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.
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.
- Author: Stephanie Larson
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.
As the instructor for the Santa Rosa Junior College Range Class, I give students an education about using livestock grazing as a tool in Sonoma County to manage resources; especially in our regional and state parks. I took my class to Point Reyes National Seashore to experience rangelands and the use of grazing. The following blog post was written by student Nicko Wilde.
While much attention is currently being focused on the impacts of the elk sharing land with cattle, the views on this dynamic, mixed in opinion and criticism as they are, still do not focus primarily on a more general concern of overgrazing via poor practices, which ought to retain more attention. The impacts of irresponsible grazing include some of the following: reduced nesting sits for birds & wildlife, nest trampling, reduced cover, reduced floral biodiversity, and attractiveness to predators, parasites, and diseases.
Those who argue that no cattle should graze in point Reyes due to its ecological and protected status, should similarly step back and consider grazing done well can promote the following: watering sources for cattle can also provide water for wildlife, more public input and interest in water district activity, a transition from economically viable ranches based on meat production solely, to ranching done with land restoration productive capacity goals, and therefore a renewed focus on managing for plants with a higher forage value, managing for ornamentals, erosion control, etc.
From State Water Resources Control Board, Nonpoint Source (NPS) Pollution Control, GRAP:
Goal: Develop strategies that Regional Water Boards can implement to enhance environmental benefits from grazing, protect beneficial uses of surface and groundwater, and address water quality impacts related to livestock grazing in California.
The Water Boards have formed a work team to develop this project (titled Statewide Grazing Regulatory Action Project or GRAP).
The work team includes active participants from the North Coast, San Francisco Bay, Central Coast, Los Angeles, Central Valley, Colorado River, Santa Ana, and San Diego Regional Water Boards and the Division of Water Quality/State Water Board. Sonoma County is under two Water Boards, the majority being in Region 1, North Coast and southern tip in Region 2, San Francisco Bay.
The overall goals of the GRAP work team are to develop an approach that efficiently addresses water quality impairments associated with grazing operations – an approach that will help to streamline the process of addressing impairments, conserve valuable resources, and give implementing parties the clarity and consistency they deserve. The GRAP team is working to identify how to balance statewide consistency with regional autonomy, and will take into account regional differences in hydrology, grazing practices and other distinguishing factors as it develops recommendations.
- Statewide Grazing Regulatory Action Project Fact Sheet
- Ranching and Related Industries Session – Session 2 agenda, presentation and meeting materials
- Subscribe to updates about GRAP: select "Water Quality", then "Grazing Regulatory Action Project (GRAP)"