Livestock Grazing: Right for the Environment?

November 12, 2002

CAST releases report on environmental impacts of grazing systems on our nation’s resources

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST), a non-profit consortium of food and agricultural scientists, today released an Issue Paper Environmental Impacts of Livestock on U.S. Grazing Lands, which takes a critical look at the environmental impacts of grazing systems and provides guidance on land management tools. Released at the combined annual meetings of three of CAST’s member societies–American Society of Agronomy -Crop Science Society of America- Soil Science Society of America–the report represents the combined efforts of an 8-person, volunteer expert task force assembled by CAST.

The key to sustainability of grazing lands is managing vegetative cover, not only to provide feed for grazing livestock, but also to hold soil in place, to filter water, and to recycle nutrients. “Grazing lands are used primarily as a low-cost feed source for livestock, but when well managed, grazing lands can have positive environmental impacts such as reducing soil erosion, sequestering atmospheric carbon, and maintaining biodiversity,” explained cochair Dr. Matt A. Sanderson, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.

“We see an urgent need to develop monitoring tools or a series of indicators that provide information to livestock producers and other land managers. Armed with this information, they will be able to make decisions that will sustain diverse ecosystems on the vast tracts of land used for grazing,” according to Dr. Sanderson. “These tools will require new knowledge of the extensive natural variation in soils, plants, animals and weather across both time and space in grazing lands ecosystems, and a greater understanding of how these components interact in relation to the multiple roles of grazing livestock.”

The potential impacts of livestock and wildlife grazing on the environment have not been adequately synthesized for use in development of environmental protection policies, according to Dr. Teresa Gruber, Executive Vice President of CAST. “This is a complicated subject with many pieces to integrate, so we are pleased that the Task Force has focused in on the 8 key issues regarding the environmental impacts of livestock grazing: (1) soil quality, (2) water quality, (3) riparian and wetland communities, (4) invasive plant species, (5) public lands, (6) grazing and fire, (7) biological diversity, and (8) high-density livestock areas.”

Occupying more acreage than any other single land type in the United States, grazing lands constitute more than 860 million acres (350 million hectares) of private and public lands stretching from coast to coast and beyond. “We were surprised to see that none of us lives significantly far from grazing lands–even in the Northeast and Hawaii,” remarked Task Force cochair Dr. William C. Krueger, Oregon State University.

The full text of the Issue Paper Environmental Impacts of Livestock on U.S. Grazing Lands (Issue Paper No. 22, 16 pp.) is available on-line at Printed copies can be ordered by mail (CAST, 4420 W. Lincoln Way, Ames, Iowa50014-3447), or E-mail:

About CAST

Founded in 1972, CAST is a nonprofit organization comprising 37 scientific societies and many individual, student, company, nonprofit and associate society members. CAST assembles, interprets and communicates science-based information regionally, nationally and internationally on food, fiber, agricultural and natural resources and related societal and environmental issues to our stakeholders–legislators, regulators, policymakers, the media, the private sector and the public. For more information, visit

Task Force Cochairs:

William C. Krueger, Department of Rangeland Resources, OregonStateUniversity, Corvallis
Matt A. Sanderson, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service, University Park, PA

Task Force Authors:

James B. Cropper, USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, University Park, PA
Mary Miller-Goodman, Department of Agronomy and Soils, Auburn University, AL
Claudia E. Kelley, Department of Rangeland Resources, Oregon State University, Corvallis
Rex D. Pieper, Department of Animal and Range Sciences, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces
Pat L. Shaver, USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Corvallis, OR
M.J. Trlica, Department of Rangeland Ecosystem Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins

Task Force Reviewers:

Vivien G. Allen, Department of Plant and Soil Science, Texas Tech University, Lubbock
Dwight Fisher, USDA, Agricultural Research Service, Watkinsville, GA
Kris M. Havstad, USDA, Agricultural Research Service, Las Cruces, NM
Phillip L. Sims, USDA, Agricultural Research Service, Woodward, OK

Help Support CAST

Your donation to CAST helps support the CAST mission of communicating science to meet the challenge of producing enough food, fiber and fuel for a growing population. Every gift, no matter the size, is appreciated.