facebook pixel

Con: Cattle Grazing Is Incompatible with Conservation

by Karen Klitz and Jeff Miller on May 07, 2015

The fenceline between tule elk and cow grazing areas at Point Reyes National Seashore. Photo: Karen Klitz
The fenceline between tule elk and cow grazing areas at Point Reyes National Seashore. Photo: Karen Klitz

Should cattle grazing be allowed on our public lands in the Bay Area? From a conservation viewpoint, cattle grazing is simply incompatible with maintaining and restoring wildlife, native plants and natural resources.

Karen Klitz

Karen Klitz

Jeff Miller

Jeff Miller

Making sound decisions on how to best manage our public lands depends on understanding their ecology and using good science, factors that seem to be missing from much of the advocacy for public lands grazing. Too many articles on grazing, including a recent one in Bay Nature (“Range of Possibilities”) uncritically repeat misinformation, myths, and unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of livestock grazing and the supposed catastrophic consequences of removing cattle from Bay Area parks and open space.

The article paints damaging overgrazing as an artifact of the past. Yet most of the damage wrought by livestock — such as degradation of stream function, riparian habitat and biodiversity — is ongoing. The science is conclusive on this damage. Too many native ecosystems in our public parks and watershed lands continue to be degraded by cattle. And many studies document how removing cattle can restore trout populations, native songbirds, wildflowers and amphibians.

Let’s get one talking point for public lands grazing out of the way — keeping ranchers in business to protect valuable open space from development. That argument is not relevant for publicly owned lands that are under no threat of development.

Bay Area habitats have been evolving for the great majority of the last 10,000 years without heavy grazers like cattle. Advocates of so-called “Holistic Resource Management” characterize cattle as merely replacing large native herbivores from the Pleistocene, but this rationalization has been thoroughly debunked by leading ecologists, botanists and evolutionary biologists. Cattle are an extremely recent ecological phenomenon in the Bay Area, and are a particularly destructive invasive species.

A valley slope in the tule elk area of Point Reyes National Seashore. Photo: Karen Klitz

A valley slope in the tule elk area of Point Reyes National Seashore. Photo: Karen Klitz

A cow pasture at Point Reyes National Seashore. Photo: Karen Klitz

A cow pasture at Point Reyes National Seashore. Photo: Karen Klitz

 

Although some landscapes and habitats in the Bay Area benefit from disturbed soil conditions, which were once provided by native ungulates such as elk and by wildfires, cattle do not mimic those conditions. Cows use the landscape very differently than native browsers like elk or deer.

Yes, there is some evidence that carefully managed cattle grazing can improve habitat for some species in some places — such as threatened California red-legged frogs and California tiger salamanders in stock ponds. However, neither of these native amphibians evolved in stock ponds. There is more evidence that cattle damage the vernal pools that tiger salamanders need for natural breeding habitat and devastate stream habitats for red-legged and other native frogs.

In California, cattle were responsible for replacing native bunchgrasses and carpets of native wildflowers with the invasive annual weeds, such as wild oats and cheatgrass that now characterize Bay Area grasslands. According to the California Native Plant Society, livestock grazing negatively impacts more acres of wild native plant communities in California than any other activity. There are dozens of local native plants that are jeopardized by cattle grazing and at least 21 of our endangered and threatened wildlife species in the Bay Area are harmed by cattle grazing.

Hundreds of scientific, peer-reviewed research papers detail detrimental environmental impacts from livestock grazing in the western U.S.. Study after study chronicles cattle damage to soils, waterways and wetlands, native plants, wildlife habitat, oak regeneration and ecosystem function. Symmetrically, there are numerous examples of overwhelmingly positive ecological benefits from excluding cattle from western landscapes, especially from stream and riparian habitats where cattle do the most damage.

You don’t need to be a scientist to understand the damage caused by cattle. Any visitor to Bay Area parklands with cattle can compare grazed grasslands with areas inaccessible to cattle, such as between rock outcroppings and on steep slopes, and deduce which areas exhibit more native plant diversity and provide more habitat structure and cover for native species.

The science documenting negative impacts from cattle grazing is published in peer-reviewed ecological journals. Contrast these with the rash of pro-grazing “studies by ranch scientists” cited in “Range of Possibilities” — referring largely to articles in livestock industry publications or materials produced by grazing advocates without scientific review. Dubious claims about supposed benefits from cattle grazing such as increasing native perennial grasses, effectively controlling weeds, and providing fantastic rates of carbon sequestration are unlikely to stand up to scientific scrutiny.

The tule elk area at Tomales Point. Photo: Karen Klitz

After the cows were removed from Tomales Point and tule elk reintroduced in 1978, tule elk have recovered the vegetation on these hills to be more like the original coastal prairie. Photo: Karen Klitz

Cattle grazing area at Point Reyes National Seashore. Photo: Karen Klitz

Cattle grazing area at Point Reyes National Seashore. Photo: Karen Klitz

Studies asserting solely positive impacts from cattle grazing often do not disclose that the required grazing regimes would need an unrealistic level of intensive management that is neither economic for the livestock industry nor achievable for public land management agencies. “Well-managed” grazing presupposes lease-holders who prioritize the public interest and good ecosystem management over profits. While a commercial leaseholder may have the best intentions, ranchers take public lands grazing leases because of the significant subsidy compared to private lands.

Public agencies simply do not have the staff or funding to properly monitor grazing operations, let alone reduce cattle damage or intensively rotate and manage cattle for beneficial impacts. The best-intentioned grazing management plans are often not carried out due to lack of monitoring, personnel, or funding, and can be abandoned or altered when committed and experienced project managers leave an agency. Meanwhile, our public lands suffer from soil erosion, impaired water quality, invasive weeds and damaged streams.

