Controversy on the Range

June 25, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

Wild Horses on the Range

The debate that surrounds the management of feral horses is a controversy that encircles the west and its delicate ecosystem. Animal activists fight for the majestic vision of wild horses roaming the rangelands, and claim they are important in American history. Ranchers view the horses as an invasive species consuming the forage and damaging the land. Emotions run high on both sides of the issue.
For more information, see Wild Horses: Why the Controversy?

Endangered Species Act: How it Affects Rangeland

Regardless of its size, once a plant or animal is listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) it has a immense impact on its surrounding environment. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have the authority to list species as either endangered or threatened under the ESA. ‘Endangered’ species are considered close to extinction throughout its habitat, and ‘threatened’ species are predicted to become endangered in the near future unless restorative measures are taken . When a rangeland plant or animal species is listed under the ESA, landowners, ranchers, recreationalists and surrounding communities are significantly affected.

       For more information, see Endangered Species Act: How it Affects Rangelands


Ranchers are attempting to live with wolves in the Western United States, but things aren't going as well as planned. In 2011 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created the Mexican Wolf/Livestock Coexistence Council. The council uses funding as an incentive for ranchers in Arizona and New Mexico to become accustomed to the wolves living in the area. Unfortunately the damage costs caused by wolves outnumber any amount the government can pay the ranchers. Ranchers have lost numerous cows, horses and dogs trying to coexist with wolves, and it's becoming more and more difficult. 
For more information, see The Cost of Coexisting with Wolves

Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

From the boreal forest in the north to central Mexico and from the Pacific Coast to New England, quaking aspen is the most widespread tree species on the continent. Media often trumpets  the impending doom of aspen in the American West, yet we can see thriving aspen forests accenting high elevation conifer and meadow landscapes that surround us. How should we resolve the diverging narratives of this regional icon? Why are aspen important to a wide spectrum of natural resource disciplines, not the least of which includes range management?

Groves of "quakies" not only provide valued forage for livestock, they also offer rich biodiversity, water storage capacity, wildlife habitat, recreation and esthetic uses, and protection from fire. It is important for us to understand what is happening to aspen in the West, what factors positively and negatively affect their well-being, and what management steps can be taken to increase ecosystem resilience. As with many complex natural resource issues, restoration of historical impacts, as well as addressing competing modern interests, requires informed participation by a wide contingent of stakeholders. 

For more information visit: Aspen Controversy 

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.