Documenting Bovine Degradation in Wilderness: A Call for Volunteers From the Project to Reform Publi

Project Volunteer Luke Ruediger surveys bank trampling and riparian shade reduction on the Silver Fork of Elliot Creek within the Siskiyou Ridge portion of Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest.

Project Volunteer Luke Ruediger surveys bank trampling and riparian shade reduction on the Silver Fork of Elliot Creek within the Siskiyou Ridge portion of Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest.


By Felice Pace, Project Coordinator

This summer and fall volunteers with the Project to Reform Public Land Grazing in Northern California will again be in the field monitoring conditions on public lands where cattle and other livestock are permitted to graze. Our task will be to document with photos, measurements and field notes how the cattle are managed and the resulting degradation of water quality, riparian and wetland habitats.

This will be the seventh year Project volunteers are in the field. So far we’ve monitories 17 grazing allotments on three national forests; many allotments we’ve monitored multiple times and in multiple years. Here’s what we’ve found: District Rangers, the Forest Service officials responsible for assuring that grazing on their districts is done responsibly, are not getting the job done. Those officials are allowing livestock owners to place cattle on public land and leave them there, without management, until the snow flies and it is necessary to bring the cattle to lower elevation. That results in degradation of water quality, riparian areas and wetlands, and that is what the Project aims to stop.

Project monitors record their observations and document the destruction photographically. We then use those observations and findings in monitoring and other reports and presentations which we provide to agency grazing managers and regulatory agencies. Project sponsor organizations like EPIC and me as the Project’s coordinator use that documentation to advocate specific management changes on the allotments volunteers monitored and for systemic grazing management reforms. We especially target the State Water Resources Control Board and Regional Water Boards which are responsible for assuring that public land management complies with the Clean Water Act. We want the State and Regional Water Boards to tighten Clean Water Act requirements for public land grazing, including requiring modern rest-rotation grazing management systems, regular herding and other best management practices.

Our ability to monitor public land grazing is limited by the number of volunteers working with the project. That’s where you could play a role. If you are familiar with the wilderness and able to walk off trail in the mountains you could monitor with the Project; or you could train with the Project and monitor grazing on your own and with friends. Often national forest grazing takes place in spectacular wilderness environments. And one can usually find a quite place, away from the destructive bovines, to camp. Many grazing allotments can be monitored via day trips from wilderness trailheads.

Monitors are especially needed for the Mendocino, Six Rivers, Lassen and Modoc National Forests and for BLM administered public lands. The more places we can document poor grazing management resulting in water quality, riparian and wetland degradation, the better the case we can make that systemic reform of public land grazing management is needed.

The destruction

When cattle are left unmanaged for months in mountains where the headwaters are replete with springs, wet meadows and willow wetlands, the result is a disaster. The photos below tell the tail to some extent, but photos can capture the full impact.

Season-long gra