Looking at management of large public lands grazing programs in the Bay Area does not inspire much confidence. The East Bay Regional Park District (with grazing leases on more than 57,000 acres) routinely approves land use plans for its parks which prioritize commercial cattle grazing, with no substantive environmental review or evaluation of negative grazing impacts. In the parks where the public and conservation groups have documented damage from cattle and tried to reduce grazing or suggest alternative management (such as in Sunol, Ohlone and Sycamore Valley parks), the Park District has ignored the input.

The Park District convened a “Grazing Review Task Force” from 2000 to 2001, tasking a panel with a blatantly pro-ranching bias while validating the district’s grazing program. The process deliberately excluded ecologists, scientists and other land management agencies critical of cattle grazing. There was no pretense of scientific study by any experts or the park district for this review. A similar approach has been the norm for grazing programs of the SFPUC (33,000 grazed acres) and EBMUD (grazing 21,000 acres).

The situation at Point Reyes National Seashore is a microcosm of what’s wrong with grazing cattle on public lands. Ranchers who enjoy heavily subsidized grazing leases within the park are lobbying the Park Service to remove, kill, sterilize or fence out the native tule elk. In the only national park with tule elk, where one quarter of the park is devoted to commercial cattle operations, a handful of ranchers are attempting to dictate Park Service policy that removes elk and harms other park wildlife. The Park Service allows some of these same ranchers to chronically violate their lease conditions by stocking excess cattle, allowing cattle to trespass out of the pastoral zone to eat forage needed by wildlife, and raising animals not allowed in their leases. Even in the wake of the deaths of more than 250 elk at Point Reyes due to fencing restricting their access to water and food, the ranchers are pushing for greater limits on elk. One of the claims by the ranchers is that native tule elk, which were nearly wiped out in California before being reintroduced to places like Point Reyes, should somehow be removed as an “invasive” species,” leaving the park’s grasslands for cattle.

There are some encouraging examples of restoration of public lands with the removal of cattle. The SFPUC has committed to fencing cattle out of the entirety of the upper Alameda Creek corridor to help restore steelhead trout and protect habitat for native frogs. The GGNRA has ongoing projects to fence cattle out of tributaries to Lagunitas Creek to protect coho salmon. EBMUD documented the restoration of the riparian corridor and dramatic recovery of red-legged frog and steelhead trout populations in Pinole Creek after removing cattle for only a few years. When cattle are removed from public lands, native herbivores can begin to restore native habitat. Since cattle were removed and tule elk were restored to Tomales Point at Point Reyes in 1979, the Park Service has documented recovery of native plants on the peninsula.

Cattle at the fenceline at Point Reyes National Seashore. Photo: Karen Klitz

Cattle at the fenceline at Point Reyes National Seashore. Photo: Karen Klitz

A good test case for removal of cattle from public lands occurred at Mount Diablo State Park. As early as 1979, the California Department of Parks and Recreation (CDPR) identified cattle grazing as harmful to the ecology of Mt. Diablo. For a decade, the CDPR thoroughly examined the negative environmental impacts of cattle, and eliminated commercial grazing from the park in 1989. Livestock operators fought the removal, claiming that cattle were needed to maintain biological diversity and manage for wildfire. The CDPR found just the opposite, concluding that livestock grazing led to an increase in weedy annual species, while cessation of grazing decreased weedy species and increased native grassland species. The CDPR also found no difference in fuel loads in grazed and ungrazed areas on Diablo.

There is no evidence that removing cattle contributed to the Diablo wildfire in 2013. The mountain ecosystem is in fact largely dependent upon fire. A recent Bay Nature article “Mount Diablo After the Fire” examined how beneficial the Morgan Fire was for the Diablo ecosystem. No cattle grazing has been needed to maintain this public lands gem for the past quarter century. Today, cattle-free Mt. Diablo State Park is unquestionably one of the best native wildflower habitats in the Bay Area and the cattle-free park also supports 16 rare or endangered wildlife species.

A discussion of cattle grazing impacts on public lands should also include: the toll of predators and other wildlife killed for the benefit of ranchers; harm to wildlife from cattle fences; excessive water use for beef and dairy operations; reduced forage for native wildlife; public safety issues with documented attacks by cows on hikers; cattle contributions to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions; and human health risks due to livestock passing potentially deadly parasites into drinking water sources.

As we enter a fourth year of drought and increase our knowledge of how human impacts continue to degrade Bay Area ecosystems, our public park lands and open spaces are increasingly critical refuges for native plants, wildlife and biodiversity. On publicly owned lands that are under no threat of development, protection and restoration of the natural environment should take precedence over cattle grazing that harms the environment.

Karen Klitz lives in the Bay Area, is on the Board of Directors of the Western Watersheds Project, and has been working for protection of public lands and on grazing issues for 20 years.

Jeff Miller is a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity and is director of the Alameda Creek Alliance. Jeff has been working on public lands grazing issues in the Bay Area since 1997.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s “Pro” argument from Sheila Barry, a natural resource and livestock advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension, on why grazing on public lands makes sense.

References:

Abdel-Magid, A. H., G. E. Schuman, and R. H. Hart. 1987. Soil bulk density and water infiltration as affected by grazing systems. Journal of Range Management 40: 307-309.

American Fisheries Society. 1985. American Fisheries Society Policy Statements #14, Strategies for Stream Riparian Area Management, and #23, Effects of Livestock Grazing on Riparian Stream Ecosystems.

