The Effects of Grazing and Trampling Behaviors of Large-Sized Livestock on the Formation and Weathering Patterns of Soils

The Effects of Grazing and Trampling Behaviors of Large-Sized Livestock on the Formation and Weathering Patterns of Soils

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The Effects of Grazing and Trampling Behaviors of Large-Sized Livestock on the Formation and Weathering Patterns of Soils


Introduction

Walter Coppinger, a Professor of Geosciences at Trinity College in San Antonio and long-time observer of Montana geology, was the first person to describe to me the many problems of the western rangelands that have developed out of the over-grazing of cattle. From a hilltop among the upland slopes of Whitehall, Montana, he pointed out a few patches of bare earth on the horizon and some gullying out of trails across the rangelands in the distance. Rangelands are areas of land on which livestock are left to roam and graze. Traditionally the great plains and rolling hills of the Western States have been dominated by rangelands left to cattle and bison, and though it has long been acknowledged that cattle grazing and roaming can alter the features of the land, the extent and depth to which they can do this has been underestimated and at times ignored. Privately owned pastures and rangelands in the United States have suffered a more than 15% decrease in number of acres since 1940, but despite figures like this one and a multitude of essays lamenting the "shrinking of the great plains," the number of cattle in the Western United States has more than doubled in the last 60 years (Trimble and Mendel, 1995; U.S. Census of Agriculture). With the numbers of grazing animals growing and the lands for them to occupy getting smaller, a better understanding of how and to what degree these animals affect the soil is needed.

Most changes in processes of soil formation and soil erosion are indirectly affected by the presence of livestock and more directly associated with the geomorphic changes these anima...


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