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Birds, beasts and bovines: three cases of pastoralism and wildlife in the USA

Lynn Huntsinger1*, Nathan F Sayre2 and JD Wulfhorst3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, 130 Mulford Hall, Berkeley, CA, 94720, USA

2 Department of Geography, University of California, 507 McCone Hall, Berkeley, CA, 94720, USA

3 Department of Agricultural Economics & Rural Sociology, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, 83844, USA

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Pastoralism: Research, Policy and Practice 2012, 2:12  doi:10.1186/2041-7136-2-12

Published: 28 September 2012



Pastoralism in the USA began coincidently with the initiation of profound ecological change resulting from colonization in the sixteenth century. Relationships between pastoralism and wildlife conservation in three different contexts of land tenure, environmental legacy, and geography are examined.


On the federal rangelands of the Intermountain West, based on limited scientific information, wildlife policy has been interpreted to require separation of native bighorn sheep from livestock to prevent disease transmission. Ignored are the possible long term and broad scale impacts of removing grazing on the ecosystem and the ‘social disturbance’ to local communities. In southwestern deserts, the implementation of wildlife policy exemplifies the contradictions between conservation of individuals versus populations, and fire suppression and grazing removal as ‘inactions’ requiring no review versus grazing and burning as ‘actions’ requiring regulation and control. In California’s Mediterranean rangeland, wildlife policy under the Endangered Species Act is at once a regulatory burden and an opportunity for ranchers. The opportunities result from an evolving recognition that cessation of grazing can harm wildlife.


In all three cases, the environment has changed and is changing due to ecosystem engineering that alters the resources available to wildlife and plant species. Grazing offers potential benefits as a management tool, and pastoralism a means of maintaining un-fragmented landscapes. Yet, absent adequate ecological information, the assumptions of innate conflict between livestock and wildlife, and that cessation of grazing is not an action, as well as the norms of a politically popular yet ecologically unsupportable discourse of restoration, fill in the gaps.

Endangered Species Act; Grazing; Land use; Ecosystem engineering; Succession; Public lands management; Restoration; Wildlife conservation