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State wildlife officials say they recognize value of grazing

Tim Hearden

Capital Press

California officials who are putting together a new wildlife management plan say they understand the value of proper grazing. The officials have come under fire from farm groups for early documents that list grazing as a potential threat to habitat.

REDDING, Calif. — State officials who are putting together a new wildlife management plan say they understand the value of proper grazing.

While “over-grazing” can be a threat to the habitat that critical species depend on, grazing managed correctly can benefit wildlife, acknowledged Richard Shinn, an environmental scientist and wildlife biologist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“In my opinion grazing, if you do it right, is a real benefit, but if you do it wrong it’s a problem,” Shinn said in an interview. “I’ve seen grazing used as a tool (to help wildlife), but I’ve also seen the opposite.”

Kurt Malchow, another environmental scientist for the agency, agrees.

“The state welcomes grazing practices that benefit habitats,” he said, adding that it can be a crucial component of conservation efforts “when done in balance.”

The officials were holding a workshop here Nov. 12 on the updated State Wildlife Action Plan, which officials say will analyze threats and stresses to habitat by region, consider potential climate change impacts and recommend conservation actions.

An early outline of the new plan has drawn fire from the California Cattlemen’s Association and California Farm Bureau Federation, which expressed concerns about language that lists “livestock farming and ranching” as a potential threat to habitat in some regions. The groups fear the language could lead to more restrictions on grazing.

“We are in a very preliminary stage” of developing the plan, Malchow told about 40 people in a Turtle Bay Exploration Park classroom here. “We want to share with you the process for how we come up with strategies for wildlife management.”

The meeting was one of the last in a series of workshops Fish and Wildlife have held throughout the state in recent weeks to discuss its new wildlife plan, which is required for obtaining federal funding for the department. The plan was last updated in 2005.

Farm groups want the new plan, which will be finalized in 2015, to recognize that science has shown in recent years that proper grazing activities are beneficial. About 40 million acres is grazed in California, nearly 40 percent of the state’s total land mass, and most of it is privately owned, according to the state Farm Bureau.

Rancher Bill Flournoy of Likely, Calif., who attended the meeting, said in an interview he understood that “overgrazing” can harm species.

“Sound grazing actually provides a lot of benefit to wildlife,” he said, adding that the land was healthier 50 years ago when more cattle were grazing away the non-native grasses.

Quartz Valley, Calif., rancher John Menke expressed similar misgivings about language listing logging as a threat to forests. He said logging actually creates habitat for deer. As for livestock farming, he said cattle trampling soil actually help vernal pools hold water longer.

The former University of California-Berkeley and Davis professor said the biggest benefit from grazing is to be rid of non-native grasses.

“These grasses are so tall, they shade out wildflowers and other grasses,” he said.


California State Wildlife Action Plan: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/swap/


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