wild horses, pronghorn antelope, deer, rabbits, mice and many more needed that flush of growth to survive. It’s not surprising that their numbers are declining.

Benefits of Removing Livestock from Rangelands to Sequester Carbon

f623b855-d229-4a32-abb2-770f8b14a604George Wuerthner:  “Rangelands make up a large proportion of the Earth’s surface, and the soils hold a significant amount of sequestered carbon. Rangelands are estimated to contain more than one-third of the world’s above and below ground carbon reserves.[i] As a consequence, there is interest in determining the potential for soil carbon sequestration in rangeland soils, and whether livestock grazing helps or hinders this sequestration.

“Given the existing condition of many rangelands, the biggest concern is maintaining current carbon, and avoiding losses through soil erosion, degradation of plant productivity and other changes that lead to soil carbon losses. In other words, the best way to reduce CO2 emissions from rangelands globally is to reduce rangeland degradation. Since livestock grazing is frequently the major source of rangeland degradation, a reduction in grazing pressure, can in many ecosystems, potentially preserve more soil carbon”  Source: www.thewildlifenews.com.

GR:  Excellent article.  Cites evidence showing that livestock grazing reduces soil CO2.  Moreover, domestic grazers remove plants that wildlife need, and they damage soil microorganisms that enrich and stabilize the soil and help block weed invasions.

Study: Livestock Grazing on Public Lands Cost Taxpayers $1 Billion Over Past Decade

cattleRanchers I’ve known receive public funds to build livestock management facilities on public lands. When ranchers do the work themselves, the income can equal income from cattle sales. Only the ranchers benefit from the facilities. At the same time, the ranchers complain about government regulations. They threaten to take their guns to town, and sometimes they do go armed to meetings with BLM and FS managers.

Straight from the Horse's Heart

Information supplied by The Center for Biological Diversity

BLM’s Welfare Ranching Bedfellows come with a huge price tag…

WASHINGTON— A new analysis  finds U.S. taxpayers have lost more than $1 billion over the past decade on a program that allows cows and sheep to graze on public land. Last year alone taxpayers lost $125 million in grazing subsidies on federal land. Had the federal government charged fees similar to grazing rates on non-irrigated private land, the program would have made $261 million a year on average rather than operate at a staggering loss, the analysis finds.

Click Image to Download Full Report Click Image to Download Full Report

The study, Costs and Consequences: The Real Price of Livestock Grazing on America’s Public Lands, comes as the Obama administration prepares Friday to announce grazing fees for the upcoming year on 229 million acres of publicly owned land, most of it in the West. The…

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Wild Horses a Problem for Ranchers? Wolves Could Fix That

I agree with Mr. Conniff’s response that predators could control the horse problem. First, the cattle have to go. The cattle use range resources that should support pronghorn and other wildlife species.
Cattle are probably as adapted to predators as other species, but as a preferred species, cattle numbers are artificially high. The result is that cattle, and more recently horses, have overused the range and eliminated other species.
Analysts report that cattle numbers on the ranges have been declining, and currently represent a tiny fraction of the national economy. No significant number of jobs or other economic or political issues would be impacted if we shutdown cattle ranching. Perhaps it’s time that we hired ranchers to become conservationists and work to maintain the range for wildlife. The ranchers I’ve met claim to know and care for the land. So why not suspend cattle grazing on the public lands and hire the ranchers as stewards of the land. This would give ranchers stable income, and it would benefit the national economy.

strange behaviors

wild_horses_0Today’s New York Times has a report on the wild horse population boom in the American West, and for once, I agree with the ranchers:  Bizarre federal policies over the last 40 years have caused wild horses to run out of control, causing rampant overgrazing while also running up out-of-control costs (currently $50 million a year) to house horses that have been taken off the land, but can’t be euthanized.

The federal policies are the result of misguided sentimental attitudes about a favored species, the same sort of attitudes that cause city people to feed feral cats in parks that would otherwise be havens for wildlife. If animal rights activists want to protect excess horses from being euthanized, or sold for meat, they should be picking up that $50 million cost of housing them, not taxpayers.

