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Benefits of Grazing Animals

Grazing animals can be an important factor in maintaining balanced and diverse ecosystems.

Fire Hazard Reduction

Properly managed livestock grazing helps to reduce fire hazards by controlling the amount and distribution of grasses and other potential fuel. Livestock grazing is conducted under a license system based upon accepted principles of range management.  The Wildland Vegetation program  incorporates due consideration for the forage needs of deer and other wildlife, erosion control, and a desire for protection of sensitive environments. The District has had more than 50 years   of experience with this system and found it to be beneficial for natural resource management.

Benefits to Plant Life

East Bay grasslands and oak savannas are generally dominated by an understory of nonnative annual grasses with patches of native grasses and forbs, and varying amounts of coyote brush and poison oak.

Without natural disturbance, grasslands will accumulate large amounts of dead plant material (thatch) that can reduce the success of native grasses and forbs.  Given a long enough period without disturbance, grasslands will often convert into coyote brush dominated shrub lands.  The shrubs inhibit the germination and growth of native and non-native grassland plants  by shading out the sun and using the available water and mineral resources in the soil.

Livestock grazing reduces the competition from nonnative plants so that other desirable grasses and wildflowers can regenerate and coexist. Many plants, including several rare species, require grazing to maintain viable populations.

Livestock grazing is used as a tool in conjunction with prescribed fire, the careful application of herbicides, and mowing to promote a healthy, diverse grassland environment.

Benefits to Wildlife

Well-managed livestock grazing increases the diversity of habitats available to wildlife species. Many species, including several endangered species, benefit from the vegetation management performed by livestock  .

In the East Bay, ground squirrels prefer to colonize livestock grazed grasslands .Ground squirrel colonies in these grazed areas support the foraging needs of predators like bobcats and golden eagles and at the same time, create underground tunnels that are used by insects, reptiles, amphibians, and many small mammals. Many protected wildlife species, including California tiger salamander, California red-legged frog, burrowing owl, San Joaquin kit fox, and badger utilize the ground squirrel burrows throughout the year.

Ponds developed for livestock watering support large numbers of breeding amphibians, which also feed on the abundant insect life found in the surrounding grasslands.  In many cases, these man-made stock ponds provide replacement habitat for native amphibians since the natural water features that once supported them have been lost to development.  Proper utilization of livestock grazing promotes healthier, diverse wildlife populations in parks.

Resources

Foss, Roxanne Hulme. 2016. A Review of Ecological Grazing Management Approaches Applicable to EBRPD Rangelands Adobe Acrobat PDF

Barry, Bush, Larson and Ford. 2015. Understanding Working Rangelands: The Benefits of Grazing- Livestock Grazing: A Conservation Tool on California’s Annual Grasslands. University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. ANR publication 8517 Adobe Acrobat PDF

Barry, Bush, Larson 2015.  Understanding Working Rangelands: Cattle, Sheep, Goats and Horses: What’s the Difference for Working Rangelands? University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. ANR publication 8524 Adobe Acrobat PDF

Download: Managing Rangelands to Benefit California Red-Legged Frogs & California Tiger Salamanders Adobe Acrobat PDF