Posts Tagged: grazing
Well-managed grazing can control non-native plants and maintain habitat and ecosystems to support a variety of species
Research recently published in the journal Sustainability documents a role for livestock grazing to support the conservation of imperiled plant and animal species in California.
Livestock grazing occurs in every county except San Francisco and is the single greatest land use in California. Grazing livestock, primarily beef cattle, often share lands with threatened and endangered species. California has more federally listed threatened and endangered species (287 plants and animals) than any other state in the continental US. While this is a result of our state's varied climate, soils and topography, the threat to diversity is predominantly from habitat loss due to land use change. Housing and urban development, solar and wind farms, cultivated agriculture, and public works projects such as reservoirs, roads and high-speed rail all result in habitat loss for some native species, many of which are threatened or endangered. Alternatively, maintaining ranching, or managed grazing for beef cattle production, can support the conservation of many threatened and endangered species in California.
A review of United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listing documents for threatened and endangered species in California provided an opportunity to understand the relationship between livestock grazing and species conservation. Based on USFWS documents, 51%, or 143, of the federally listed animal and plant species are found in habitats with grazing. Livestock grazing is a stated threat to 73% (104) of the species sharing habitat with livestock, but 59% (85) of the species are said to be positively influenced, with considerable overlap between species both threatened and benefitting from grazing. The fact that USFWS identifies grazing as both a threat and a benefit to many species indicates that how grazing is done matters.
While species may be negatively impacted by grazing that is excessive or unmanaged, managed grazing can control vegetation and maintain habitat structure and ecosystem function to support a variety of species. Controlling non-native species, mostly non-native annual plants, is the most frequent reason that grazing benefits both federally listed flowering plant and animal species in California. In fact, 89% of species positively impacted by livestock grazing benefit from control of non-native species. For example, controlling non-native annual grasses favors native forb or broad-leaf plant populations that support the conservation of 10 different butterfly species and one moth species which rely on forbs for nectar and larvae food.
In addition to controlling non-native plants, grazing benefits some listed species by controlling vegetation, including thatch or dead plants that alter habitat. In the grasslands and shrublands of the San Joaquin Valley, maintaining habitat with sparse vegetation supports a variety of listed species, including the Kern mallow plant (Eremalche parryi ssp. Kernesis), the blunt-nosed leopard lizard (Gambelia silus), the giant kangaroo rat (Diposdomys ingens), and the San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis). For the small ground-dwelling animals, annual grass and thatch can create an impenetrable thicket. For the larger native animals like the San Joaquin kit fox, taller, dense vegetation can obscure the visibility of predators. Habitat with sparse vegetation is also necessary for listed plant and animal species in coastal grasslands, including the Santa Cruz tarplant (Holocarpha macradenia) and Ohlone tiger beetle (Cicindela ohlone).
Some species (plants, insects and a reptile) benefit from grazing that controls vegetation associated with air pollution. The USFWS cites research that shows air pollution, specifically dry atmospheric nitrogen deposition, creates a fertilizer load that alters plant communities and habitat, and livestock grazing can restore or maintain habitat by removing excess vegetation and nitrogen. The control of vegetation through grazing is also associated with maintaining grasslands by preventing succession or invasion by brush to benefit some animal and plant species. For listed plants like the Western Lily (Lilium occidentale) that are threatened by loss of grassland, the USFWS has stated that the benefits of grazing seem to outweigh the potential threat to these plants being grazed or trampled.
Within aquatic habitats, species benefitting from grazing, which includes flowering plants, amphibians and invertebrates, are primarily found in temporary or vernal pools, where livestock help maintain an adequate inundation period. Listing documents for species in temporary pools cite research that describes increased grass cover in and around ungrazed vernal pools leading to increased evapotranspiration and decreased pond duration. Other benefits stated for listed species in aquatic habitats include two animal species that benefit from the presence and maintenance of stock ponds associated with livestock grazing.
