- Author: Stephanie Larson
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.