The class learned about the direct link between urban consumers and local food producers, providing a powerful conduit for educating the public about the importance of local food production and rangeland management. Sonoma and Marin Counties are perfect models for demonstrating how
preserving family farms contribute to
social, economic and ecological sustainability at
local, regional and even national levels.
Ranching PRNS, albeit smaller scale, remains a local industry, which provides job creation, training and business succession, and market expansion for many other ranchers and farmers.
Through the 1980s and 1990s and into the early 2000s, efforts to conserve threatened and endangered (special status) species on western rangelands often meant removing livestock ranching. Research findings, demonstration results, and failed conservation efforts in recent years involving endangered species has supported the continuation of livestock ranching and the reintroduction of grazing to some rangelands that were “protected” through grazing removal. At the landscape level,
research has demonstrated that livestock ranching
maintains extensive, open spaces by
reducing land use conversion, fragmentation of habitat,
and vegetation type conversion from invasion of brush.
Threats to native biodiversity, including special-status species, are likely to increase with removal or decrease of grazing. Research and experience have shown that grazing is strongly linked to maintaining habitat for some special-status species on PRNS lands, while they have been inconclusive for others. Sonoma alopecurus (Alopecurus aequalis var. sonomensis) is found in eight naturally occurring populations in Sonoma and Marin Counties; the four sites in Marin County all occur at PRNS and are all grazed by cattle; Sonoma spineflower found solely in a grazed pasture at PRNS. Tiburon paintbrush and Marin dwarf flax occur on serpentine grasslands, with six occurrences of Marin dwarf flax on Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) grazing lands. PRNS staff concluded, “Marin dwarf flax may benefit from a moderate level of cattle grazing through the reduction of taller competing vegetation as the flax is subject to shading by competing grasses or may be suppressed by build-up of thatch from previous year's herbage if left ungrazed.” (USNPS 2001).
Documented research, along with good stewardship provided by generational ranchers, has demonstrated the benefits provided to the ecosystems at Point Reyes National Seashore.
U.S. National Park Service. 2001. Biological Assessment on the Renewal of Livestock Grazing Permits in Point Reyes National Seashore and the North District of Golden Gate National Recreation Area Marin County, California. 65 pp.
The annual rainfall averages 34 inches and almost entirely comes between October and May. The preserve is primarily an upland habitat with perennial springs, but no perennial streams. The students learned about grazing history, as California grasslands evolved in the presence of grazing mammals and have adapted to grazing disturbance. The grasslands of Pepperwood have a history of grazing by domestic animals, which was first documented by a survey crew in 1858. Sheep herding gave way to cattle grazing during the Bechtel family's tenure from the 1940's through the 1970's. Since becoming a nature preserve in 1979, until 2012, the preserve utilized seasonal (winter and spring), open range grazing, moving herds of between 80 and 300 stockers between 3 pastures of about 300 acres each.
In 2013, Pepperwood initiated a Conservation Grazing Program using electric fencing to control herd density, manage seasonal timing and increase rest periods between animal impact events. Rangeland research and practical experience has demonstrated that animal disturbance can have a positive impact on grasslands and some native fauna if properly managed for conservation goals.
Grazing is a tool many land managers use to create disturbance in grasslands to improve soil health, reduce thatch cover, combat invasive weeds, increase native species diversity and restore historical impacts once created by native fauna.
The use of domestic grazing animals to achieve conservation goals is not new and is sometimes referred to as targeted or prescribed grazing or holistic grazing. Pepperwood prefers the term “conservation grazing” because it speaks directly to the goals of their grazing program.
Cattle managers use electric fencing and portable water systems to maximize the ability to control animal density and duration on varying grassland types and environmental conditions. The Conservation Grazing Program at Pepperwood intends to demonstrate that by using variable density, short duration grazing and adequate periods of recovery, rangeland managers can make progress towards conservation goals.
References available upon request.
