• Moderate and light cattle grazing effects on Chihuahuan Desert rangelands

      Holecheck, Jerry; Galt, Dee; Joseph, Jamus; Navarro, Joseph; Kumalo, Godfrey; Molinar, Francisco; Thomas, Milt (Society for Range Management, 2003-03-01)
      Vegetation changes were evaluated over a 13 year period (1988-2000) on moderately grazed and lightly grazed rangelands in the Chihuahuan Desert of south central New Mexico. During the study period, grazing use of primary forage species averaged 49 and 26% on moderately and lightly grazed rangelands, respectiely. Autumn total grass and black grama (Bouteloua eriopoda Torr.) standing crop were consistently higher on the lightly than moderately grazed rangeland throughout the study. Total grass standing crop declined on the moderately grazed rangeland when the last 3 years of study were compared to the first 3 years (10 versus 124 kg ha-1), but showed no change on the lightly grazed rangeland (320 versus 357 kg ha-1). Black grama, the primary perennial grass in the Chihuahuan Desert, increased in autumn standing crop on the lightly grazed rangeland, but decreased on the moderately grazed rangeland (97% decline) than on the lightly grazed rangeland (67% decline). Perennial grass survival following a 3-year period of below average precipitation was higher on the lightly grazed (51%) than the moderately grazed rangeland (11%). Severe grazing intensities on the moderately grazed rangeland during the dry period (1994-1996) appear to explain differences in grass survival between these 2 rangelands. Our study and several others show that light to conservative grazing intensities involving about 25-35% use of key forage species can promote improvement in rangeland ecological condition in the Chihuahuan Desert, even when accompanied by drought.