Climate change has long been a hot topic, but the effects of climate change on US range and grazing lands is often overlooked. Soil erosion, vegetation loss, changes in the distribution of water across the area, and disrupted or reduced plant and animal communities is exacerbated by the presence of livestock and other range animals.
Ironically, the presence of indigenous livestock causes more issues on forest service lands than wildfires and timber harvests. However, these issues could be mitigated IF protected areas became livestock-free areas and disallowed wild horses, burros, and high populations of elk and deer, which are overrunning the area.
Reducing the indigenous animal population would stop some of the damage and give the affected ecosystems time to repair and replenish. The growing population can be reduced naturally by increasing the number of predators sharing the land.
Comparative studies must be undertaken immediately in order to understand the long term impact of climate change on rangelands and take necessary action to reduce or even halt the damage. The effects of other areas of the United States seems to have gotten the lion’s share of attention, while the American West has long gone overlooked.
Current efforts to mitigate the issues cannot keep up with the rapid pace of climate change. The one issue on which researchers and scientists can agree is that without quick action and greater awareness and effort, climate change will have an even greater impact on rangelands and grazing areas in the very near future.