The University of California Cooperative Extension recognized rangelands and their importance in Sonoma County, creating the “Ecosystem Services Interpretative Signage” to increase awareness and knowledge of park visitors, mangers and decisions makers of working rangelands and the ecosystem services. Rangelands are also referred to as working landscapes, are locally managed and provide essential biological, scenic, economic, and recreational values locally and throughout the world. Working landscapes are threatened in many areas by development, conversion to
Beyond the obvious benefits of beef cattle grazing such as food production, grazing can benefit individual plant and animal species, can help manage fire hazards, and, in the absence of natural disturbance regimes, help maintain Sonoma County's landscape structure. Beef cattle not only provide beef as food, they are also used as grazing tools, keeping weed or shrub invasion at bay, enhancing wildflower displays, or maintaining a low grassland canopy height to allow visibility, foraging, and movement of small mammals such as voles and ground squirrels. Rangelands not grazed or otherwise managed, especially where they abut or intergrade with shrublands, will become shrub invaded, which converts grasslands to coastal scrub. As well as increasing fire hazards, this conversion results in loss of coastal grasslands and; thus, loss of the species that occupy them. Fire and livestock grazing are the two main tools we can use to maintain grassland ecosystems. In Sonoma County, fire has become more difficult to use, livestock grazing is the most common and practical option. Maintaining rangelands has several benefits associated with water, including increasing water infiltration and increasing vernal pool inundation period for fairy shrimp and the California tiger salamander. In addition to ecosystems services associated with water, livestock grazing can also improve habitat for native annual forbs & grassland birds, control invasive weeds, reduce fire hazard, etc.
Rangelands provide a direct link between urban consumers and local food producers, which is a powerful conduit for educating the public about the importance of local food production and security. Sonoma County is a perfect model for demonstrating how preserving family farms contribute to social, economic and ecological sustainability at local, regional and even national levels. Ranching has positive health impacts including increased food access and food security, food to local business and schools, improved health literacy and general well-being. Ranching in Sonoma County, albeit smaller scale, remains a local industry which provides job creation, training and business succession, and market expansion for many other aspiring ranchers.
Through the 1980's, 1990's, and into the early 2000's, efforts to conserve threatened and endangered (special status) species on western rangelands often meant removing livestock ranching. Research findings, demonstration results, and failed conservation efforts in recent years involving endangered species have supported the continuation of livestock ranching and the reintroduction of grazing to some rangelands that were “protected” through grazing removal. At the landscape level, research has demonstrated that livestock ranching maintains extensive, open spaces by reducing land use conversion, fragmentation of habitat, and vegetation type conversion from invasion of brush.
|See Photos Below|
The relationship of grazing to some threatened and endangered species was reviewed in the U.C. Extension Report co-authored with Marin County, The Changing Role of Agriculture at the Point Reyes National Seashore. The report addresses Myrtle's silverspot butterfly (3) which inhabits coastal dunes, prairie, and scrub. Habitat suitability depends on numerous factors, but two critical components are the presence of its larval host plant, the native dog violet (Viola adunca) (4), and adult nectar plants including numerous native wildflowers, as well as common weeds such as bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) (5) and Italian thistle (Carduus pycnocephalus) (6). Most of the Myrtle's silverspot butterflies documented at Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) have been found in areas that are grazed by cattle. Butterfly surveys done by PRNS staff in 2003 showed occurrences of Myrtle's silverspot on 13 ranches, all of which support livestock operations (Adams 2004). Recent research on Myrtle's silverspot (Adams 2004; USNPS 2007) documents that Myrtle's silverspot and cattle have co-existed for over a hundred years and that the density of the nectar sources was higher in grazed areas. Biologists studying the Myrtle's silverspot at coastal lands recorded more butterflies in grazed dunes and grasslands than in ungrazed plant communities. At time of the species' listing, the USFWS believed that cattle grazing significantly decreased the habitat quality of the Myrtle's silverspot butterfly. However, a five-year status review by USFWS found that the moderate cattle grazing regime currently used by ranchers on coastal lands did not significantly affect the distribution of Myrtle's silverspot butterfly at that site. Current threats to the Myrtle's silverspot butterfly include: urban or industrial development of any property with suitable habitat for the butterfly; poaching; small population size; the effects of reduced host and nectar plant density due to invasive plants and forbs; road mortalities during the adult flight season; and, the probable constriction of the range and distribution of this butterfly due to global climate change.
