Holistic Management: Misinformation on
the Science of Grazed Ecosystems
John Carter,1Allison Jones,2Mary O’Brien,3Jonathan Ratner,4and George Wuerthner5
1Kiesha’s Preserve, Paris, ID 83261, USA
2Wild Utah Proje ct, Salt Lake City, UT 84 10 1, U SA
3Grand Canyon Trust, Flagsta, AZ 86001, USA
4Western Watersheds Project, Pinedale, WY 82941, USA
5Foundation for Deep Ecology, Bend, OR 97708, USA
Correspondence should be addressed to John Carter; firstname.lastname@example.org
Received 6 February 2014; Accepted 24 March 2014; Published 23 April 2014
Academic Editor: Lutz Eckstein
Copyright © 2014 John Carter et al. is is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License,
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Over 3 billion hectares of lands worldwide are grazed by livestock, with a majority suering degradation in ecological condition.
Losses in plant productivity, biodiversity of plant and animal communities, and carbon storage are occurring as a result of livestock
grazing. Holistic management (HM) has been proposed as a means of restoring degraded deserts and grasslands and reversing
climate change. e fundamental approach of this system is based on frequently rotating livestock herds to mimic native ungulates
reacting to pre dators in order to break up biologic al soil crusts and trample plant s and soils to promote restoration. is re view could
nd no peer-reviewed studies that show that this management approach is superior to conventional grazing systems in outcomes.
Any claims of success due to HM are likely due to the management aspects of goal setting, monitoring, and adapting to meet goals,
not the ecological principles embodied in HM. Ecologically, the application of HM principles of trampling and intensive foraging
are as detrimental to plants, soils, water storage, and plant productivity as are conventional grazing systems. Contrary to claims
made that HM will reverse climate change, the scientic evidence is that global greenhouse gas emissions are vastly larger than the
capacity of worldwide grasslands and deserts to store the carbon emitted each year.
Lands grazed by livestock include 3.4 billion ha worldwide
with 73% estimated to be suering soil degradation .
e solution presented during Allan Savory’s February 2013
TED Talk was to use holistic management (HM) to reverse
desertication and climate change . He reported that we
arid areas of the world and, as a consequence, rainfall runs o
or evaporates, soils are damaged, and carbon is released back
to the atmosphere. Grasslands, even in high rainfall areas,
may contain large areas of bare ground with a crust of algae,
leading to increased runo and evaporation. Desertication
is caused by livestock, “overgrazing the plants, leaving the soil
bare, and giving o methane” (4:20 in video).
HM is also called holistic resource management, time
controlled grazing, Savory grazing method, or short-duration
grazing. It is designed to mimic the behavior of grazing
animals that are regulated by their predators to gather in
large groups. As Savory puts it , “What we had failed to
understand was that these seasonal humidity environments
of the world, the soil and the vegetation developed with very
large numbers of grazing animals, and that these grazing
animals developed with ferocious pack-hunting predators.
Now, the main defense against pack-hunting predators is
to get into herds, and the larger the herd, the safer the
individuals. Now, large herds dung and urinate all over their
own food, and they have to keep moving, and it was that
movement that prevented the overgrazing of plants, while
the periodic trampling ensured good cover of the soil, as we
Hindawi Publishing Corporation
International Journal of Biodiversity
Volume 2014, Article ID 163431, 10 pages
2International Journal of Biodiversity
see where a herd has passed.” (9:28 in video). In view of the
large amount of attention received from the TED talk it is
important to examine the validity of Savory’s claims.
Savory’s writings lack specics that could be used for
implementation of HM or for scientic testing. Details
regarding setting of stocking rates, allowable use by livestock,
amount of rest needed for recovery, or ecological criteria to
be met for biodiversity, sustainability, wildlife, and watershed
protection are absent [3–7]. ese publications by Savory
and his colleagues show that HM is based on the following
assumptions: (1) plant communities and soils of the arid,
semiarid, and grassland systems of the world evolved in
the presence of large herds of animals regulated by their
predators; (2) grasses in these areas will become decadent and
die out if not grazed by these large herds or their modern
day equivalent, livestock; (3) rest from grazing by these large
herds of livestock will result in grassland deterioration; (4)
large herds are needed to break up decadent plant material
and soil crusts and trample dung, urine, seeds, and plant
material into the soil, promoting plant growth; and (5) high
intensity grazing of these lands by livestock will reverse
desertication and climate change by increasing production
and cover of the soil, thereby storing more carbon.
