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Cattle impacts and water quality

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Cattle impacts and water quality

Postby mokelumnekid » Mon May 10, 2010 4:02 pm

See this from the Bee. Be sure to see the pdf map (clickable). Is anybody surprised? In a recent EIS related to grazing, the Stan. Nat'l. Forest acknowledged that cattle crap right in the streams but that backpackers (these days) filter their water so its a moot point. I'm a live and let live guy, but also believe that histroical precedent is not much precedent when impacts and costs have been identified. Just saying. But then again, wilderness for me has never been about playing 'cowboy' or 'old timer.' But the law is the law- write your congress person and tell them how you feel whatever it is, and be polite to everybody.

PS: I once had an experience in the so-called "Paradise Valley" area just north of Disaster Peak, where cattle wallowing had made the place into an un-holy mess of crap and stench. The irony of the name was sad- Paradise for cows....



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Re: Cattle impacts and water quality

Postby rightstar76 » Tue May 11, 2010 11:47 pm

Thanks for the article. Very entertaining. I wish I had a job like that! Oh well. I guess where there's meadow and geographically it's easy to get to there's going to be cattle like Carson Iceberg and parts of Golden Trout. Incidentally, I read a book some years back that showed before and after pictures of places in the Sierra that were turned into wilderness. After the cattle left, the trees became so thick that the fire danger went up. So I guess there's some positive benefit to cattle grazing. But I always filter my water. I know some people who've never used a filter and never gotten sick. I've also known some who did. I would rather err on the safe side.
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Re: Cattle impacts and water quality

Postby mokelumnekid » Wed May 12, 2010 10:11 pm

I think I saw the same book- most of it was about fire suppression leading to dense woodlands where there weren't any before. RE: water, I've never gotten sick and I've spent (too much) time in Ebbetts/Sonora Pass corridors. I guess my plea is for some balance- places in these forests are real cattle yards, and of course those places are the large meadows and sylvan stream areas. Grazing is allowed by law (despite the ridiculous economy of it), fair enough. But those laws also specify limits on impacts, and that is where I take issue with the lack of enforcement/blatant denial, even in the face of reasonable science, by the Stan. and other Nat'l. Forests.

We don't live in a perfect world and have to get along. Wilderness management needs to reflect changing priorities, as well as precedent. I guess with grazing it comes down to a "sniff test" thing. If I can sniff it- it don't pass the :eek: test.
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Re: Cattle impacts and water quality

Postby gdurkee » Thu May 13, 2010 9:59 am

I read a book some years back that showed before and after pictures of places in the Sierra that were turned into wilderness. After the cattle left, the trees became so thick that the fire danger went up.


That may not be a causal relationship. There's been encroachment of Lodgepole pine in pretty much all meadows in the Sierra. The causes aren't very clear, but are probably more related to climate change than other factors. I had heard (2nd hand -- no corroboration) that some researchers in Yosemite are looking at early cattle and sheep trampling of meadow soil as a possible factor in making Tuolumne Meadows more susceptible to lodgepole invasion.

The role of fire isn't clear either. These alpine meadows don't carry fire very effectively, so it's not clear that's related. In lower meadows (e.g. Yosemite Valley) fire is definitely a factor, but so is soil moisture.

Hmmmm. I'm doing a stream of consciousness thing here. Stay with me... . Yes, soil moisture. I've always been kind of suspicious of alpine meadows getting drier as a result of "hardening" of meadow sod as a result of trampling by sheep, cattle and horses (all present prior to 1900 in almost all Sierra meadows). After 1900, they were eliminated from the parks anyway. McClure Meadow in Kings Canyon, for instance, shows evidence of the side streams cutting deeper channels. There was an attempt in 1960 to put in erosion control, but they don't seem to have worked. So one theory is that the meadow's water table was lowered as a result of this channeling and the lodgepole were able to establish themselves.

When I started this note, I said it's mostly related to climate change. That's based on a paper by Constance Millar, who found a relationship between "pulses" of invasion over the last century and climate data. However, I'd be interested in looking at soil & meadow water table as well. Could be that's a factor and that intensive grazing makes the meadow more favorable to trees coming in.

Too much information, but if you look at any alpine meadows as you hike along, you'll note that as much as 20% of meadows show 6 to 10 foot high lodgepole along the forest/meadow boundary. In 20 years, those areas will be forest.