Those opposed to grazing have made claims that USFWS concluded that the grazing program was likely to adversely affect the Pacific Coast population of the western snowy plover (7) and the California red-legged frog (8); however, grazing exclusion has resulted in extirpation of some populations of these species from “protected sites.” In the 1996 final listing rule for the California red-legged frog, the USFWS cited livestock grazing as a contributing factor in the decline of the subspecies. However, in its 2006 revised proposed rule, the USFWS acknowledged that: “our understanding of the threats of livestock grazing and stock pond development described in the previous final listing of the subspecies has changed… Therefore, we believe grazing helps contribute to the conservation of the California red-legged frog and its habitat.”
Rancher stewardship includes development and maintenance of livestock water sources, pest management, debris clean-up, and forage improvement. Ponds developed for livestock water provide half of the available habitat for the endangered tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense) (9) in the San Francisco Bay Area. These results focus on California's annual rangeland, which is the habitat type where most of the special status species associated western rangelands are found.
In Sonoma and Marin counties ranchers have developed numerous springs and ponds to capture runoff to water their cattle. The springs and ponds help to more evenly distribute the forage consumption by cattle across a pasture; also providing drinking water for many wildlife species some of which, as discussed above, are rare species that coexist or are enhanced by grazing and the development and maintenance of ponds and springs. In riparian areas such as creeks, good range management may call for fencing to prevent heavy grazing of riparian vegetation but fencing may not always be the best solution. Ungrazed areas over time can result in a buildup of dead grass on the other side of the fence where grazing is excluded, and a thick mass of dead grass forms that prevents native plants from germinating and growing. The mass of dead grass can be overcome by invasive species such as coyote brush (10) and Himalayan blackberry (11). The buildup of dead grass results in a less than healthy system, which could lead to increased erosion, reduced nutrient and water cycling and increased fire hazards. Sonoma and Marin County ranchers are well informed about practices that can be beneficial and detrimental to wildlife, water quality, and rangeland health and they have strived to implement those practices that maintain and improve rangeland and watershed conditions in cooperation with the U.C. Extension Service, U.S.D.A. Natural Resource Conservation Service, and Resource Conservation Districts.
Grazing lands provide a direct link between urban consumers and local food producers, a powerful conduit for educating the public about the importance of local food production and security. Sonoma and Marin Counties are perfect models for demonstrating how preserving family farms contribute to social, economic and ecological sustainability at local, regional and even national levels. Ranching has positive health impacts including increased food access and food security, food to local business and schools, improved health literacy and general well-being. Ranching in Sonoma and Marin Counties, albeit smaller scale, remains a local industry which provides job creation, training and business succession, and market expansion for many other ranchers and farmers.
References on file.
- vegetation and watershed management
- fire fuel control
- management of habitat of rare and endangered species.
UC Cooperative Extension created, “Ecosystem Services Curriculum and Interpretative Trail Signage”, to increase awareness and knowledge of park visitors, managers and decision makers about working rangelands and the ecosystem services. Bay area open space lands provide an unprecedented opportunity to educate both the public and policy makers and the ecosystem service curriculum, “Understanding Working Rangelands” in cooperation with the Sonoma County Regional Parks, targets decision makers, park interpreters, and park users that visit these grazed open space annually in Sonoma County. Curriculum on beef cattle husbandry, cattle behavior, grazing management, ranching economics and infrastructure is found in a series of fact sheets and interpretative trail signage (1 of 3 panels pictured below) on working rangelands.
Whether working ranches are on public or private land, many Sonoma County ranchers represent the fourth, fifth, or sixth generations that have stewarded the land and their livestock. These working ranches also contribute over $30 million per year to Sonoma economy and represent the third-highest value agricultural commodity in the region (Sonoma County Crop Report 2015). These ecosystem services also provide improved overall human health, through increased park and trail access. A more informed public will lead to a stronger social cohesion between beef cattle grazers and the park users. This is an opportunity to strengthen the health and outdoor connections on working landscapes, i.e. rangelands, through ecosystem services curriculum and interpretive trail signage.