We address these ve assumptions of HM with a focus
on western North American arid and semiarid ecosystems,
principally in the desert, steppe, grassland, and open conifer
woodland biomes as described by . We use the broad term,
grassland, to be inclusive of these types.
2. Are Western North American Ecosystems
Adapted to Herds of Large Hooved Animals?
Not all of today’s grasslands, arid, and semiarid systems
evolved with herds of large, hooved animals. e Great Plains
of North America and subtropical grasslands in Africa that
receive moisture during the long, warm, and moist growing
season historically supported millions of herbivores [9–11].
Lands west of the Continental Divide of the USA, including
the Great Basin, Sonoran, Mojave, and Colorado Plateau
deserts, along with the Palouse Prairie grasslands of eastern
Washington, western Montana, and northern Idaho, did not
evolve with signicant grazing pressure from bison (Bison
bison)[9,12,13]. ough bison were abundant east of the
Rockies on the Great Plains, they only occurred in limited
numbers across western Wyoming, northeastern Utah, and
southeastern Idaho [12,14]. ese low numbers and patchy
in the plains. Historically, pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra
americana) were more widespread than bison west of the
Rockies, but these animals are smaller and lighter than bison
and are not ecologically comparable . Evidence for this
general lack of large herds of grazing animals west of the
Rockies also includes the lack of native dung beetles in
the region. Whereas 34 native species of dung beetle (g.
Onthophagus) are found east of the Rockies on the plains
where bison were numerous, none are found west of the
e supposition that current western North American
plant communities are adapted to livestock grazing because
the region supported a diverse herbivore fauna during the
Pleistocene epoch ignores that the plant communities have
changed in the intervening time . ere was rapid evolu-
tionary change following the Pleistocene glaciations in North
America with “the establishment of open xeric grasslands in
the west central part of the USA ...less than 10,000 years ago”
. Many of the grasses of the Pleistocene have disappeared
from the plains and western USA and the fauna of the
Pleistocene was altered by the arrival of bison from Eurasia.
ese were destructive to long-leaved bunchgrasses found
west of the Rockies, while the rhizomatous grasses found
east of the Rockies in the prairies were more resistant to
their grazing pressure. ese rhizomatous grasses are the
types found in the prairies of the central and western USA
in conjunction with fossil remains of bison. In summary,
the western USA of the Pleistocene is not the western USA
of today. e climate was much wetter and cooler and the
vegetation more mesic in the Pleistocene than today [8,18].
e drier periods following the Pleistocene as temperatures
warmed have altered soil conditions and re cycles and
contributed to the changing ora [19,20].
Grasslands cover large areas that could support forests
but are maintained by grasses outcompeting woody species
for belowground resources and providing fuel for res that
limit encroachment of woody species . Climate change
and increasing CO2concentrations have been implicated in
the post industrial expansion of woody species and invasive
species into grasslands; however, studies from paired loca-
and CO2environments, herbivory by domestic livestock has
caused the shis in woody species and increased invasive
species [20,22,23]. Elevated CO2and climate warming
appear to contribute to, but do not explain, the shrub
encroachment in these semiarid areas which is due to
intensive grazing by domestic livestock .
Conclusion. Western US ecosystems outside the prairies in
which bison occurred are not adapted to the impact of
large herds of livestock. Recent changes to these grassland
ecosystems result from herbivory by domestic livestock
which has altered re cycles and promoted invasive species
at the expense of native vegetation.
3. Do Grasses Senesce and Die
If Not Grazed by Livestock?
A major premise of HM is that grass species depend on large
grazing ungulates in some way, and thus grasses become
moribund and die if not grazed, leading to deterioration or
eventual loss of the entire grass community . e dead or
dormant residual leaves and stalks that remain attached to
ungrazed grasses at the end of each growing season can be
deceptive. e plants are still alive and healthy, with living
buds at the plant base. Bunchgrass canopies collect snow
and funnel rainwater to the plant base and soil and increase
inltration . e plants and dead leaves in contact
International Journal of Biodiversity 3
canopies moderate temperature and protect the growing
points from temperature extremes . e standing dead
litter provides cover and food for wildlife species including
large and small mammals, ground-living birds, and insects.
e loss of these leaves and stems through heavy grazing
by livestock which occurs under HM destroys these natural
Grasses with attached dead leaves are more productive
than grasses from which the dead leaves have been removed.
