By Felice Pace, Coordinator for the Project to Reform Public Land Grazing in Northern California
This fall for the seventh straight year volunteers with the Project to Reform Public Land Grazing are on the ground in Northern California’s national forests documenting the manner in which public land grazing is being managed or, as is usually the case, mis-managed. What is different this year is that we have video documentation available online. Check out the public land grazing videos on my You Tube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/Unofelice .
Here is our most recent grazing video, from the Carter Meadows Allotment:
Even when it is well managed, livestock grazing, like all human activities, entails some environmental impact. But proper application of modern grazing management practices and systems, including regular herding, spring and riparian protection, and rest-rotation grazing, can limit those impacts in order to comply with the Clean Water Act and other applicable laws, plans and regulations.
Unfortunately, Forest Service and BLM managers do not require modern grazing management; instead they condone the long-discredited practice known in range management circles as passive, season-long grazing. When using this grazing non-system, livestock owners move their animals, which are typically cattle but may be sheep, horses, goats or even llamas, to meadows and headwater basins on national forest or BLM-managed public lands at the beginning of the grazing season. The owners don’t herd or move their livestock again until the snow flies and it is time to take the animals back to the home ranch or to a feed lot; most owners don’t even visit the grazing allotments on which their animals are grazing for the entire three to six month grazing season.
Left unherded for months on end, livestock in general and cattle in particular find locations they prefer and remain there until all available forage and desirable browse has been consumed. That invariably leads to degradation of water quality, riparian areas, meadows, wetlands and wildlife habitat.
Rural westerners have a colorful term for this type of management; they call it Christopher Columbus Grazing because ranchers release their cattle onto the public lands in spring or summer and don’t discover them again until snow drives the livestock to lower elevation, which is typically sometime in the fall.
Passive Season-Long Grazing often results in cattle grazing for long periods in the headwater basins of forest streams, including many within designated wilderness as well as within key salmon watersheds. When headwater springs, seeps, wet meadows and streambanks are trampled every year for 3 or more months the result is hydromodification: streams become broader and shallower and the water table drops; riparian vegetation is damaged or removed; wetlands dry out and eventually disappear and late summer and fall base flow in streams below is reduced. In this way, grazing in Northern California’s wilderness headwater basins is producing negative consequences for salmon, steelhead, rainbow trout, tailed frogs, Pacific Giant salamanders and the other critters that depend on cold, high quality water. It is ironic that those wilderness basins which should be producing the nation’s highest quality water are so often degraded and diminished as a result of unmanaged grazing.
Working for Reform
To reverse the degraded condition of Northern California’s grazing allotments, the Project to Reform Public Land Grazing aims to change the way public land grazing is managed. Over the course of the past seven years we’ve produced 27 Grazing Monitoring Reports on 17 national forest grazing allotments located within three national forests. Each report contains recommendations to Forest Service managers, as well as state and federal regulators, on the changes needed to improve grazing management in order to comply with the Clean Water Act, the National Forest Management Act, and other applicable laws, plans and regulations You can read or download these reports, as well as our annual reports and presentations on Dropbox at this link.
The Project uses photo and field documentation of grazing management problems to advocate that Forest Service managers require that owners of livestock grazing on our national forests implement modern grazing management systems and techniques in order to protect water quality, as well as fish and wildlife habitat. We also use documentation produced by others, including water quality monitoring findings and reports produced by the Quartz Valley Indian Reservation. And we constantly invite Forest Service managers and those who hold public land grazing permits to join with us in a collaborative approach to grazing reform.
However, in spite of seven years advocating public land management reform and clear documentation indicating that current management is not protecting water quality, riparian areas and wetlands, Forest Service officials have so far refused to make the management changes that are clearly needed.
And so the Project, EPIC and the Project’s other sponsors have begun to raise the stakes. We are now going over the heads of the District Rangers who are responsible for assuring proper grazing management to the regional forester and state water quality officials, asking them to intervene to require grazing management reform. And we are considering filing a complaint with the Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General as well as strategic litigation to force the needed reforms.
Forest Serviced grazing managers have stuck their heads in the sand and refuse to see the obvious problems with the manner in which national forest grazing is managed. We aim to force them to remove their heads from the sand and do what is right. If grazing is going to continue on our public lands, managers must require the modern grazing management methods needed to limit negative impacts to water quality, riparian areas, wetland habitats, aquatic species and terrestrial wildlife.
Why not volunteer?
The Project To Reform Public Land Grazing wants more volunteers so that we can monitor more grazing allotments on more Northern California national forests and on BLM administered public land. As the Project’s coordinator, I go out with new volunteers onto grazing allotments they choose to teach them how the Project documents grazing management problems. Volunteers can then monitor on their own or join the Project’s monitoring expeditions into wilderness areas and on other Northern California public lands.
If you would like to volunteer with the Project, or just learn more about what we do and why we do it, give me a call at 707-954-6588. And whether or not you volunteer with the Project, please report to the Project and to EPIC the negative impacts of grazing which you observe while recreating or working on our public lands. If you will share them with us, we pledge to take up your concerns with the Forest Service or BLM managers who are supposed to make sure public land grazing is done responsibly. Use the “Contact Us” link on this web page for a range of contact options.
Public land grazing is deeply entrenched; arguably it is our most intractable public land management problem nation-wide. But by raising the profile of the poor manner in which public land grazing is managed, enlisting Clean Water and other regulators to also advocate for management reform, recruiting other citizens to get involved on-the-ground as reform advocates, and by refusing to accept bad and discredited grazing management, we believe public land grazing can and will be reformed.
If modern grazing management technologies and regular herding were required, those owners unwilling to devote the energy needed to properly manage their livestock on public lands would voluntarily relinquish their grazing permits; those who remain would put in the time and energy required to manage grazing responsibly. That is the Project’s goal: if grazing is to continue on the public’s land it must be managed responsibly.mmm