This review of the USFWS listings documents concludes that many federally listed species in California are conservation reliant, requiring continued interventions to support their lifecycle or maintenance of habitat, and that sharing land with livestock grazing is an important conservation strategy. Species benefiting from grazing are often threatened by the loss or cessation for grazing. Most, if not all, ecosystems on the planet have been altered by land use and other anthropogenic effects. Threats to biodiversity stemming from pervasive non-native species, climate change, and the disruption of essential ecosystem processes and disturbance regimes are not typically overcome simply by preserving land, improving regulatory protections, and removing threats. Livestock grazing is perhaps the only ongoing land use that can be feasibly manipulated to manage vegetation and habitats at the landscape scale.
To read the journal article “Rangeland Land-Sharing, Livestock Grazing's Role in the Conservation of Imperiled Species,” visit https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/13/8/4466.
To learn more about livestock grazing and beef cattle production in California, see the "Understanding Working Rangelands" fact sheet series:
- Bay Area Ranching Heritage: A Continuing Legacy
- Cattle, Sheep, Goats, and Horses: What's the Difference for Working Rangelands
- Ranching Infrastructure: Tools for Healthy Grasslands, Livestock, and Ranchers
- Sharing Open Space: What to Expect for Grazing Livestock
- Caring for Cattle to Provide Safe and Wholesome Meat
- Cows Need Water, Too: Water Sources, Wetlands, and Riparian Areas
- Grazing Systems Management
Improved soil health, increased profitability, and reduced spread of wildfire are among the many benefits that arise from keeping livestock on the landscape. Efforts are underway in California and South Dakota to connect landowners with livestock managers for their mutual benefit.
Farmers can increase the organic matter in their soil and reduce their fertilizer costs by allowing livestock to graze crop residue or cover crops on their land.
Nick Jorgensen, CEO of Jorgensen Land and Cattle in Ideal, SD, said that grazing every acre allows his operation to increase soil organic matter by up to 0.75% per year and cut fertilizer costs by $50 per acre with no yield loss.
Livestock managers can rest their pastures and reduce their feed costs by seeking out crop residue, cover crops and additional pasture or rangeland for their livestock to graze.
Jorgensen said that grazing cattle on all crop and cover crop acres cuts his feed and manure management costs by up to $2 per head per day.
Grazing livestock is also a cost-effective way to reduce the accumulation of fire fuels on the landscape, helping to slow the spread of wildfires. This can be especially important for land that is too steep, rocky or remote for mowing or chemical treatment.
“I've noticed on several fires, including extreme fires, the fence lines where the fire just stopped. And the one variable, the one difference, was grazing,” CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Marshall Turbeville said.
As this year has proven, fire is a serious risk to California landowners. That's one reason University of California Cooperative Extension has launched Match.Graze. It's a map-based website designed to help livestock owners find pasture, rangeland, cover crops or crop residue available for grazing and help landowners find cattle, sheep, goats and other livestock to graze their land.
“Every property is different and requires thoughtful consideration of how it should best be grazed,” said Stephanie Larson, director of UCCE in Sonoma County, UCCE livestock and range management advisor and co-creator of the livestock-land matchmaking service. “UC Cooperative Extension is here to serve. Put Match.Graze to work, and let's prevent catastrophic fire while helping landowners and agriculture.”
California landowners and livestock managers can visit MatchGraze.com, set up a free account, create a pin on the map and find a grazing partner.
The California website is based on the South Dakota Grazing Exchange, the original site launched by the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition with work supported by Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Many farms in South Dakota have moved away from livestock to focus on row crops. However, increased diversity and incorporating livestock are two key principles for good soil health management.
At www.sdgrazingexchange.com farmers can find livestock to graze their crop residue or cover crops in order to capture the soil health benefits for their cropland without having to own livestock. Similarly, ranchers can give their pastures and rangeland a rest and reduce their feed costs by finding farmers with cropland to graze.
The Match.Graze and SD Grazing Exchange websites are not limited to California and South Dakota. Users from anywhere in the nation can create accounts on either website and advertise their land and livestock. The more people who use the websites, the better resources they will become.