Andrew, M.H. 1988. Grazing impacts in relation to livestock watering points. Trends in Research in Ecology and Evolution 3:336–339.

Armour, C.L., D.A. Duff and W. Elmore. 1994. The effects of livestock grazing on western riparian and stream ecosystems. Fisheries 19(9): 9-12.

Baker, H. G. 1978. Invasion and replacement of Californian and neotropical grasslands. Pp. 368-384 in J.R. Wilson (editor), Plant Relations in Pastures.

Bartolome, J. 1989. Review of Holistic Resource Management by Allan Savory. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 44: 591-592.

Behnke, R.J. and R.F. Raleigh. 1978. Grazing in the riparian zone: Impact and management perspectives. Pp. 184-189 In R. D. Johnson and J. F. McCormick (technical coordinators), Strategies for protection and management of floodplain wetlands and other riparian ecosystems. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service General Technical Report WO-12.

Belsky, A.J. 1986. Does herbivory benefit plants? A review of the evidence. American Naturalist 127: 870-892.

Belsky, A.J., A. Matzke and S. Uselman. 1999. Survey of livestock influences on stream and riparian ecosystems in the Western United States. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 54(1): 419-431.

Belsky, A.J. and J. L. Gelbard. 2000. Livestock grazing and weed invasions in the arid west. Oregon Natural Desert Association, Bend, Oregon.

Biswell, H.H. 1956. Ecology of California grasslands. Journal of Range Management 9: 19–24.

Borcher, M.I., F.W. Davis, J. Michaelsen and L.D. Oyler. 1989. Interactions of factors affecting seedling recruitment of blue oak (Quercus douglasii) in California. Ecology 70(2): 389-404.

Bryant, L.D. 1985. Livestock management in the riparian ecosystem. Pp. 285-289 In R.R. Johnson, C.D. Ziebell, D.R. Patton, P.F. Folliott, and R.H. Hamre (technical coordinators), Riparian ecosystems and their management: Reconciling conflicting uses. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, General Technical Report RM-120.

Buckhouse, J.C., J. Skvolin and R. Knight. 1981. Streambank erosion and ungulate grazing relationships. Journal of Range Management 34(4): 339-340.

California Department of Parks and Recreation. 1989. Long-term vegetational responses documented in grazed and ungrazed sites at Mt. Diablo State Park. Information Paper III.

California Native Plant Society. 2003. Livestock Grazing Impacts.

California Oak Foundation. 2001. Letter to EBRPD Grazing Review Task Force.

Crawley, M.J. 1987. Benevolent Herbivores? Trends in Research in Ecology and Evolution 2(6): 167-168.

Donahue, D.L. 1999. The Western Range Revisited: Removing Livestock from Public Lands to Conserve Native Biodiversity. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Doran, J.W., J.S. Schepers and N.P. Swanson. 1981. Chemical and bacteriological quality of pasture runoff. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 1981: 166-171.

Duncan, D.A. and W.J. Clawson. 1980. livestock utilization of California’s oak woodlands. in: T.T. Plumb (technical coordinator), Proceedings of Symposium on Ecology, Management, and Utilization of California Oaks. General Technical Report PSW-44. USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Berkeley.

Dunne, J. 1995. Simas Valley lowland aquatic habitat protection: Report on the expansion of red-legged frogs in Simas Valley, 1992-1995. East Bay Municipal Utility District Report, Orinda, California.

Ellison, L. 1960. The influence of grazing on plant succession. Botanical Review 26: 1-17.

Elmore, W. and R.L. Beschta. 1987. Riparian responses to grazing practices. Pages 442-457 In R.J. Naiman, editor. Watershed management. Springer-Verlag, New York.

Elmore, W. and B. Kauffman. 1994. Riparian and watershed systems: degradation and restoration. Pp. 212-231 in M. Vavra, W.A. Laycock, and R.D. Pieper (editors), Ecological Implications of Livestock Herbivory in the West. Society for Range Management, Denver, CO.

Fleischner. T.L. 1994. Ecological costs of livestock grazing in western North America. Conservation Biology 8:629–644.

Hamilton, J.G. 1997. Environmental and biotic factors affecting the occurrence of the native bunchgrass Nassella pulchra in California grasslands. Dissertation. University of California at Santa Barbara.

Hamilton, J.G. 1997. Changing perceptions of pre-European grasslands in California. Madroño 44(4): 311-333.

Hayes, M.P. and M.R. Jennings 1988. Habitat Correlates of the Distribution of the California red-legged frog (Rana aurora draytonii) and the foothill yellow-legged frog (Rana boylii): Implications for management. Pp. 144-158 In: R. C. Szaro et al. (Technical coordinators), Proceedings of the Symposium on the Management of Amphibians, Reptiles and Small Mammals in North America. U.S.D.A., Forest Service, General Technical Report RM-166.

Holmes, A. 2000. Grazing impacts. Point Reyes Bird Observatory.

Jackson, L.E. 1985. Ecological origins of California’s Mediterranean grasses. Journal of Biogeography 12: 345–361.

Jacobs, L. 1991. Waste of the West: Public Lands Ranching.

Jones, K.B. 1988. Comparison of herpetofaunas of a natural and altered riparian ecosystem. Pp. 222-227 In R. C. Szaro, K. E. Severson, and D. R. Patton (technical coordinators), Proceedings of the symposium of the management of amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals in North America. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, General Technical Report RM-166.

Kauffman, J.B., W.C. Krueger and M. Varva. 1983. Impacts of cattle on streambanks in northeastern Oregon. Journal of Range Management 36(6): 683-685.