Loss of these dead tissues to grazers increases thermal
the entire plant . Dead leaves and owering stalks on
ungrazed grasses inhibit livestock grazing, allowing those
grasses to grow larger than their neighbors . Grazing and
trampling by domestic livestock damage plants in natural
plant communities [30–32], reduce forage production as
stocking rates increase , and can lead to simplication
of plant communities, establishment of woody vegetation
in grasslands, and regression to earlier successional stages
 or conversion to invasive dominated communities 
and altered re cycles . In contrast to the assertion that
grasses will die if not grazed by livestock, bunchgrasses in arid
environments are more likely to die if they are heavily grazed
by domestic animals [34,35].
Conclusion. Grasses, particularly bunchgrasses, have struc-
ture that protects growing points from damage, harvests
water, and protects the soil at the plant base. Removal of the
standing plant material exposes the growing points, leading
to loss or replacement by grazing tolerant species, including
4. Does Rest Cause Grassland Deterioration?
Another principle of HM is that grasslands and their soils
deteriorate from overrest, a term that implies insucient
grazing by livestock. However, grasslands that have never
been grazed by livestock have been found to support high
cover of grasses and forbs. Relict sites throughout the west-
ern USA, such as on mesa tops, steep gorges, cli sides,
and even highway rights of way, which are inaccessible to
livestock or most ungulates, can retain thriving bunchgrass
communities [36–38]. For example, herbaceous growth was
vigorous on never-grazed Jordan Valley kipukas in southeast
south central Oregon . Published comparisons of grazed
and ungrazed lands in the western USA have found that
rested sites have larger and more dense grasses, fewer weedy
forbs and shrubs, higher biodiversity, higher productivity,
less bare ground, and better water inltration than nearby
grazed sites. ese reports include 139 sites in south Dakota
, as well as sites that had been rested for 18 years in
Montana , 30 years in Nevada , 20–40 years in British
Columbia , 45 years in Idaho , and 50 years in the
Sonoran Desert of Arizona . None of the above studies
demonstrated that long periods of rest damaged native
grasslands. A list and description of such sites can be found
e HM misinterpretation of the natural history of grazed
and ungrazed grasslands is apparent in Savory’s description
of the Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch in southeastern
grazing since 1968 with the grasses on the ranch described
by Savory as becoming “moribund” (page 211), with “bare
spots opening up” (page 211). In contrast to those claims,
plant species richness on the ranch increased from 22 species
in 1969 to 49 species in 1984, while plant cover increased
from 29% in 1968 to 85% in 1984 . Total grass cover on
the ranch was signicantly higher on ungrazed sites when
compared to grazed sites (𝑃 < 0.01). ese well designed
studies produced quantitative data showing that the HM view
of the ranch is not the case.
Conclusion. Contrary to the assumption that grasses will
senesce and die if not grazed by livestock, studies of numerous
relict sites, long-term rested sites, and paired grazed and
ungrazed sites have demonstrated that native plant commu-
nities, particularly bunchgrasses, are sustained by rest from
5. Is Hoof Action Necessary for
A key premise of HM is that livestock can be made to
emulate native ungulate responses to predators by moving
them frequently in large numbers and tight groups. is
promotes very close cropping which is said to benet grasses
and other forage, as well as hoof action that breaks up soil
crusts, increases inltration, plants seeds, and incorporates
plant material, manure, and urine into the soil . Other
than bison in the plains states, the evidence indicates a low
frequency of large hooved mammals in the western USA
during pre-Columbian times , so the opportunity for
hoof action to sustain grasslands and deserts appears limited
mule deer (𝑂𝑑𝑜𝑐𝑜𝑖𝑙𝑒𝑢𝑠 ℎ𝑒𝑚𝑖𝑜𝑛𝑢𝑠),andotherungulatesmay
avoid areas where predators have an advantage in capturing
tight groupings of animals promoting hoof action. Rather, the
major response is greater vigilance and sometimes avoidance
of risky areas. While the presence of wolves (𝐶𝑎𝑛𝑖𝑠 𝑙𝑢𝑝𝑢𝑠)
aects elk behavior by reducing browsing on willows and
aspen , snow depth and other ecological needs appear to
outweigh the eect of wolves leading to grazing and browsing
in areas of higher risk [51,52]. We found no documentation of
native animal responses to predators generating hoof action
or herd eect in tight groupings in the western USA.
