Range restoration use of herbicides questioned economically, environmentally

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Coyote Gulch readers are an interesting lot. Greg sends this link to an article about the perils of using herbicides in rangeland restoration, from Don Comis writing for the USDA. From the article:

Cattle grazing can help native forbs thrive because cattle prefer grasses over forbs, and cattle trample soil, loosening soil for seeds that the animals inadvertently plant when seeds are caught in their hooves or fur. That said, when herbicide wasn’t used, most native forbs did as well with or without cattle grazing.

Herbicide caused the native plants Missouri goldenrod and yarrow to become rarer over the 16-year study period. Barring herbicides, these two species proved capable of co-existing indefinitely with the exotics.

Four native perennials became rarer in sprayed plots, but only when grazing was excluded: velvety goldenrod, white prairie aster, vetch, and prairie sagewort. Herbicide spraying caused no long-term harm to four other native perennials. Rockjasmine and other plants belonging to the Androsace spp. group were not affected by the herbicide even initially.

That says a lot for the argument against tampering with the land — it’s damn hard to put things back. Another point to consider: There was only one application. What happens to the natives and spurge with multiple applications?

In other cattle business news the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has come out against S. 787 the Clean Water Restoration Act of 2009. Here’s a release from the organization via the Oregon Natural Resource Report:

Under the Act, family ranchers and farmers may be required to obtain permits from the EPA or Corps before conducting common, everyday operations, like watering their cattle or farming their land. The federal government is already struggling to handle a backlog of 15,000 to 20,000 existing section 404 permit requests. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the average applicant for an individual Clean Water Act permit spends 788 days and $271,596 in complying with the current process, and the average applicant for a nationwide permit currently spends 313 days and $28,915 – not counting the substantial costs of mitigation or design changes (Rapanos, 447 U.S. at 719, plurality opinion). Considering U.S. farmers and ranchers own and manage approximately 666.4 million acres of the 1.938 billion acres of the contiguous U.S. land mass, the massive new permitting requirements under this Act would be an unmanageable burden for the government, and could literally bring farming operations to a standstill.

Chilton shared from personal experience about a time his family ranch had to apply for a 404 permit to construct a road across a dry wash on their private property. The regulatory approval process took over a year and cost his family nearly $40,000.

“As a rancher, I wholeheartedly understand the critical importance of a clean water supply; it’s necessary for the health of my animals and my land,” said Chilton. “Federal agencies have ample authority under existing law to protect water quality, and it’s essential that the partnership between the federal and state levels of government be maintained so states can continue to have the essential flexibility to do their own land and water use planning.”

More Coyote Gulch restoration coverage here and here.

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