Kauffman, J. B., and W. C. Krueger. 1984. Livestock impacts on riparian ecosystems and stream side management implications: A review. Journal of Range Management 37(5): 430-437.

Lacey, J.R. 1987. The influence of livestock grazing on weed establishment and spread. Proceeding, Montana Academy of Science 47: 131-146.

Marlow, C.B. and T.M. Pogacnik. 1985. Time of grazing and cattle-induced damage to streambanks. Pp. 279-284 In R.R. Johnson, C.D. Ziebell, D.R. Patton, P.F. Folliott, and R.H. Hamre (technical coordinators), Riparian ecosystems and their management: Reconciling conflicting uses. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, General Technical Report RM-120.

McClintock, E. 1987. The displacement of native plants by exotics. In T.S. Elias (editor), Conservation and Management of Rare and Endangered Plants. California Native Plant Society, Sacramento.

Muick, P.C. and J.R. Bartolome. 1987. An assessment of natural regeneration of oaks in California. Contract 8CA42136 California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Forest and Rangeland Resource Assessment Program.

Ohmart, R.D. 1996.Historical and present impacts of livestock grazing on fish and wildlife resources in western riparian habitats. Pp. 246-279 in P. R. Krauseman (editor), Rangeland Wildlife. Society for Range Management, Denver, CO.

Painter, E.L. 1995. Threats to the California flora: ungulate grazers and browsers. Madroño 42(2): 180–188.

Painter, E.L. and A.J. Belsky. 1993. Application of herbivore optimization theory to rangelands of the western United States. Ecological Applications 3: 2-9.

Painter, E.L., J.K. Detling, and D.A. Steingraeber. 1989. Grazing history, defoliation, and frequency-dependent competition effects on two North American grasses. American Journal of Botany 76: 1368-1379/

Pavlik, B.M., P.C. Muick, S.G. Johnson, and M. Popper. 1991. Oaks of California. Cachuma Press and the California Oak Foundation, Los Olivos, CA.

Platts, W.S. 1979. Livestock grazing and riparian/stream ecosystems – an overview. B. Cope (editor), Proceeding of the Forum: Grazing and Riparian/stream Ecosystems. Trout Unlimited, Inc., Denver, CO.

Platts, W.S. 1991. Livestock grazing. Pages 389-423 In W. R. Meehan, editor. Influences of forest and rangeland management on salmonid fishes and their habitats. American Fisheries Society, Special Publication 19, Bethesda, Maryland.

Schultz, T.T., and W.C. Leininger. 1990. Differences in riparian vegetation structure between grazed areas and exclosures. Journal of Range Management 43: 295-299.

Siekert, R.E., Q.D. Skinner, M.A. Smith, J.L. Dodd and J.D. Rogers. 1985. Channel response of an ephemeral stream in Wyoming to selected grazing treatments. Pp. 276-278 In R. R. Johnson, C. D. Ziebell, D. R. Patton, P. F. Folliott, and R. H. Hamre (technical coordinators), Riparian ecosystems and their management: Reconciling conflicting uses. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, General Technical Report RM-120.

Skovlin, J.M. et al. 1968. The Influence of Cattle Management on Deer and Elk. Transactions of the 33rd North American Wildlife Conference, pp. 169-181.

Skovlin, J.M. 1984. Impacts of grazing on wetlands and riparian habitat: a review of our knowledge. In Developing strategies for rangeland management. National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC.

Szaro, R.C., S.C. Belfit, J.K. Aitkin and J.N. Rinne. 1985. Impact of grazing on a riparian garter snake. Pp. 359-363 In R.R. Johnson, C.D. Ziebell, D.R. Patton, P.F. Folliott, and R.H. Hamre (technical coordinators), Riparian ecosystems and their management: Reconciling conflicting uses. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, General Technical Report RM-120.

Trimble, S.W. and A.C. Mendel. 1995. The cow as a geomorphic agent, a critical review. Geomorphology 13: 233-253.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1985. Determination That Amsinckia Grandiflora is an Endangered Species and Designation of Critical Habitat. 50 CFR Part 17, Federal Register, May 8, 1985.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1986. Determination of Endangered Status for Cordylanthus palmatus (Palmate-Bracted Bird’s-Beak). 50 CFR Part 17, Federal Register, July 1, 1986

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1987. Determination of Threatened Status for the Bay Checkerspot Butterfly (Euphydryas editha bayensis). 50 CFR Part 17, Federal Register, September 18, 1987.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1991. The Distribution, Habitat, and Status of Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle Desmocerus californicus dimorphus.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1993. Determination of Threatened Status for the Giant Garter Snake. 50 CFR Part 17, Federal Register, October 20, 1993.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1994. Determination of Endangered Status for the Conservancy Fairy Shrimp, Longhorn Fairy Shrimp, and the Vernal Pool Tadpole Shrimp; and Threatened Status for the Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp. 50 CFR Part 17, Federal Register, September 19, 1994.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1995. Final Rule listing the Presidio clarkia as an endangered species.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1996. Final Rule listing the California red-legged frog as a threatened species. Federal Register, 63 Fed. Reg. 54938.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1997. Final Rule listing the Alameda whipsnake as a threatened species. Federal Register, 62 Fed. Reg. 64306, May 23, 1997.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1997. Final Rule listing the callippe silverspot butterfly as an endangered species. Federal Register, 62 Fed. Reg. 64306.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1997. Final Rule listing the soft bird’s-beak as an endangered species.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1997. Final Rule listing the Contra Costa goldfields as an endangered species.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1997. Draft Recovery Plan for Seven Coastal Plants and the Myrtle’s Silverspot Butterfly. USFWS Region 1, Portland, Oregon.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1998. Draft Recovery Plan for Serpentine Soil Species of the San Francisco Bay Area.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1998. Final Rule listing the pallid manzanita as a threatened species.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1998. Proposed Rule listing the Santa Cruz tarplant as a threatened species. March 20, 1998 (63 FR 15142).

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2000. Draft recovery plan for the California red-legged frog (Rana aurora draytonii). Region 1 U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Portland, Oregon.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2000. Final Rule listing the Santa Cruz tarplant as a threatened species. March 20, 2000 (65 FR 14898).

Wagner, F.H. 1978. Livestock Grazing and the Livestock Grazing Industry. In Wildlife in America, pp. 121-145. H.P. Brokaw, Editor. Council on Environmental Quality, Washington, D.C.

White, R.R. 1986. Pupal Mortality in the Bay Checkerspot Butterfly. Journal of Research in the Lepidoptera 25: 52-62.

See more articles in: Farming and Ranching

Most recent in Farming and Ranching


See all stories in Farming and Ranching

28 comments:

Ron Russo on May 7th, 2015 at 10:52 pm

What Klitz and Miller seem to have ignored in their one-sided pitch is that the California landscape evolved under a regime of frequent fires and heavy grazing from large herds of native ungulates. Elimination of all forms of grazing leaves open grassland to ultimately succeed into coyote brush dominated coastal scrub. I have seen far more wildflowers in modestly grazed land than in ungrazed fields.

John Carter on May 8th, 2015 at 7:08 am

Karen and Jeff hit the nail on the head. It’s time the west is made free of cows on public lands for all the economic and environmental reasons they lay out. Agencies such as the California Extension whose rebuttal is due out tomorrow are patsies for the livestock industry, rely on ag funding and support and present a biased and self serving pitch promoting livestock…it’s job security. Leading range scientists have berated agencies for adopting myth based range management instead of using the best available range science in management of livestock. The refusal of entities such as Cal Ag to do this is why cattle must be removed.

Why, in an enlightened, or supposedly enlightened state such as California are 2100 dairy farmers allowed to grow 2 million acres of alfalfa, using double the Colorado River allocation while urban residents are asked to cut water use. Gov Brown and his allies talk about growing fruits and vegetables, and do not address the waste of water for growing beef for export. Cut the ranchers and farmers back, eliminate water wasting crops and irrigation for growing feed for cows, monitor their water use and fine them for excessive water use. It’s time to end the pandering to agriculture and recognize it for what it is..a multi mega industrial lobbying entity that despoils our land, wastes and pollutes our water, destroys our wildlife habitat and native plant communities and gets subsidized to do it due to politicians who sell out and refuse to provide the public with the facts.

Finally, cattle are a particularly large component of greenhouse gases and in some enlightened time ahead will be seen as the threat to the planet they are and they will have to go to save what’s left for humans…not sure that’s a good thing, but the choice will be made plain as coastal cites are drowned by rising seas.

John Carter, Manager of Yellowstone to Uintas Connection

Jeff Miller on May 8th, 2015 at 10:07 am

Ron – I suggest you read through some of the literature references we provided with the article. We have native ungulates that can graze grasslands – such as elk and deer. Also, do not underestimate the grazing pressure of native rodents. Livestock behavior does not mimic that of either Pleistocene or modern native California herbivores. California landscapes did not evolve with cattle, which are a relatively recent invasive species, and behave differently and have different impacts than native grazers and browsers.

Craig on May 8th, 2015 at 4:21 pm

We had 60 million or so native bison and replaced them with cattle. How foolish is that?

Susan on May 8th, 2015 at 4:39 pm

How do we break the back of subsidized cattle grazing on Public lands? This conversation has been on-going for decades. The cattlemen have finally pitted cattle against wild horses in the West, where there are only, at most, 35-40k wild horses left roaming on Public land that was set-aside for the horses, while millions of cattle are allocated the forage.
Wild Horse Advocates, I think, hold the key to eliminating cattle from Public land because of the protection of the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971. Conservation and Horse Advocacy need to yoke together to remove cattle from our lands.

Susan on May 8th, 2015 at 6:50 pm

The key to removing cattle from Public lands is to join Wild Horse Advocates in the fight against cattle.
This is from the Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971.

Section 1333 (a)…..

Provides that “Secretary shall manage Wild Free-roaming horse and
Burros in a manner that is designed to achieve and maintain a thriving natural

ecological balance on public Lands and that all management shall be at minimal

feasible level, in order to protect the natural, ecological balance of all wildlife

species which inhabit such lands, particularly endangered wildlife species.”
There is no mention of cattle here. The protection is only directed towards wildlife

species, and the Wild free-roaming horses, for which the Act is named.

All management of that land should be maintained at the minimal feasible level to protect the

balance of wildlife Species on that land. This does not suggest that wildlife should be allocated

a remainder of forage after privately-owned cattle are first served.

“Herd management areas shall be established for the maintenance of wild horse and burro

herds. In delineating each herd management area, the authorized officer shall consider the

appropriate management level for the herd, the habitat requirements of the animals, the

relationships with other uses of the public and adjacent private lands, and the constraints

contained in § 4710.4. The authorized officer shall prepare a herd management area plan,

which may cover one or more herd management areas. § 4710.3-1 Herd management areas

“ If necessary to provide habitat for wild horses or burros, to implement herd
management actions, or to protect wild horses or burros, to implement herd management actions, or to protect wild horses or burros from disease, harassment
or injury, the authorized officer may close appropriate areas of the public lands to
grazing use by all or a particular kind of livestock.
V. § 4710.5 Closure to livestock grazing.