Soils in arid and semiarid grasslands oen have sig-
nicant areas covered by biological crusts [53–55]. ese
are made up of bacteria, cyanobacteria, algae, mosses, and
lichens and are essential to the health of these grasslands.
Biological crusts stabilize soils, increase soil organic matter
and nutrient content, absorb dew during dry periods, and
x nitrogen [53,56–60]. Crusts enhance soil stability and
reduce water runo by producing more microcatchments on
soil surfaces. ey increase water absorbing organic matter,
improve nutrient ow, germination and establishment for
4International Journal of Biodiversity
some plants, while dark crusts may stimulate plant growth by
deserts . Some crusts are hydrophobic, shedding water
. Biological soil crusts are fragile, highly susceptible to
trampling [61–63], and are slow to recover from trampling
impacts . Loss of these crusts results in increased erosion
and reduced soil fertility. e loss of crusts in the bunchgrass
communities of the western USA may be largely responsible
for the widespread establishment of cheatgrass and other
exotic annuals [23,58,65]. e rapid spread of introduced
weeds throughout the arid western USA is estimated at
over 2000 hectares per day , largely due to livestock
e HM assumption that increasing hoof action will
increase inltration has been disproven. Livestock grazing
sion, and sediment yield [67–71]. Major increases in erosion
and runo occur under normal stocking when comparing
grazed to ungrazed sites [68,71–74]. Extensive literature
reviews report the negative impacts of livestock grazing on
soil stability and erosion [75–77]. For example, a study of
wet and dry meadows in Oregon found the inltration rate
in ungrazed dry meadows was 13 times greater and 2.3
times greater in ungrazed wet meadows, compared to similar
grazed meadows .
Hoof action is not needed to increase soil fertility and
decomposition of litter. It is well-established that soil pro-
tozoa, arthropods, earthworms, microscopic bacteria, and
fungi decompose plant and animal residues in all environ-
ments [79,80]. Even the driest environments contain 100
million to one billion decomposing bacteria and tens to
hundreds of meters of fungal hyphae per gram of soil .
Brady and Weil  discuss the importance of mammals
in the decay process, mentioning burrowing mammals, but
not large grazers such as cattle and bison. Removal of plant
biomass and lowered production resulting from livestock
grazing can reduce fertility and organic content of the soil
Conclusion. We found no evidence that hoof action as
described by Savory occurs in the arid and semiarid grass-
lands of the western USA which lacked large herds of
ungulates such as bison that occurred in the prairies of the
USA or the savannahs of Africa. No benets of hoof action
were found. To the contrary, hoof action by livestock has been
documented to destroy biological crusts, a key component
in soil protection and nutrient cycling, thereby increasing
erosion rates and reducing fertility, while, increasing soil
compaction and reducing water inltration.
6. Can Grazing Livestock Increase Carbon
Storage and Reverse Climate Change?
Among the most recent HM claims is that livestock graz-
ing will lead to sequestration of large amounts of carbon,
thus potentially reversing climate change . However, any
increased carbon storage through livestock grazing must be
weighed against the contribution of livestock metabolism to
greenhouse gas emissions due to rumen bacteria methane
emissions, manure, and fossil fuel use across the production
chain [85,86]. Nitrous oxide, 300 times more potent than
methane in trapping greenhouse gases , is also produced
try’s contribution to greenhouse gases also includes CO2
released by conversion of forests to grasslands for the purpose
of grazing .
Worldwide, livestock production accounts for about 37
percent of global anthropogenic methane emissions and 65
percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide emissions with as
much as 18% of current global greenhouse gas emissions
(CO2equivalent) generated from the livestock industry .
It is estimated that livestock production, byproducts, and
other externalities account for 29.5 billion metric tons of CO2
per year or 51 percent of annual worldwide greenhouse gas
emissions from agriculture . Lower amounts of green-
house gas emissions due to livestock may be estimated by
using narrower denitions of livestock-related emissions that
include feed based emissions only and exclude externalities
Some suggest that grass-fed beef is a superior alternative
to beef produced in conned animal feeding operations .
However, grass provides less caloric energy per pound of feed
than grain and, as a consequence, a grass-fed cow’s rumen
bacteria must work longer breaking down and digesting grass
in order to extract the same energy content found in grain,
while the bacteria in its rumen are emitting methane .
