Livestock Grazing in the Stanislaus Forest

Cows livestock grazing public lands

      For over a century, cattle have grazed local national forest lands in the mountains during summer and early fall.  Well-managed grazing can result in fairly minimal impacts; however, CSERC staff often document conditions where livestock have dramatically degraded public lands. We repeatedly find over-grazed meadows, chiseled streambanks, riparian areas trampled and pocked, and other resource impacts.

      Like many issues, however, livestock grazing on public forest land is not a simple issue to resolve. National forest grazing produces benefits for local ranching families who use public forest lands to supplement their foothill ranches' forage. Ranchers claim that this theoretically keeps more foothill ranch lands in agriculture, instead of ranching families choosing to sell their lands for development (such as new subdivisions). Grazing on public forest lands is also a legacy often passed down from one generation to the next.

Issues with livestock overgrazing

      Instead of attempting to halt all livestock grazing on public land, CSERC has spent the past 27 years trying to improve grazing management on the Stanislaus National Forest. Much of our work focuses on persistent watchdog monitoring.

      Our staff measures key plant 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 the grazing season to produce photo evidence of livestock impacts to meadows and stream areas.  Staff biologists collect water samples from streams to measure livestock contamination of water quality.

      Despite CSERC’s efforts to reduce livestock impacts, local Forest Service policies continue to allow intensive cattle grazing without adequate safeguards for plants, wildlife, and water resources.

March 2017 update:  CSERC and Sierra Forest Legacy join in a lawsuit against the Stanislaus Forest for their failure to manage livestock in a way that protects stream and wetland areas.

      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 the upper elevations of national forest lands in the Sierra Nevada region.  Due to the short growing season and more fragile habitat of the 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 these areas a high priority for monitoring and protection.

Pocking Fahey Meadow livestock Grazing

Pocking from livestock hooves damages soil health in wet meadow areas.

riparian damage bare soil livestock Grazing

CSERC's 2016 Grazing Report for the Stanislaus National Forest

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. 

Read CSERC's comprehensive 2016 Grazing Report, here (.pdf format)

Read CSERC's comprehensive 2015 Grazing Report, here (.pdf format)

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:

Water Resources
national forest logging practices
forest fires