Hornaday Award on May 9th, 2015 at 2:34 am

See the impact the wolves made on Yellowstone when they changed the grazers.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q

Peter Ruddock on May 9th, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Thank you for trying to rebut this horrible article, Ron Russo. It is so full of outdated and reductionist logic that I was unable to get to the bottom.

Is most cattle grazing on public lands bad: yes, of course. Most cattle grazing is bad, period. This does not mean that cattle are bad or that cattle grazing cannot be done better. The authors, and other naysayers, need to visit well-managed ranchlands and see for themselves. And then read the studies that progressive ranchers have to back up their practices. It’s very impressive how healthy their lands can become.

Proper grazing is our goal. Are cattle the only way to do it? No! Are they the best way? I think that’s an open question. Find a holistic scheme for managing other grazers and let’s take a look at it. Don’t just throw tule elk on the land and expect them to fix things – elk have destroyed quite a bit of land when unmanaged.

As a taste of the difference management can make, I offer you these numbers from Morris Grassfed near San Juan Bautista. Conventional wisdom tells us that cattle have notoriously large water footprint, something like 821 gallons per 1/3 lb hamburger. Morris grazes holistically. A new study shows their water footprint to be 7 gallons per 1/3 lb hamburger.

http://us5.campaign-archive2.com/?u=04c147fba308285b4b0171bd1&id=dcabc1ce4d

John George on May 10th, 2015 at 6:14 am

What happens when elk (or deer) don’t have predators in their ecosystem to keep them on edge and cull their populations? They pretty much behave like cattle, that is no longer bunching up, and become discriminating over grazers adversely impacting their ecosystems as they too belch methane. Reintroduce predators like they did at Yellowstone and the ecosystem changes, though there too man still managed elk herd populations with hunting. It all comes down to management with any animals, and those critics of HM have always cited systems other than HM (eg rotational grazing) when making their assertions that HM doesn’t work while completely ignoring the the many case studies across the world demonstrating that HM does work. Here though instead without providing footnotes, this editorial just cited a lot of outdated arguments from the resources listed below to formulate its misguided arguments.

stefhan gordon on May 10th, 2015 at 11:50 am

What’s ironic when people cite water use and GHG’s as a reason to oppose cattle is that horses, elk, deer and bison all have higher water foot prints than cattle plus deer, elk, and bison are also all ruminants that emit methane. With water foot prints, people cite the global stat to further an ideology but typically have no clue how the number is derived.

On federal land, all the water used is rain fall (“green” water). 98%+ of any meat animal’s water foot print number is the water it takes to grow feed, forage or grasses. Very little of the number is for actual consumption.

The number is also a function of lifespan, and yield, so with two different animals eating the same grasses watered by the same rain, the one with the higher yield and shorter lifespan will have the lower water footprint.simply because of the efficiency in which it turns grasses (or other feed) into consumable meat. And yes especially without predators, elk and deer populations will need to be controlled by hunting so these animals also don’t overgraze. (Note too without predators elk and bison graze more like cattle, because predators keep them bunched together in herds).

So a heifer or steer with a hang weight of 450 pounds (net yield) that lived 2.5 years will have a much lower water foot print than a elk with a hang weight of 300 lbs that lived 4 years because the steer or heifer more efficiently converted the same rainfall and grasses to meat.

As for methane, interesting read from Penn State University http://extension.psu.edu/…/wild-ruminants-burp-methane-too that researched the number of wild ruminants in the US before European settlement. After detailing how difficult these estimates are to make, they came upon a number of around 30 mil deer, 30 mil elk, and 50 mil bison which is a number than exceeds the current cattle inventory of 90 million cattle including dairy cows. What happened as wild ruminant numbers went down, domestic ruminant numbers went up, so in general the levels of methane via enteric fermentation stayed pretty much the same . Thus the rise during industrialization of methane levels wasn’t due to more ruminants.

The largest rise in methane use over the past 50 years has been due to natural gas use with leaks from production and transportation of natural gas. ore recently the leaks from fracking have also been grossly underestimated as well. So once again enteric methane from cattle is something of a red herring to distract attention away from the real culprits behind climate change especially in regards to higher levels of methane in the atmosphere.

stefhan gordon on May 10th, 2015 at 11:56 am

Sorry here’s the broken link in my prior comment
http://extension.psu.edu/animals/dairy/news/2011/wild-ruminants-burp-methane-too

Stefhan Gordon on May 10th, 2015 at 12:27 pm

What’s ironic when people cite water use and GHG’s as a reason to oppose cattle is that horses, elk, deer and bison all have higher water foot prints than cattle plus deer, elk, and bison are also all ruminants that emit methane. With water foot prints, people cite the global stat to further an ideology but typically have no clue how the number is derived.

On federal land, all the water used is rain fall (“green” water). 98%+ of any meat animal’s water foot print number is the water it takes to grow feed, forage or grasses. Very little of the number is for actual consumption.

The number is also a function of lifespan, and yield, so with two different animals eating the same grasses watered by the same rain, the one with the higher yield and shorter lifespan will have the lower water footprint.simply because of the efficiency in which it turns grasses (or other feed) into consumable meat. And yes especially without predators, elk and deer populations will need to be controlled by hunting so these animals also don’t overgraze. (Note too without predators elk and bison graze more like cattle, because predators keep them bunched together in herds).