Wasn't that fun?

g.
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Re: Cattle impacts and water quality

Postby Bad Man From Bodie » Thu May 13, 2010 2:26 pm

Don’t knock the free grazers. In respect to Lodgepole, the issue lies with the change in fire dynamics across the entire ecosystem not cows. Cows peeing in the stream undoubtedly has an adverse impact on water quality and they do cause erosion and headcutting etc. Understand that large grazers have however played a vital part in a healthy ecosystem for millions of years, maybe not in the Sierra but certainly around the world. They have also provided us with a reliable food source.

I understand many have a negative position when it comes to cattle, sheep, and horses in the Sierra Nevada. Maybe these folks chose not to eat meat or wear leather or wool clothing, but I do. I understand it is a privilege to utilize our natural resources so to raise food for those who live in this country. The practices under the Taylor Grazing Act have changed for the better over the last 40 years in a way to better respect these privlages. It’s not about playing cowboy but making a living and providing a healthy alternative to pen raised or feed lot beef. If you are against big industry you should be for free grazers. If you don’t like it you had better move or recreate somewhere else, because beef is what’s for dinner. If you are happy eating twigs and nuts, and wear no shoes, you can gripe about cows, sheep, and horses. But if you get cold and hungry don’t worry, I’ll still feed HST members.
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Re: Cattle impacts and water quality

Postby SSSdave » Thu May 13, 2010 7:35 pm

Yeah read the link after seeing it on another board. No surprise from this person. For all those years when authorities were pushing filtering water, I had a strong suspicion it was really just areas where stock and grazing frequented. For years before those now discredited times never got a case of giardias by just selecting my water sources wisely. I do think there is a place in the wilderness for stock on most trails they are now allowed on. People just need to be aware if water sources they use might be below such stock trails or use areas. And I'm all for some cattle grazing about mid forest elevation meadows. But like the researcher, they ought to remove all the permits in the higher Sierra areas as the damage especially to riparian areas can be considerable. An area I've written Toyabe NF in the past is the Ebbetts Pass zone. Please please please remove cattle from those otherwise wonderful meadows and streams in that fragile volcanic geology region.
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Re: Cattle impacts and water quality

Postby LMBSGV » Thu May 13, 2010 9:56 pm

Thanks for posting this. Very interesting if not surprising. I support free rangers except for two changes to the current system. One, they should not be grazing in designated wilderness. Two, they should be paying higher fees then they are currently charged to use public lands for their private commercial purposes.
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Re: Cattle impacts and water quality

Postby rlown » Thu May 13, 2010 10:02 pm

a bit curious. what is the charge for grazing on public lands? I guess if they can take my fish away without telling me, they should be able to stop grazing in a split second as well. I'm not against grazing, btw.. just asking..

and yes, i filter my water always, unless i boil it..
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Re: Cattle impacts and water quality

Postby mokelumnekid » Fri May 14, 2010 12:20 am

I hear what you are saying BMFB, and respect your perspective. As SSSDave points out, I guess my plea is that we manage the process to try to stay ahead of the worst/most lasting impacts. I'm not saying to end the practice (tho for me personaly I'd love to see it ended *in the high country*). Plus there is an incredible amount of abandoned barb wire out there, I mean lots!

I'm pretty sure, but I can't back this up- that there are a lot fewer cows running around in the Ebbetts/Sonora Pass corridors now than there were 100 years ago. One reason those areas get so much grazing is becasue that volcanic landscape, which ends roughly south of Sonora pass, provides both the year round water (volcanic formations drain more slowly than fractured granite) and erodes into broad meadows with great soil and lots of greenery. My guess is that's one reason there are so many more cattle there than areas north of Hwy 88 and south of 108.