Comparisons of pasture-nished and feedlot-nished beef
in the USA found that pasture-nished beef produced 30%
more greenhouse gas emissions on a live weight basis .
It is estimated that three times as much carbon resides
in soil organic matter as in the atmosphere , while
grasslands and shrublands have been estimated to store 30
percent of the world’s soil carbon with additional amounts
stored in the associated vegetation . Long term intensive
agriculture can signicantly deplete soil organic carbon
 and past livestock grazing in the United States has
led to such losses [95,96]. Livestock grazing was also
found to signicantly reduce carbon storage on Australian
grazed lands while destocking currently grazed shrublands
resulted in net carbon storage . Livestock-grazed sites in
Canyonlands National Park, Utah, had 20% less plant cover
and 100% less soil carbon and nitrogen than areas grazed
only by native herbivores . Declines in soil carbon and
nitrogen were found in grazed areas compared to ungrazed
grazing intensity increased, mycorrhizal fungi at the litter/soil
interface were destroyed by trampling, while ground cover,
plant litter, and soil organic carbon and nitrogen decreased
. A review by Beschta et al.  determined that livestock
grazing and trampling in the western USA led to a reduction
in the ability of vegetation and soils to sequester carbon and
emissions. Livestock removal of plant biomass and altering of
soil properties by trampling and erosion causes loss of carbon
storage and nutrients as evidenced by studies in grazed and
International Journal of Biodiversity 5
7. What Is the Evidence That
Holistic Management Does Not Produce
the Claimed Effects?
HM is a management system that includes setting goals,
monitoring, and adapting in order to continually move
towards the goals established by the producer . is
more goal-oriented and adaptive management aspect of the
HM system, its promise of environmental benets, and
increased production make it attractive to many ranchers
. However, researchers who have studied HM in South
Africa and Zimbabwe, where Savory originated his theories,
have rejected many of HM’s underlying assumptions and
into the soil, increased erosion, reduced forage production,
reduced soil organic matter and nitrogen, reduced mineral
cycling, and increased soil bulk density [82,100,101].
InarecentevaluationofHMbyBriskeetal., three of
its principle claims were addressed: (1) all nonforested lands
are degraded; (2) these lands can store all fossil fuel carbon in
the atmosphere; and (3) intensive grazing is necessary to pre-
well managed lands that are not degraded; deserts are a conse-
quence of climate and soils as well as improper management;
and degradation is largely a function of growing populations
of humans and livestock, land fragmentation, and other
societal issues. As to the claim that these nonforested lands
could store all the carbon emissions that humans produce,
the researchers show that the potential carbon sequestration
of these lands is only about one to two billion metric tons per
year (mtpy), a small fraction of global carbon emissions of 50
billion mtpy. ey further point out that these lands would
have to produce much larger vegetation biomass than they
are capable of producing in order to sequester human-caused
carbon emissions and that much of the carbon is released
back to the atmosphere through respiration as CO2.ey
note that grass cover increases dramatically with rest and
intensive grazing delays this recovery; many desert grassland
soils are sandy, so hoof action does not increase inltration;
and biological crusts stabilize these soils and protect them
from wind erosion and carbon loss.
A review of short-duration grazing studies in the western
USA by Holechek et al.  included locations in the more
arid western states as well as prairie types. e researchers
found that this grazing system, which is equated with HM,
resulted in decreased inltration, increased erosion, and
reduced soil organic matter and nitrogen. Forage production
and range condition were similar under short-duration and
continuous grazing with the same stocking rates. Under
short-duration grazing, standing crop of forage declined as
stocking rates increased, while bare ground and vegetation
composition were a function of stocking rate as opposed
to grazing system. Grazing distribution was not improved
over continuous grazing and the claims for hoof action
and improved range condition under increased stocking
rates and densities were not realized . Another review
of grazing systems by Briske et al. , including HM,
versus continuous grazing concluded that plant and animal
production were equal or greater in continuous grazing than
in rotational grazing systems.
