The roots of land degradation in the arid region of the United States are set firmly in the era of open range conditions that led to the depletion of rangeland resources in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Upon closure of the open range and establishment of the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, public lands in the arid region were protected from the classic tragedy of the commons. Private lands, in turn, fell under the stewardship guidance of such organizations as the Soil Conservation Service, the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, and the Cooperative Extension Service. Despite these institutional protections, arid land degradation continues at an ecologically and socially unacceptable rate. The most likely explanation for this degradation resides in the institutions and public policies that shape and control livestock grazing. Flaws and disincentives endemic to the grazing permit system have encouraged destructive grazing. Federal subsidies to public- and private-land ranchers have encouraged rangeland stocking rates in excess of carrying capacity on economically and ecologically marginal lands and consistently favored unsound land management practices over superior ones. Policy-generated distortions of market forces have lead to unanticipated and environmentally undesirable land use outcomes. Land management, technical support, and educational institutions have also inadvertently contributed to land degradation in the arid region. Reversing the trend of land degradation in an advanced country like the United States demands that we understand the role of public policy in land use outcomes and that we structure future public policies in accordance with the lessons of recent history.
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- Policy Roots of Land Degradation in the Arid Region of the United States: An Overview
Karl Hess Jr.
Jerry L. Holechek
- Springer Netherlands
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