So a heifer or steer with a hang weight of 450 pounds (net yield) that lived 2.5 years will have a much lower water foot print than a elk with a hang weight of 300 lbs that lived 4 years because the steer or heifer more efficiently converted the same rainfall and grasses to more meat (i.e. higher yield).

As for methane, interesting read from Penn State University http://extension.psu.edu/animals/dairy/news/2011/wild-ruminants-burp-methane-too that researched the number of wild ruminants in the US before European settlement. After detailing how difficult these estimates are to make, they came upon a number of around 30 mil deer, 30 mil elk, and 50 mil bison which is a number than exceeds the current cattle inventory of 90 million cattle including dairy cows. What happened as wild ruminant numbers went down, domestic ruminant numbers went up, so in general the levels of methane via enteric fermentation stayed pretty much the same . Thus the rise during industrialization of methane levels wasn’t due to more ruminants.

The largest rise in methane use over the past 50 years has been due to natural gas use with leaks from production and transportation of natural gas. More recently the leaks from fracking have also been grossly underestimated as well. So once again enteric methane from cattle is something of a red herring to distract attention away from the real culprits behind climate change especially in regards to higher levels of methane in the atmosphere.

Ralph Maughan on May 11th, 2015 at 9:02 am

I am grateful to read this article and the rejoinders to the comment that cattle recapitulate the Pleistocene grazing of herbivores.

The idea that cattle grazing successfully mimics many varieties and amounts of prehistoric grazing is used as propaganda throughout America to try to make cattle grazing appear benign and even helpful.

It rarely is, and certainly not at Point Reyes.

Connie Gammon on May 12th, 2015 at 3:39 pm

I was unware the trout population I even effected by cattle grazing. You have all the facts so no excuse for bad decisions.

Carol Grover on May 12th, 2015 at 5:54 pm

I do believe that cattle and sheep are damaging more land than the horses, burros and other creatures on these properties!

Sherry on May 12th, 2015 at 9:23 pm

This is the reason why BLM keeps taking our wild american horses from the lands they were born and raised on. It’s the over zealoised cattle ranchers wanting the public lands for their cattle which do have a huge impact on the public land. How can we enjoy a walk in public when there is no greenery for other wildlife to roam about. Cattle eat grass to the root. Which causes the grass to die off or taking years to grow back. Horses and other wildlife only eat what they need. Why do you think cows ear so much? Interesting fact: The cow has four stomachs and undergoes a special digestive process to break down the tough and coarse food it eats. When the cow first eats, it chews the food just enough to swallow it. The unchewed food travels to the first two stomachs, the rumen and the reticulum, where it is stored until later. When the cow is full from this eating process, she rests. Later, the cow coughs up bits of the unchewed food called cud and chews it completely this time before swallowing it again. The cud then goes to the third and fourth stomachs, the omasum and abomasum, where it is fully digested. Some of this digested food enters the bloodstream and travels to a bag called the udder, where it is made into milk that will come out of her teats, while the rest goes towards the cow’s nourishment.
I really don’t understand that if you are a farmer then you should have the land for your cattle! I’m not a rocket scientist here but owning cattle is one mans job cause he bought them, and wanted more than his own land could handle; sell the damn things off and support them yourself. Why can’t you do as others have to do? What makes you any better than the rest of us? You are wanting more than ya can chew the same as the cattle. Leave our wildlife and public lands alone so our/your grandchildren, great grandchildren will have something beautiful and proud to look at as an American.

Valeria on May 13th, 2015 at 11:03 am

I understand that the damage from cows is real damage, but to equate the ‘Holistic Resource Management” to just saying cows are alright as replacements is directly opposite of what ‘holistic’ means.. as far as looking at the land as a system..not this species against another.. other factors, the timing, and how many of any grazer would need to be managed.. native or not…. since the lands have boundaries that the ecosystem might not be compatable with…

Peggy ellison on May 13th, 2015 at 3:02 pm

Cattle should be on the owner’s land. The public land belongs to the wild horses and burros.

Cad on May 13th, 2015 at 4:20 pm

On my land the deer (a wild animal) are terribly overgrazing because there is nothing to keep them moving. They stay in one place too long and they do not allow the grass to recover after being grazed. The overgrazing caused by the deer is now leading to increase in undesirable weeds (mother nature’s attempt to keep the land covered). Without pressures of predators, wild grazers will cause just as much damage to the land as domestic animals that are not managed properly.

The photos you show depict poor grazing management practices. Your arguments are elementary. This does not mean that all grazing by domestic animals is bad and that all ranchers are bad managers. Black and white, good and bad contrasts do not depict nature but rather they depict the human mindset that tries to make everything simple. Nature is complex, communities are dynamic.

With proper planning, monitoring based on the needs of the plants, wildlife and a myriad of other considerations, and re-planning when necessary, grazing animals can be used as tools to manage for desired outcomes. Simply throwing animals out on the land and letting them do what they please it not good management. Planned grazing with careful oversight does lead to positive results. The problems we face now require open minds and a wiliness to learn. Something that just does not seem to exist much these days.

Sure go ahead and get rid of your family farmers and ranchers – no one needs them any more. We have China to feed us now.

Cad on May 13th, 2015 at 4:54 pm

Holistic management is about making decisions that are socially, economically, and environmentally sound – much more than a simple argument for or against public lands grazing. Holistic managers see grazing animals as a tool of management that is neither good or bad. Like a hammer, grazing with hooved herbivores is just a tool. The good / bad arguments do not get us anywhere. Rather holistic managers work to choose the best tool or combination of tools to achieve desirable results in terms of creating healthy land, healthy people and healthy communities.

