Like outdoor recreation, ranching has strong ties to the land and the traditions of the American west. But for too long, and in too many places, the impacts of livestock grazing on the land, water and wildlife have outpaced nature’s capacity to recover.
WildEarth Guardians has worked to address this imbalance since our founding in 1995. We do it through a combination of hands-on restoration projects, principled litigation and advocacy, and voluntary grazing permit retirements that secure financial value for ranchers who choose the option and collaborate on the long-term stewardship of our shared landscape.
Planting stream side vegetation to restore habitat and water quality. photo credit: Jim Matison
We have always put our money where our principles are. We were the first organization in the West to acquire our own leases to state school trust lands for the purpose of conservation. Working with cities, counties, state and federal agencies as well as landowners and non-profit community organizations, WildEarth Guardians has helped restore hundreds of miles of streams across New Mexico and Arizona. We focus on getting livestock out of rivers and streams, removing non-native trees and shrubs, and then replanting cottonwoods, willows and other native plants to help restore the stream side environment.
Our voluntary grazing permit retirement program is innovative, an effort on our part to repack our own toolbox to align with the changing economics, politics and demographics of the American west. It is also recognition that the change and progress we seek needs to emerge from an honest partnership; even amongst historic adversaries and even if it is difficult along the way.
Removing obsolete pasture fencing to aid wildlife movement. photo credit: Jim Matison
And it may be difficult. We know that even with full compensation, the decision to retire a grazing permit for the purpose of conservation runs counter to many ranching traditions and legacies. But we also know that western landscapes cannot sustain the same number of cattle, and we all share a responsibility to be better stewards.
So we will listen to any who will talk with us about where and how we can partner on restoration. We will share our priorities on places to protect and restore, and hope to find new ways to roll up our sleeves and get to work, together.
Contact Bryan Bird, Wild Places Program Director, 505.699.4719, firstname.lastname@example.org
Read our February 2014 report, "Changes in Public Lands Ranching in Gila Bioregion: Opportunities and Challenges for Federal Policy."