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Frequently Asked Questions: Grazing in Wilderness

Why is grazing bad for Utah lands?

The ongoing decline in grazing is unrelated to wilderness issues. Yet livestock grazing causes more damage to southern Utah’s natural resources than any other commercial activity. The following domestic livestock impacts have been documented on public lands in southern Utah: increased soil erosion; competition for forage with wildlife species; the introduction and proliferation of non-native plant species; the spread of disease to wildlife; damage to riparian areas and archaeological sites; deterioration of water quality; and the elimination of native predators such as wolves, bears, mountain lions, and coyotes.

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What is chaining?

Chaining is the practice of clearing public land of trees and shrubs so that the land will be more "productive" for cattle grazing. Chaining is usually accomplished by dragging a ship anchor chain between two bulldozers, tearing up everything in the path; the mauled trees are usually burned afterwards. The technique is most often carried out on pinyon pine/juniper forestlands in the arid west. Chaining is immensely destructive to fragile semi-arid and desert ecosystems. Utah is one of only a few states that still chain public lands. Thousands of acres of public land in Utah have been chained to date.

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Why is grazing permitted in wilderness areas?

Section 4(d)(4)(2) of the Wilderness Act of 1964 states "the grazing of livestock, where established prior to the effective date of this act, shall be permitted to continue subject to such reasonable regulations as are deemed necessary by the Secretary of Agriculture." Congress in the Colorado Wilderness Act of 1980 subsequently clarified the statutory language. The committee reports accompanying that bill contain guidelines, which BLM has since incorporated into its wilderness management policy. The report language specifies that wilderness designation cannot be used as a reason to reduce or phase out grazing. New improvements such as fences and spring developments are permissible where needed to protect resources, as opposed to raising grazing numbers. Yet a University of Arizona study published in the Journal of Range Management shows that in designated wilderness in Arizona, forage allocation for grazing has increased.

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