And a final disclaimer: My family has a fantastic vintage log cabin right in Hermit Valley at 7000', on the Mokelumne River ONLY becasue it was built as a *range cabin* by the Stevenot family of Murphys in the 1900's. So maybe I otta just shut my yapper... :whistle:
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Re: Cattle impacts and water quality

Postby Bad Man From Bodie » Fri May 14, 2010 10:17 am

There are orders of magnitude less cattle/sheep in the Sierra Nevada today vs 50 years ago. Public lands are divided into allotment areas governed by the USFS or BLM. They decide which allotments receive stock based on available animal unit months (AUMS) i.e the vegetation necessary to maintain an Cow/calf combination. The vegetation is monitored and the permittes typically are not allowed to graze over 40% of the palatable cover. Allotment fees are dynamic and differ from region to region. I suspect the Sierra Nevada allotment fees are steep. Politics also play a role in how many AUMs are available in each allotment, i.e. if you hate cows and sheep you have the power to ruin a families livelihood, culture, and 150 year tradition of ranching.

I fully understand and respect the views and opinions off those who completely want to get rid of grazing in the high country. I just hope they understand the views of the proponent. I would much rather have cows over condos. At least the allotment monies help fund programs that are designed to benefit the range. There are a lot of arguments for keeping stock out of the higher elevations. I don’t mind as much as others because I understand natural succession and the important role disturbance plays on an ecosystem. Fire suppression practices at all elevations have all but eliminated the natural disturbance regime where grazers have, if you will, replaced that process to a degree. Overall, grazing has been reduced, and without a normal fire cycle you typically experience an increase in available fuel. So you experience things like a change in the carbon to nitrogen ratio – causing monocultures of lodgepole or pinion pine etc. This is only exacerbated when the fuel load is so great that when fire does happen, it typically has a more long lasting and sometimes adverse impact on the ecosystem. So, cows may not be as bad a one would think. If I had my druthers, I would lobby for a ban on groups of city slickers in the high country not cows. Good thread Moke, your views are respected here as well!
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Re: Cattle impacts and water quality

Postby dave54 » Fri May 14, 2010 7:50 pm

rlown wrote:a bit curious. what is the charge for grazing on public lands? ...


The fee is set by BLM according to a formula set by law. The formula includes private land grazing costs and current market prices for livestock Even though in this case the grazing is on NF lands, BLM is the agency in charge of calculating the fee. I believe it is currently $1.75 per AUM (Animal Use Month) -- the lowest it can go. Neither political party has shown any interest in revising the formula. The last time I am aware the idea was floated in DC as a trial balloon was in the early 1990's by the Sec of Interior, and the Clinton White House quickly squelched it. If Social Security is the third rail of politics, grazing and mining are the third rail of federal land policy.

In California, several studies have indicated that without public land grazing many, if not most, of the family ranches would not be economically viable. The private ranchland would be sold off, most likely to developers (to get a permit, you must have some private grazing land as a 'core'). So in a sense the public land grazing is subsidizing open space and undeveloped land. This is even more critical now with the ending of the Williamson Act funding in California. Remember the saying "The worst managed ranch is still better wildlife habitat than the best planned subdivision."
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Re: Cattle impacts and water quality

Postby SSSdave » Fri May 14, 2010 8:45 pm

I think the key thing the article's author suggests is removal of grazing in high country meadows and not mid forest meadows of which there are a great many of the latter and many are in fact out of sight and out of mind of the public. That is the same position I've had for years. It is true there will always be some people that hate to see in the Sierra, cattle, sheep, horses, mountain bikes, etc and rant selfishly to that end. But most folks do not. So the argument for cattle grazing ought not be posed as removing grazing from the Sierra but rather just the high country. And by that I mean timberline and sub-timberline and not mid forest. I can guarantee cattle interests that the public sooner or later is going to ban cattle on their terms if they continue to see such damage so it would be wiser to back off some now before they have less leverage and lose more. Part of an article I read mentioned how horribly a mob of cattle mutilated the Kennedy Lake area on the Stanislaus. A great brown trout lake of course. In the Ebbetts Pass area I noted in my above post, here is a map of that zone:

http://mapper.acme.com/?ll=38.58461,-119.84307&z=14&t=T

Cattle at times during summer roam all those areas freely. I've seen meadows like Raymond Meadow end up looking like a pasture with pies everywhere and much eaten, huge deep hoof marks in the soft soils all over. Have seen upper Silver Creek below Kinney Lakes totally mauled for the two miles. There are already lots of deer in those areas to mildly help mix the soil but not like I''ve seen cattle do there. All those areas area above 7,500 feet. Catttle in that zone ought to be eliminated and kept down lower. If they need to build barbed wire fences to do so then let the cattle interests do so.
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