Even though the ecosystems of the Great Plains states
evolved with the pressure of bison, Holechek et al. 
and Briske et al.  found that HM did not dier from
traditional, season-long grazing for most dependent variables
compared. Studies commonly held up as supporting HM
[104–108] used HM paddocks that were grazed with light to
mends. Further, long-term range studies have shown that it is
reductions in stocking rate that lead to increased forage pro-
duction and improvements in range condition, not grazing
system [33,109,110]. While HM advocates allowing recovery
to take place following grazing, recovery can take many
years to decades even under total rest from livestock, but it
does occur [43,111]. Native, western USA bunchgrass species
such as bluebunch wheatgrass (𝑃𝑠𝑒𝑢𝑑𝑜𝑟𝑜𝑒𝑔𝑛𝑒𝑟𝑖𝑎 𝑠𝑝𝑖𝑐𝑎𝑡𝑎)
and Idaho fescue (𝐹𝑒𝑠𝑡𝑢𝑐𝑎 𝑖𝑑𝑎ℎ𝑜𝑒𝑛𝑠𝑖𝑠) are sensitive to defo-
liation and can require long periods (years) of rest following
each period of grazing in order to restore their vigor and
Conclusion. Studies in Africa and the western USA, including
the prairies which evolved in the presence of bison, show that
HM, like conventional grazing systems, does not compensate
for overstocking of livestock. As in conventional grazing sys-
tems, livestock managed under HM reduce water inltration
into the soil, increase soil erosion, reduce forage production,
reduce range condition, reduce soil organic matter and
nutrients, and increase soil bulk density. Application of HM
cannot sequester much, let alone all the greenhouse gas
emissions from human activities because the sequestration
capacity of grazed lands is much less than annual greenhouse
8. What about Riparian Areas
In the western USA, riparian areas are rare and valuable
ecological systems supporting a disproportionate number
of species and providing many ecosystem services .
and trampling, aect these systems? Soil compaction from
livestock is a common and widespread problem in grazed
riparian areas, reducing inltration rates and water storage
and increasing surface runo and soil erosion during storm
events [78,112]. Soil compaction f rom livestock increases with
grazing in riparian areas reduces willow and herbaceous
production and canopy cover of shrubs and grasses compared
to ungrazed controls . e most eective way to restore
damaged riparian areas is to remove livestock [110,112].
We found very little information about total number
of plant, animal, or invertebrate species present when HM
is compared to other grazing methods or nongrazed areas,
and, further, what proportion of total plant species or total
cover of plant species was native or nonnative. Moreover,
we did not see other biodiversity considerations addressed
in any of the published studies investigating HM. Rotational
6International Journal of Biodiversity
grazing systems do not improve range condition and plant
production over conventional grazing systems [83,103], while
stocking rate is considered the most important variable
aecting vegetation production and range condition .
Range condition is determined based on the current plant
community composition and production as compared to the
potential natural community . e relative composi-
tion of Increasers, those plants with tolerance for grazing,
Decreasers, those plants with low tolerance for grazing, and
Invasives, those plants occupying a site that are grazing
tolerant and nonnative, forms the basis of the determination
of condition. Higher range condition ratings reect greater
similarity to the native plant community for a site . is
basic concept reects the biodiversity of the native plant
community, which necessarily declines as range condition
declines. Application of HM with its large herd size and
density of use, like other grazing systems with high stocking
rates, must necessarily decrease native plant diversity and
productivity. is aects the animal communities accord-
ingly as habitat structure and production are altered.
A review, by Fleischner , of the eects of livestock
grazing on plant and animal communities in the western USA
found that livestock grazing reduced species richness and
abundance of plants, small mammals, birds, reptiles, insects,
and sh compared to conditions following removal of live-
stock. A quantitative review by Jones ofpublishedstudies
of ecosystem attributes in North American arid ecosystems
aected by livestock grazing, compared to ungrazed condi-
tions, found decreases in rodent species richness and diver-
sity and vegetation diversity in the grazed areas. Livestock
grazing-induced simplied plant communities in western
USA arid and semiarid lands have negative eects on pol-
linators, birds, small mammals, amphibians, wild ungulates,
and other native wildlife . Riparian songbird abundance
increases as riparian systems recover aer livestock exclusion
[116,117], while overall biodiversity increases under long term
rest from livestock grazing [46,47,118]. Invasives such as
cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) are favored and increase in
abundance in the presence of livestock grazing [23,65]and
are inversely related to abundance of native perennial grasses
Conclusion. HM does not address riparian areas and biodiver-
sity with its focus on livestock production, although operators
HM impacts on riparian areas and biodiversity, although
livestock grazing impacts on riparian areas and biodiversity
have been well documented. Livestock degrade riparian areas
by removal of streamside vegetation, reduction of cover and
food for sh and wildlife, and soil compaction, erosion, and
sedimentation. ese impacts lead to loss of native sh and
wildlife populations. Studies in areas from which livestock
have been removed demonstrate increases in diversity and
abundance of birds, mammals, insects, and sh.
