For over a century, cattle have grazed local national forest lands in the mountains during summer and early fall. Well-managed grazing can have fewer impacts; however, CSERC staff often document conditions where livestock have dramatically degraded public lands. We document repeatedly over-grazed sensitive meadows, degraded streambanks, riparian plants stripped of their new growth and more.
Like many issues, however, this is not a black-and-white situation. National forest grazing produces benefits for local ranching families who use public forest lands to supplement their foothill ranches' forage. This theoretically keeps more foothill ranch lands in agriculture, instead of new subdivisions.
Issues with livestock overgrazing
Rather than trying to ban livestock grazing, CSERC has spent the past 25 years working for overall improved grazing management on the Stanislaus National Forest. Our staff measures key grass species to monitor how much forage livestock are consuming in meadows to gauge whether compliance is being met under Forest regulations. We take photos throughout each grazing season to identify the most heavily impacted areas and document cumulative degradation across multiple grazing seasons. Staff biologists collect water samples from streams adjacent to areas that are heavily utilized by livestock, where we often document water quality violations. We also work to understand the needs of local ranchers to look for potential win-win solutions to grazing issues.
Sadly, current Forest Service policies continue to allow intensive cattle grazing on national forest lands without adequate safeguards for plants, wildlife, and water resources.
After striving for improved grazing practices for over two decades, CSERC staff has recently shifted to advocate a strong position against all livestock grazing in upper elevations of our mountains. Due to the short growing season and more fragile habitat of our higher elevation meadows, we urge a halt to livestock grazing above 7000' elevation. These high elevation meadows also provide habitat for two recently federally listed amphibian species, the Yosemite toad and Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, making it a high priority for monitoring and protection.
Last year was no exception to CSERC's norm of finding widespread grazing violations in our mountain region's meadows. Click on the slideshow or on the link below to read our full report of over 40 meadows that were grazed throughout the Stanislaus Forest in 2016.
More about the environmental issues facing the Stanislaus National Forest
You can read more about Stanislaus Forest issues in general or read about specific topics with environmental concerns here: