Posts Tagged: rangeland
Amphibians are in decline globally. The Yosemite toad was once prevalent in the high Sierra including Yosemite National Park, where it was first discovered and after which it is named. Since the early 1980s, the amphibian’s population and habitat have plummeted.
In the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where livestock graze among toad habitat, UC scientists erected fences to keep the cattle out of toad breeding and rearing areas and studied the effects on Yosemite toad populations for five years.
“The Yosemite toad has been proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act,” said Ken Tate, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis and a principal investigator for the study. “One of the potential factors proposed to be driving the species decline is cattle grazing. However, our research does not support this.”
The researchers found that meadow wetness played a greater role in Yosemite toad presence.
"The toads use wetter areas and the cattle use drier meadow areas, which provide better forage,” Tate said.
“Determining the Effects of Cattle Grazing Treatments on Yosemite Toads (Anaxyrus [=Bufo] canorus) in Montane Meadows” was published in the November 2013 issue of PLOS One http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0079263. Tate’s coauthors on the study are Susan K. McIlroy, research scientist with U.S. Geological Survey in Boise, Idaho; Amy J. Lind, research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station; Barbara H. Allen-Diaz, professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley; Leslie M. Roche, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis; William E. Frost, UC Cooperative Extension advisor; and Rob L. Grasso, fishery and aquatic ecologist with U.S. Forest Service Eldorado National Forest.
This is the latest of three articles examining the relationship between cattle grazing and growth in numbers of Yosemite toads. In April 2012, PLOS One published “Cattle Grazing and Conservation of a Meadow-Dependent Amphibian Species in the Sierra Nevada,” online at http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi/10.1371/journal.pone.0035734. The first article “Cattle Grazing, Mountain Meadows, and Sensitive Species,” written in 2011, is online at http://rangelandwatersheds.ucdavis.edu/main/projects.htm.
“We’ll be looking at the latest rangeland science, practices, and collaborations that support the many public benefits we receive from rangelands,” said UC Cooperative Extension Watershed Specialist Ken Tate with the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, a key organizer of the event. “Participants will see why diverse interests have agreed on the importance of working rangelands and the need to preserve this way of life for the benefit of future generations of all Californians.”
The two-day gathering at Freeborn Hall will feature two events in one – the first Range Research Symposium and the 7th annual California Rangeland Conservation Coalition Summit. The first day will highlight rangeland research from throughout California. The second day will include ranchers sharing their conservation stories and successful collaborative conservation initiatives, research presentations, and plenty of networking opportunities.
The full agenda and registration information is available here. Student discounts are available.
California’s vast dry rangelands are dotted with water troughs ideal for quenching cattle’s thirst. But in most cases, the troughs’ designs are a torment to wildlife drawn for a drink.
Monterey County rancher George Work observed how traditional water troughs frustrated the wildlife on his family’s 12,000-acre cattle ranch. Small birds couldn’t reach water two or three inches below the top edge. Coyotes, bobcats and cottontails weren’t tall enough to reach over the rim. Work set to making a water trough that would meet the needs of all animals on the range – from cattle, hunting dogs and horses to deer and rabbits.
While raising cattle remains the primary function of the Work Ranch, in order to generate more income from the scenic open space the ranch opens its doors to hunting wild boar, quail and Tule elk. The visitors enjoy seeing a diversity of wildlife.
“One-third of our business comes from wildlife,” Work said.
In 1998, Work drew from decades of first-hand experience to design a better water trough. With a grant from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, he constructed a prototype. The concrete trough is sunk into the ground under an elderberry tree. Work modified a float like those used in toilet tanks to keep the water within centimeters of the rim.
That first man-made watering hole was an improvement for many species, but it also revealed some problems. Birds needed an escape ramp to climb out of the water should they fall in while drinking; the ramp should be shallow enough to allow the birds to bathe. Larger animals had to be kept from using the trough for a cooling dip. Work found that sloping the sides to a sharp V at the bottom of the trough made it unappealing for a soak.
Years of experimentation and innovation resulted in the development of pre-manufactured concrete water troughs, which are now commercially available. The next challenge is selling the idea to ranchers.
Enter UC Cooperative Extension. On an unrelated visit to the Work Ranch, UC Berkeley wildlife biologist Reg Barrett was impressed by Work’s invention and encouraged UC Cooperative Extension rangeland advisor Royce Larsen and NRCS rangeland conservationist Karl Striby to help spread the word.
Larsen and Stirby are now completing the first step, adding the ground-level water trough specifications to NRCS's published Technical Notes. The publication will provide ranchers and other land owners with the information they need to install the wildlife-friendly troughs.
“If you’re thinking of installing a basic, traditional trough for cattle, it may or may not be the best idea,” Larsen said. “But you’re thinking about supporting both cattle and wildlife, it’s great.”
In the video below, rancher George Work shows the ground-level water trough prototype and the second-generation, pre-manufactured version.
California’s premier farmland protection tool – the Williamson Act – is on the state’s budget-cutting chopping block and with it critical habitat needed for conservation.
A UC Davis study completed by a team of graduate students working with rangeland watershed specialist Ken Tate and other faculty found that 43 percent of the 10 million acres of “non-prime” land in the program, used primarily for cattle grazing, is also critical for statewide conservation goals. Conservation status was determined by the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, a voluntary partnership between ranchers, environmentalists, government agencies, and others working to preserve and enhance the state’s rangeland areas.
For nearly 50 years the Williamson Act has provided private landowners with tax breaks in exchange for an agreement to keep land in agricultural or open space use for a specified period of time. The state compensated counties for the reduced property tax revenue but cut these subsidies in 2008 and again in 2009. Legislation passed in October (Assembly Bill 2530) allows counties to voluntarily implement modified contracts for reduced terms but does not ensure continuation of the Williamson Act beyond 2015.
To understand how loss of the Williamson Act would affect ranchers and the environment, the researchers surveyed 700 members of the California Cattlemen’s Association in 2010. Their findings confirmed what many in the industry already know: ranching is a low-profit industry. Seventy percent of surveyed ranchers made less than $10,000 in 2009 and less than half reported making a profit. Seventy-two percent of the ranchers surveyed consider the Williamson Act to be “extremely important” to their operations.
Survey results also show that loss of Williamson Act funding at the state level would put critical habitat at risk for development. Forty-two percent of the surveyed ranchers said they would sell some or all of their rangeland without the tax relief. Fifty-six percent of the ranchers predict their sold land would be developed for non-agricultural uses.
“California’s rangelands provide clean drinking water, wildlife habitat, open space, and sequester carbon among many other critical ecosystem services,” Tate says. “We need tools such as the Williamson Act to conserve this important landscape.”
Study authors include doctoral students Sarah Myhre, Iara Lacher, Will Wetzel, Dale Manning, and Dan Swezey. They were participating in a collaborative project for an “IGERT” traineeship focused on rapid environmental change. The program is funded by the National Science Foundation. A concise policy brief on the survey was published in October 2010 and includes an illustrated map of the areas that could be affected by the demise of the Williamson Act. The policy brief and additional information about the program is available online at http://reach.ucdavis.edu/programs/williamsonact.html.
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.