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:
The Project’s first intern and EPIC volunteer Victor Ruether examines a cattle-trampled spring in the Trinity Alps Wilderness. Victor is now an environmental lawyer in Oregon.
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.