Private Cattle Grazing Degrades Public Wildlands

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Tuesday, April 16th, 2013
One of many bovine trashed springs on the Big Meadows Grazing Allotment in the Marble Mountains Wilderness

One of many bovine trashed springs on the Big Meadows Grazing Allotment in the Marble Mountains Wilderness

The EPIC Public Lands Program is a core program focus of our public interest conservation advocacy. Monitoring industrial activities and tracking conservation planning on the National Forests in our bioregion is a cornerstone of our landscape scale methodology to promote biodiversity protection and appropriate natural resource management in Northwest California. The following is an overview and an update on the Livestock Grazing Reform Project of EPIC’s Public Lands Program. Thanks to Felice Pace for his labors on this project, and for making this report possible.

For the past 3 years EPIC and our allies have been working to reform livestock grazing on Northwest California’s public lands. Our goal is to reduce, control and eliminate significant negative impacts resulting from private livestock grazing on public land, including grazing allotments located within our region’s wilderness and roadless lands.

We do this by documenting on-the-ground impacts livestock grazing is having on biodiversity, including water quality, riparian areas, wetlands, native vegetation and native species. Staff, interns and volunteers use that documentation to inform EPIC’s participation in environmental analysis and decision making for specific livestock grazing allotments. Where negative impacts cannot be eliminated or reduced to insignificance through active management, we work to eliminate the livestock grazing altogether.

EPIC members and activists have long been disgusted and outraged when they encounter the degradation that is common on Northern California national forests and wilderness areas as a consequence of poorly managed and inappropriate livestock grazing.   When EPIC member and longtime forest activist Felice Pace came to us with a plan for reform, we eagerly embraced that plan. Inspired by documented violations of water quality standards in streams below grazing allotments in the Scott River Basin by the Quartz Valley Tribe, Felice – along with EPIC staff, volunteers and interns – began monitoring and documenting the degradation occurring on areas grazed by livestock within the Marble Mountain, Trinity Alps and Russian Wilderness Areas.

Bovine trashed stream: Upper Bear Lake Valley, Elk Creek Key Watershed, Marble Mountain Wilderness

Bovine trashed stream: Upper Bear Lake Valley, Elk Creek Key Watershed, Marble Mountain Wilderness

Staff, interns and volunteers take our documentation to the responsible Forest Service managers as well as to state water quality managers. We ask them to require that livestock grazing permit holders ride the range at least weekly to move cattle away from sensitive areas and wetlands. When herding and other active management is ineffective – and where grazing permit holders are not willing to put in the necessary time and effort – we ask that grazing permits be canceled or moved to less sensitive lands.

Currently, EPIC is focusing special effort on two grazing allotments within the Marble Mountain Wilderness. Last year the Forest Service attempted to reauthorize these two allotments and others throughout the West without adequate environmental review. EPIC and its partners challenged that decision and won in federal court. This year we will participate in formal assessment by the Forest Service of the environmental impacts of livestock grazing in these two allotments. That assessment will lead to Forest Service decisions on whether or not to reauthorize grazing for another 10 years.

Intern Victor Reuther examines a bovine trashed trail in the Trinity Alps Wilderness

Intern Victor Reuther examines a bovine trashed trail in the Trinity Alps Wilderness

As in much of the Klamath Mountains Bioregion, most available livestock forage in the Marble Mountain Wilderness is found within wet meadows, riparian areas and other wetlands. On-the-ground monitoring has convinced us that many of these areas cannot be grazed without causing unacceptable impacts to water quality and biodiversity in violation of the Clean Water Act, National Forest Management Act and other laws. Where that is the case, we will continue to use on-the-ground monitoring, advocacy, administrative and legal challenges to eliminate livestock grazing.

EPIC and its partners are making progress. This year Forest Service managers on the Klamath National Forest are bringing in the BLM’s national riparian team to work with grazing permit holders and all interests to reform grazing management. We have a long way to go, however, in our quest to eliminate the sacred cows from places in Northern California where they just do not belong.

If you are interested in helping as a volunteer or intern with EPIC to reform grazing practices and eliminate grazing in Klamath Mountains wilderness areas, we want to talk to you. Please contact Public Land Advocate, Kimberly Baker kimberly@wildcalifornia.org or call the EPiC office at 707-822-7711.  Working together in a sustained manner with our partners throughout the West, we can and will reform public land grazing.