When landowners partner with ranchers to keep livestock on the landscape, everyone wins, so the SDSHC will work to help other states create Grazing Exchange websites and connect to the maps and users of Match.Graze and SD Grazing Exchange. For more information, contact Cindy Zenk, SDSHC coordinator, at (605) 280-4190 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matchmaking grazing animals with grass and rangelands
Professional grazing of overgrown rangelands, pastures and parcels is proven to reduce the spread of dangerous and costly wildfires.
Do you have land but no livestock and feel concerned about fire fuels on your property? Or are you a livestock owner that can provide a grazing service and/or need land and forage for your animals? Match.Graze can help.
Match.Graze is a free online platform connecting landowners statewide who want grazing animals to livestock owners with animals that can provide vegetation management services, created by UC Cooperative Extension.
From small semi-rural communities to large open spaces, grazing can provide an affordable solution to the inevitable accumulation of fire fuels. Grazing can be more cost-effective for reducing fuels on landscapes that are too steep, rocky or remote for mowing or chemical treatment, or in the wildland-urban interface where burning is not an option.
“I've noticed on several fires, including extreme fires, the fence lines where the fire just stopped. And the one variable, the one difference, was grazing,” said Marshall Turbeville, CAL FIRE battalion chief.
Cattle, sheep, goats and other grazing animals all have different roles to play in grazing for fire fuel reduction. If you want to use livestock to help reduce fire risk in your area, visit MatchGraze.com.
“Every property is different and requires thoughtful consideration of how it should best be grazed,” said Stephanie Larson, director of UCCE in Sonoma County, UCCE livestock and range management advisor and co-creator of the livestock-land matchmaking service. “UC Cooperative Extension is here to serve, put Match.Graze to work and let's prevent catastrophic fire while helping landowners and agriculture.”
To find a local grazing partner, visit MatchGraze.com, set up a free account, create a pin on the map and make a match.
Cattle can help reduce wildfire danger by grazing on fine fuels in rangeland and forest landscapes, reported Sierra Dawn McClain in Capital Press. The article also appeared in the Blue Mountain Eagle, the Westerner and the East Oregonian.
The article cited the preliminary results of research by UC Cooperative Extension that show that cattle consumed approximately 12.4 billion pounds of forage across California in 2017. The researchers believe the cattle could do more.
Many grazable acres aren't grazed, said Sheila Barry, UCCE livestock and natural resources advisor in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa counties. According to the Capital Press article, Barry said the public doesn't always recognize the benefits of grazing; they see short grass and cow patties. Cattle's role in preventing wildfires is often overlooked.
Devii Rao, UCCE livestock and natural resources advisor for San Benito, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties and the study's lead, said ranchers should target grazing around homes, infrastructure, roadsides and at the wildland-urban interface.
“There are so many things we can do better. Cattle grazing is really important to fire safety, and it's time we have more conversations about it,” Rao said.
The natural magic of grazing at the Table Mountain Ecological Reserve in Butte County is made possible by running cattle in targeted areas for carefully planned periods of time, reported Ashiah Scharaga in the Chico News & Review.
"If we reduce the amount of vegetation that is there through livestock grazing, we can reduce the amount of fuels that would be available to help a fire spread and carry and build up intensity," said Tracy Schohr, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor in Butte, Plumas and Sierra counties.
Targeted grazing, Schohr said, also keeps down grasses, weeds and invasive species, serving as an element in the land management "toolbox."
"If cattle were not actually on Table Mountain Ecological Reserve, essentially those invasive species would choke out those native plants, and they wouldn't be there," Schohr said.
In the past, grazing was considered destructive, however, perspectives have changed with fire science research. One such researcher is Kate Wilkin, the fire science and natural resources advisor for UCCE in Butte, Yuba, Sutter and Nevada counties.
Wilkin said that there has been a long history of grazing in the West, dating to the 1700s. Livestock historically overwhelmed the environment, causing degradation to wetlands and meadows especially. Using animals in a targeted way, however, can reduce fire risk without destroying the natural landscape.
Schohr and Wilkin will host a day-long Irrigated Pasture and Annual Rangeland Management Workshop May 31 at the Chico State University Farm.