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Klamath National Forest Grazing is Degrading Water Quality and Wetlands

Updated: May 17, 2022

Over 60% of the North Coast Region is national forest land managed by the US Forest Service. Those public lands include the headwaters of most North Coast streams, often with extensive wet meadow ecosystems dominating the headwaters. Maintaining headwater wetlands in good condition is key to maintaining adequate flows for fish and good water quality in streams below the headwaters, as well as to reducing flood flows and damage.

Unfortunately, each and every summer poorly managed cattle grazing in the headwaters of our national forest watersheds results in excessive streambank trampling that delivers large amounts of fine sediment to streams. Many of those streams are already “sediment impaired” according to the North Coast Water Board. Excessive trampling also renders streams wider and shallower and in that way elevates stream water temperatures.

Poorly managed cattle grazing has degraded this headwater stream on the Klamath National Forest’s Big Meadows Grazing Allotment in the Marble Mountain Wilderness

Klamath National Forests (KNF) 2021 grazing monitoring results obtained via the Freedom of Information Act confirm the degradation that is occurring. Four sites on three KNF Grazing Allotments were monitored by the Forest Service in 2021: Dead Cow Allotment in Beaver Creek watershed, Back Meadows and Middle Meadows in the Shakleford Creek tributary of Scott River. Here are the bank stability and streambank cover monitoring results:

  • Dead Cow 1: 44% of streambanks were rated as unstable; streambank cover was 96%. Streambank alteration was not rated.

  • Dead Cow 2: 35% of streambanks were found to be altered by livestock; 31% were rated as unstable; streambank cover was 98%.

  • Back Meadows: streambank alteration was not rated; 26% of streambanks were rated as unstable; cover was rated at 100%.

  • Middle Meadows: 17% of streambanks were rated as unstable; cover was rated at 96%.

  • This data has good and bad news.

The good news is that streambank cover was found to be high indicating that shade is being maintained and stream temperatures are not being further elevated as a result of shade removal by grazing.

The bad news is that streambank alteration ranged from a high of 44% to a low of 17%. That means KNF headwater grazing is delivering significant amounts of sediment to our streams, including in watersheds and basins that are sediment impaired.

Another headwater stream on the Klamath National Forest that has been degraded as a result of poorly managed cattle grazing

On-the-ground national forest grazing monitoring by the Grazing Reform Project finds that these excessive rates of streambank trampling could be significantly lowered if Forest Service managers would require adequate herding while cattle are on national forest land. Research by UC Davis and others confirm that regular herding is necessary to control riparian, wetland and water quality degradation. But the most effective way to reduce grazing impacts is to reduce the number of cattle permitted to graze national forest headwaters.

Research indicates that unherded cattle spend 40% of their time in riparian areas on average. That means regular herding is needed to control riparian, wetland and water quality degradation. Unfortunately, the Klamath National Forest (KNF) does not require any herding on about half of the Forest's grazing allotments. Forest Service managers have also understaffed the grazing program. As a result, even where herding is required, grazing staff do not have the time to make sure herding instructions are being properly implemented.

The lack of adequate herding is a recipe for riparian and wetland degradation leading to violation of water quality standards. And that is why we need enforceable standards for streambank stability and shade retention in the new Waster Discharge Requirements (WDRs) for national forest lands currently being prepared by the North Coast Water Board. Please encourage Water Board staff to establish enforceable riparian shade and streambank stability standards for national forest grazing in the North Coast Region by sending email to Water Board staff member Devon Jorgenson:

Forest Service grazing managers can and should do better. The North Coast Water Board can and should require them to do better. That is what the Grazing Reform Project will continue to advocate. Check out our advocacy and our 29 national forest grazing allotment reports at


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