Holistic managers receive many of the prestigious awards for their conservation efforts. Grazing animals, as a tool of management, may be used to achieve desirable results such as increased diversity, restored watersheds, improved wildlife habitat, and etc. Holistic Management challenges us to open our minds, quit trying to make things simple (black and white) but rather learn how to manage for complexity.

I encourage folks to spend some time with experienced holistic managers to see what might be possible.

Sylvia Eoff on May 13th, 2015 at 9:18 pm

Cattle should be on the owner’s land. Public land belongs to wild horses and burros.

Craig C. Downer on May 14th, 2015 at 11:33 am

Excellent article and well documented. I visited Pt. Reyes Nat. Seashore a year ago and it must not become a cattle pasture to be degraded without scruple in order to preserve some much vaunted cowboy lifestyle!

Mary on May 14th, 2015 at 11:36 pm

the government gave land in the 70’s to protect the future of our wild animals of all kinds. They need the land given. Cattle belong on rancher owned land. Not the land given to protect our All Our Heritage. We’ve proven time and again no mess with Eco system to much. Kills the natural balance and another important part of us extinct. Sad sad. I want my federal land where it belongs. To the wild. All the wild. Set aside for them. We must quit taking and taking. It will be gone !!

Hyland Armstrong on May 15th, 2015 at 5:31 pm

Is Cattle Grazing Incompatible with Conservation?-A Canadian Rancher’s Perspective

Sustainable management of any valuable resource requires not only the cooperation of all the stakeholders involved in the issue but the willingness to find and work from common ground.

As a rancher with experience in managing habitat for endangered species (sage grouse), threatened species (leopard frogs) and large ungulates (elk and deer), I would be untruthful to say cattle fill the same ecological role as native ungulates. However, I have learned from practical experience and my academic training, livestock grazing behavior (like rest and fire) can be manipulated to achieve a specific ecological goal. Setting these goals requires an understanding the ecological history of the ecosystem and the factors that shaped its development. It is also important to come to grips with the changes to the ecosystem that have taken place over the last century. Thus we may know what we want a particular ecosystem should look like we may never be able to replicate simply because the ecosystem has been dramatically altered by human activity. It is also important to understand what we regard as native and non-native species is relative. A good example is the wild horse population. Considering cattle were introduced into North America at the same time as horses one could argue cattle could be considered just as native as horses.

Rather than focusing on what an ecosystem looked like 300 years ago, my goals were to set achievable ecological goals applying the tools that I had available to me to landscapes as they exist today. As a rancher and resource manager my primary objective was to maintain, if not enhance, the biodiversity associated with the landscapes I managed. This involved using livestock grazing as tool to manipulate range and riparian health. Thus my primary goal was not to create a homogeneous landscape, but heterogeneous one. This was achieved my using a number of techniques to manipulate livestock grazing behavior.

As I look back the projects I was involved in it is clear the goals were to manage a ranch while maintaining, if not enhancing the biodiversity associated with ecosystems associated with the ranch. While an understanding of the negative ecological impact livestock grazing had on these ecosystems was essential, it was also important to understand how livestock grazing behavior could be manipulated to achieve specific ecological goals. These goals could not have been achieved without the cooperation of government agencies, nongovernment agencies and local environmental groups.

Jeff Miller on May 18th, 2015 at 1:38 pm

Allan Savory’s Fantasy Thrills Ranchers, But He’s Wrong
http://dailypitchfork.org/?p=719

Damon Petracci on June 2nd, 2015 at 3:27 pm

I’m glad there’s a place to comment on this unfortunate article. Here’s a link to HM in practice. There’s many farms around the U.S. that are using these methods and many you can visit. Go see them for yourself if you doubt the validity…

https://vimeo.com/80518559

Keith Guenther on June 3rd, 2015 at 10:59 am

Klitz and Miller are obviously thoughtful folks and very good writers. However; their arguments totally miss the point of what the discussion should be about.
The discussion should not be about cattle grazing as a tool, but about what should the ecological goals of Point Reyes NP be, and is the park achieving those goals.

Stating that they do not want cattle grazing because sometimes there are problems is like demanding we ban all cars for transportation because sometimes things go wrong.

Interestingly the several fence-line photos the authors use to support their claims to remove cattle, can be also be interpreted to support the use of cattle!
If the Point Reyes management goal is to have dense coastal shrub vegetation as seen on the ungrazed side of the fence that supports woodrats and bobcats, then the cattle should be removed. If the goal is to provide a complexity of habitat types, including open coastal prairie grassland vegetation and flowering forbs, pocket gophers, tiger beetles, salamanders, squirrels and hawks then the cattle grazing is helping to achieve that goal.

There is a large collection of well documented scientific studies that show coastal prairie grasslands are an early seral vegetation stage that will transition to coastal scrub if not set back by some disturbance factor such as fire, mowing, herbicides or grazing. All of the disturbance factors have some risk of failure and associated cost to implement.

Klitz and Miller should be discussing first: is maintaining coastal prairie a legitimate goal for Point Reyes and second: is cattle grazing a reasonable, cost effective strategy or is one of the other strategies more suited.

My experience is if Klitz and Miller stepped back and asked what they wanted Point Reyes to look like they would find a well managed livestock grazing program will help achieve the goal of maintaining coastal prairie habitat as part of a dynamic ever changing ecosystem. If they just want to see the area free of cows and accept that the area will slowly revert to a dense stand of coastal scrub that is occasionally removed by wildfire, then remove the cows.

Leave a Comment

Name

Email

Website

Comment

Bay Nature