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Long-term effects of cattle and wildlife grazing on grassland plant community recovery in the East Kootenay Region of British Columbia

Author(s) or contact(s): B.M. Wikeem, T.J. Ross, and R.F. Newman
Source: Southern Interior Forest Region
Subject: Range Management
Series: Technical Report
Other details:  Published 2012. Hardcopy is available.


Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus canadensis), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), white-tailed deer (O. virginianus), and cattle (Bos taurus) have shared grassland and open forest range in the East Kootenay Region of southeastern British Columbia for more than 150 years. Early explorers and settlers, however, found the landscape dominated by forest with few large ungulate species present (Spry 1968; Nisbet 1994). A large part of the contemporary open range in the Rocky Mountain Trench (the Trench) portion of the region resulted from fires in the low-elevation forests during the 1920s and 1930s, which provided ideal habitat and range for wild ungulates and domestic livestock (Paish and Associates 1970). Since the last major forest fires in 1931, forest encroachment has advanced into these open areas, reducing forage capability for both wildlife and cattle (Paish and Associates 1970).

In the mid-1950s, a number of wildlife, soil, and range surveys were conducted to determine the status of ungulate populations, habitat, and range resources in the East Kootenay Region (Sugden 1953; Ashford et al. 1956; Kelley and Sprout 1956). Collectively, these assessments concluded that grasslands were overgrazed and the carrying capacity for wildlife and livestock was being exceeded. The following issues were identified as significant problems:

- livestock were being turned out before range readiness;
- ranges were overstocked with livestock;
- bunchgrasses were being overused;
- bluebunch wheatgrass (Agropyron spicatum) and rough fescue (Festuca scabrella) were becoming scarce on the open range compared to areas protected from grazing;
- livestock were reluctant to graze forest range and areas distant from water;
- overuse was particularly high near water; and
- weedy species were invading grassland range.

Conflicts emerged during the 1960s and 1970s concerning dietary overlap and forage allocation among cattle, elk, and deer. While most of the debate focussed on large ungulate grazing, other factors, such as fire, fire suppression, forest ingrowth and encroachment, logging, land alienation, and recreation, also contributed to declining range and wildlife habitat resources in the area (Pitt 1982). Three interacting factors, however, have dominated resource management in the East Kootenay since the 1960s: potential competition between native ungulates and domestic livestock, forest ingrowth and encroachment, and deterioration of range condition (Pitt 1982).

Co-ordinated Resource Management Planning was introduced into the East Kootenay Region in 1975 primarily to resolve forage allocation conflicts between cattle and elk, and to ensure the long-term sustainability of the range resource. Although most resource managers believed that forage availability had improved with co-ordinated planning, many still contended that grazing pressure, forest ingrowth, and land alienation were resulting in declining range condition, and that an equitable forage allocation process was necessary to mitigate conflicts (Pitt 1982).

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Updated October 24, 2012