The Bighorn-Butterfly Effect

 

Little wings can compel broad change, but it certainly doesn't hurt when they are backed up by the possibility of a head-butt, litigious or otherwise.

The presence of endangered Quino checkerspot butterflies and Peninsular bighorn sheep  on 51,000 acres of the San Jacinto Mountains--and the appeals of several prominent conservation groups--has prompted the U.S. Forest Service to scrutinize the renewal of grazing allotments in the San Bernardino National Forest of Southern California.

Though these grazing permits entail only 100 cattle, that's potentially enough to out-compete and overrun the local grass and wildflower users. Bighorns vie with cattle for forage. The Quino checkerspot--now cornered in small portions of Riverside and San Diego counties, just 25 percent of its former range--also depends on sensitive ground-cover.

Last May, HCN  explored the benefits of regular--not rampant--grazing for a population of the closely-related Bay checkerspot on Coyote Ridge, overlooking San Jose in Northern California ("Bring in the cows"). There, cud-chewers keep  exhaust-fed weeds at bay, encouraging the native flowers the butterflies rely upon above the highways of Silicon Valley.

What these two stories suggest, not surprisingly,  is that a categorical conservation approach doesn't work--grazing might be more harmful in arid SoCal than in the often-lush Bay Area. And in the San Jacintos,  the Forest Service is only reconsidering these grazing allotments, for now. Perhaps there will be room for cattle in those 51,000 acres; perhaps the proximity of bighorns, or other local factors, should keep them away.

It's one of any number of cattle and/or conservation debates around the West. Here are a few more questions  from the HCN archives:  "Can cows  and grouse coexist on the range?"  "Can cattle save the pygmy rabbit?" 

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