And here’s an idea for the ranchers: If you want to keep down the…

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BLM, Cattle, Wild Horses, and Biodiversity on Western U. S. Ranges

BLM and Biodiversity on Public Lands

Mustang photo by John Harwood

GR:  The U. S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) protects livestock ranching interests while seeking to balance other public land uses. Public interest has forced BLM to remove and board cattle-competing wild horses and burros instead of thinning them. Today, BLM is boarding almost 50,000 horses and burros and the number is increasing. For 2013, the total cost was $7.8 million.

I love horses.  As an advocate for non-human animal rights and species equity, I also care about the other species sharing the public lands. Are we sacrificing vegetation, soil, and biodiversity in the western U. S. to protect cattle?  In consideration of the general decline of birds, frogs, insects, mammals, and turtles, is it time to give the BLM a new mandate?  Should we direct the BLM to give its highest priority to protecting diversity?
There is no end in sight for the cattle/wild-horse conflict.  According to Wild Hoofbeats, the BLM is planning a heavy 2014 Roundup Schedule for the Red Desert of Wyoming (Source for the following:  Wild Hoofbeats).

Mares rounded up in Salt Wells Creek in December 2013

“The BLM has finally released its roundup schedule for 2014:  On this schedule are three roundups in Wyoming:

  1. Adobe Town 8/20 – 8/24, plan to remove 177 wild horses
  2. Salt Wells Creek 8/24 – 8-28, plan to remove 228 wild horses
  3. Great Divide Basin 8/28 – 9/10,  plan to remove 541 wild horses

“This is despite having just rounded up and removed 586 wild horses from Salt Wells Creek and Adobe Town in December 2013.

“Looking at the numbers provided by the BLM, Great Divide Basin will be virtually zeroed out after this roundup and removal. The Appropriate Management Level (AML) for the area is 415-600 wild horses. At their May 2013 count they said there were 439 horses and they estimated that there would be 579 in the summer of 2014.  Removing 541 would be almost all,  if not all, of them.

“In Salt Wells Creek, the AML is 251-365. In their projected estimate before the 2013 roundup the BLM said there were 823 wild horses, they removed 586,  and they plan to remove 228. Even estimating a 20% population increase this year, this would bring the population below low AML.

“In Adobe Town, the AML is 610-800 wild horses. The BLM projected the population to be 624 in 2013, they removed 14 in 2013 and they plan to remove 177, Even estimating a 20% increase in population this year, this would bring the population below low AML.

“Currently, BLM is revising the Resource Management Plans for both the Rock Springs and Rawlins Areas (RMP). It is during the revision process AML’s can be changed to herd management areas and herd management areas can be changed to herd areas, allowing them to be zeroed out. This process has NOT happened yet.

“The BLM is acting precipitously, working to zero out Great Divide Basin and bringing Salt Wells Creek and Adobe Town below low AML before the RMP can be completed. Clearly, appeasing the Rock Springs Grazing Association is an “emergency” just like drought to the BLM. Despite lamenting the high cost of holding 50,000 wild horses in captivity (46 million dollars annually) in this roundup document, the BLM is determined to remove 2400 wild horses from their homes and possibly their families this year.

“Environmental Assessments for the roundups of the three herd management areas in Wyoming have NOT been issued or made available to the public for comment yet.  Please check back to see when these will be available for comment.”

Does Livestock Grazing Cause Plant Invasions?

By Garry Rogers

Livestock and Plant Invasions

Using natural landscapes for any purpose requires caution to prevent plant invasions.  An essential task for nature conservation is explaining this to the public.

Cattle in the Sonoran Desert.  Heavily trampled soil without soil microorganisms that can absorb and store moisture, convert solar energy to nutrients, increase plant root efficiency, and protect the soil surface from erosion and invasive plants. Photo by George Wuerthner.

Cattle in the Sonoran Desert. Heavily trampled soil without soil microorganisms that can absorb and store moisture, convert solar energy to nutrients, increase plant root efficiency, and protect the soil surface from erosion and invasive plants. Photo by George Wuerthner.

Most investigations of plant invasions assign responsibility to Humans.  In our ignorance, we introduce potentially invasive plants from foreign ecosystems, and then we disturb native ecosystems and help the introduced plants get established and spread.  We have learned that diseases, predators, competitors, and supportive soil microorganisms control plant growth.  Move plants to new locations where their natural controls aren’t present and they sometimes explode across the landscape.  Continue reading