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Cattle ranching offers notable public benefits

The Sierra Nevada and Coastal Range foothills are replete with wide open spaces - a home for birds and other wildlife, majestic oaks and grazing cattle. The bucolic countryside vistas that come courtesy of California’s ranchers are among the many public benefits of rangeland grazing.

“The public doesn’t always realize what ranchers are doing and how that benefits everyone,” said Bill Tietje, UC Cooperative Extension natural resources specialist based in San Luis Obispo County.  “No one really thinks about it, until it’s gone.”

Many rangeland benefits can be grouped as “ecosystem services.” According to scientists:

  • Rangeland plays a role in the state’s water cycling. Eighty percent of California water flows through rangeland.
  • The diversity of plants and animals is greater on grazed, managed grassland than on unmanaged grassland.
  • Wild raptors overwinter on grasslands managed for beef cattle.
  • Half the habitat for the tiger salamander is grazed stockponds, created by ranchers to provide water for their cattle. The stockpond’s edge of clipped grass and the absence of crowding shrubbery mimic the rare species’ natural habitat – vernal pools.
  • Rangeland provides habitat for insects that are valuable for pollination.
  • Cattle reduce the dry grass that could fuel wildfire.
  • Grazing improves the habitat for the Bay checkerspot butterfly, a threatened California insect.
  • Rangeland sequesters carbon in the soil.

There are threats to the long term viability of cattle ranches in California that put all these benefits at risk:

The sale of the ranch for development is very attractive for a rancher who isn’t making a sufficient profit on the land. Also, the division of a ranch for inheritance purposes can make it difficult to keep a ranch intact and in the business of raising cattle.

UC Berkeley professor of rangeland management and ecology Lynn Huntsinger said public misunderstanding of and a lack of appreciation for ranching is another way the system is threatened.

“Imposing regulations that aren’t needed and not valuing ranchers as stewards can have a demoralizing effect,” Huntsinger said.

Much of the land grazed by ranchers is public and grazing is supported by public and environmental agencies - the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, parks and preserves - because of the many benefits it provides.

Posted on Monday, July 19, 2010 at 11:45 AM

Invasive reed arundo is choking state waterways

In the early 1800s, European immigrants introduced the fast-growing giant reed arundo (Arundo donax) into California to use the canes for musical instruments. The plants were also used for erosion control and the reeds used for thatched roofing. However, it has since naturalized and become a serious pest in the state's natural waterways.

Arundo can grow at a rate of four inches per day and can reach heights of 30 feet. It reproduces and spreads when sections of the stem or root break off and float downstream.

Dense stands of arundo displace native riparian species. The plant requires a significant amount of water, reducing fish, wildlife and people. In addition, clumps of arundo and the soil around their roots can break off, causing streambank erosion. The clumps can also create channel obstructions that lead to flooding.

Arundo is highly flammable and can quickly carry fire along waterways. After a fire, arundo quickly grows back from its roots. With other nearby plants burned by fire, arundo can spread even more quickly, leaving no room for native plants to recover.

Californians can help reduce the spread of arundo by taking the following actions:

  • Learn more about arundo, including how to identify it
  • Report sightings to local conservation groups
  • Join local eradication efforts or help to start one
  • If you own land with an arundo infestation, request help and provide access for control efforts
For more information, see the UC Riverside Center for Invasive Species Research website.
Posted on Monday, July 19, 2010 at 11:45 AM
  • Author: Chris M. Webb
Tags: Arundo (1), erosion (4), fire (5), flooding (3), invasive species (10), native species (4), natural resources (3), water (15), wildlife (23)

UC aims to educate a corps of California Naturalists

The University of California’s newly launched California Naturalist program is a way for the institution to spread research-based knowledge about environmental stewardship and nature preservation. Rather than simply educating students, the program engages citizens of all ages through discovery and action in the science of conservation.

After completing the program, California Naturalists will become a committed corps of citizen scientists trained and ready for involvement in natural resources education and restoration.

“To ensure the sustainability of natural resources in California, we need citizens who participate in natural resource conservation, understand the importance of land use decisions and climate change resilience,” said Julie Fetherston, a UC Cooperative Extension program representative for Mendocino and Lake counties. “The California Naturalists will understand the need for biodiversity, be informed about limitations of our water and energy resources, and be aware of the role that science and UC play in sustaining our natural ecosystems.”

Participants in the program take a 40-hour course that combines classroom and field experience in science, problem-solving, communication training and community service. The course materials are offered to sponsoring organizations across the state that have a need for volunteers with an appreciation for natural systems and a desire to be involved in their protection. The curriculum covers ecology, geology, plant communities, interpretation and wildlife. Regional modules are also being added.

“We have developed a flexible curriculum that can be adapted by many different organizations,” Fetherston said.

Organizations that might offer the California Naturalist training are the California Native Plant Society, Audubon societies, land conservation organizations, nature conservancies and state and national parks.

Fetherston and UC Berkeley natural resources specialist Adina Merenlender pilot-tested the program in Sonoma County, where the coursework was offered in collaboration with the Pepperwood Preserve, a coast mountain range nature preserve, and the local community college. The result was a committed and informed group of card-carrying California Naturalists ready to extend their knowledge as volunteers for the Pepperwood Preserve.

For more information or to inquire about offering the program, see the California Naturalist website.

Posted on Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 10:35 AM
Tags: conservation (8), education (3), nature (5), volunteer (1)

Scientists track the California spotted owl

What effect do changes made to the forest - for wildfire management or timber harvest, for example - have on California spotted owl? That question prompted the organizers of the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP) to incorporate an owl team into its wide-ranging effort.

The owl team recently gathered at the UC Blodgett Forest near Georgetown with members of the public and representatives of agencies involved in SNAMP. They explained the scope of the on-going spotted owl research program and the smaller subsection that is part of the SNAMP project.

Project manager Doug Tempel and assistant project leader Sheila Whitmore, both affiliated with the University of Minnesota, said the owls are humanely trapped using a snare pole, a blood sample taken for genetic testing and colored bands attached to the legs for easy identification of the owls in the wild.

Because each owl has a different color band and tab combination, they need never be captured again.

Tempel said one owl pair lives in an area called the "Last Chance." That area will be subjected to Forest Service treatments, then observations by the owl scientists will indicate the impact of the treatments on those owls' lives.

Kim Ingram of UC Cooperative Extension is the SNAMP representative for the northern Sierra Nevada.

She said information from the spotted owl study will be integrated with data collected by other teams to better understand how forests can be managed to ensure sustainable timber resources, minimize wildfire risk to people and structures and conserve wildlife habitat.

Besides the spotted owl team, other teams that are part of SNAMP are:

Posted on Friday, July 9, 2010 at 2:32 PM

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