Cows aren't wanted here

 

Dick O'Sullivan stands in a lush meadow near Mount Lassen. What he sees is excellent habitat for an uncommon and drab little bird called the willow flycatcher. It's also plush green forage for his cows. He thinks there's room for both.

The upper third of the meadow is Forest Service land. The lower third is private land. O'Sullivan has offered to fence off the riparian area on his ground to protect more area for the willow flycatcher. But under the Sierra Nevada Framework plan, he no longer can graze cattle on federal ground.

"I think the thing has gone haywire," says O'Sullivan, who is second vice president of the California Cattlemen's Association. "(The Forest Service) is not trying to balance grazing with anything."

The Framework estimates frankly that grazing will be reduced by 20 percent: "In many cases, these conservative standards would make it uneconomical for permittees to graze their allotments. It is assumed that many permittees would give up their permits."

While the diminishing numbers of Sierra Nevada ranchers complain about the cutbacks, John Buckley, executive director of the Center for Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, thinks the Forest Service should be commended "for being brave enough to say, yes, it will be a 20 percent reduction."

Environmentalists point to science that says riparian areas in the Sierra Nevada are at a crisis level, and the species that depend on them need rest from the impacts of grazing. For the willow flycatcher and Yosemite toad, says Buckley, "This decision is probably the minimum legally required. If the livestock industry overturns it, they simply will be opening the door to more zealous environmental groups."

If the Framework stands, and ranchers in the foothills go out of business, more private lands surrounding the national forests will be sold and developed. Ranchers now provide open space and resistance to the rapid development taking place on the way to the high country. But, says Buckley, "There is only so much bending over backwards that can be done (economically) to keep ranchers from taking advantage of California's booming economy."

Copyright © 2001 HCN and Heather Swartz

High Country News Classifieds