9. Is Scientific Evidence Important?
Eectiveness studies of HM have been undertaken by
ranchers and farmers who were selected because of their
commitment to HM . In other words, such studies
were neither experimental nor were the participants ran-
domly selected. Livestock producers who may have had
negative experiences with HM were not included in the
studies. Nearly all of the support and conrmation for HM
come from articles developed at the Savory Institute or
testimonials by practitioners. Most of the published literature
that attempts to rigorously test HM in any scientic fashion
does not support its principal assumptions.
Holechek et al.  stated that “No grazing approach,
including that of Savory, will overcome the adverse eects
of drought and/or chronic heavy stocking on forage pro-
duction.” ese researchers were also critical of government
agencies for adopting these unproven theories rather than
basing management on “scientically proven range manage-
ment practices and principles”  (page 25). Briske et al.
the rangeland profession has become mired in
confusion, misinterpretation, and uncertainty
and the development of grazing recommenda-
tions and policy decisions. We contend that this
has occurred because recommendations have
traditionally been based on perception, per-
sonal experience, and anecdotal interpretations
of management practices, rather than evidence-
based assessments of ecosystem responses. 
Briske et al. state,“Mr.Savory’sattemptstodivide
science and management perspectives and his aggressive
promotion of a narrowly focused and widely challenged graz-
ing method only serve to weaken global eorts to promote
rangeland restoration and C sequestration.” (page74).
Conclusion. Studies supporting HM have generally come
from the Savory Institute or anecdotal accounts of HM prac-
titioners. Leading range scientists have refuted the system
and indicated that its adoption by land management agencies
is based on these anecdotes and unproven principles rather
than scientic evidence. When addressing the application of
HM or any other grazing systems, practitioners, including
agencies managing public lands, private livestock operations,
and scientists, should (1) consider inclusion of watershed-
scale ungrazed reference areas of suitable size to encompass
dene ecological (plant, soil, and animal community) and
production (livestock) criteria on which to base quantitative
comparisons, (3) use sucient replication in studies, (4)
and include adequate quality control of methods. Economic
analysis of grazing systems should compare all expenditures
with income, including externalized costs such as soil loss,
water pollution, reduction of water inltration, and carbon
emissions and capture.
10. Management Implications
is review shows that the underlying assumptions of HM
regarding the evolutionary adaptation of western North
International Journal of Biodiversity 7
American landscapes to large herds of hooved animals only
applies to prairie grasslands and that most arid and semiarid
areas of western North America are not adapted to their
impacts. e premise that rest results in degradation of
grassland ecosystems by allowing biological crusts to persist
and grasses to senesce and die has been disproven by a
large body of research. Reliance on hoof action to promote
recovery by trampling seeds and organic matter into the soil
and breaking up soil crusts needs to be considered in the
context of increased soil compaction, lower inltration rates,
and the destruction of biological crusts that normally provide
long-term stability to soil surfaces, enhance water retention,
to capture atmospheric greenhouse gases and incorporate
them into soils and plant communities, thereby reducing
climate change eects, is demonstrably impossible because
the nonforested grazed lands of the world do not have the
capacity to sequester this amount of emissions. Even in the
prairie regions of the United States, which are evolutionarily
adapted to large herbivores such as bison, research indicates
that not only does HM not produce results superior to
conventional season-long grazing, but also that stocking rate,
rest, and livestock exclusion represent the best mechanisms
for restoring grassland productivity, ecological condition,
and sustainability. Various studies indicate livestock grazing
reduces biodiversity of native species and degrades riparian
areas, with nearly all studies nding livestock exclusion to
be the most eective, reliable means to restore degraded
riparian areas. Claims of the benets of HM or other grazing
systems should be validated by quantitative, scientically
Conflict of Interests
e authors declare that there is no conict of interests
regarding the publication of this paper.
Research was funded by the Foundation for Deep Ecology,
Grand Canyon Trust, Kiesha’s Preserve, Western Watersheds
Project and Wild Utah Project.
Joy Belsky (1944–2001), Range Ecologist, who made available
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