This page last updated February 08, 2009
The Year Ned's Cattle Came To
Rev Date Description of Change
I offer this background information on myself because I do not wish to mislead the reader. I am not specifically trained to assess environmental and ecological situations. Being a scientist of sorts, I am simply expressing an opinion with this report. As an electrical engineer I am frequently faced with the problematical dilemmas, often dealing with logic. The subject of this report defies much of the logic I have learned as an engineering consultant and I am hoping feedback from the readers of this report will perhaps help me to understand why this illogical situation ever existed and most of all why it still exists.
The crux of the situation is that the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) has adopted a policy, using cattle grazing as a public wildlands management tool. Such a policy seems to contradict the EBRPD representations in its Master Plan with respect to its mission and goals as the steward of SF Bay Area public wildlands.
During the 15 years that I have resided in Danville I have enjoyed the opportunity to explore the surrounding countryside. Living at the base of Mount Diablo, there are many very interesting places to enjoy the solitude of a hike and beauty of nature that surrounds us. In 1989 I moved to the Sycamore Valley area. Open grasslands populated predominantly with blue oak and less frequently with coast live oak, black oak and the California buckeye surround this valley, which consists of rolling hills typically 200-400 ft. high.
In 1992 I began taking early morning hikes before going to work in the Silicon Valley. Typically I would get up on the eastern ridge of the Sycamore Valley just in time to see the sunrise. On occasion I would beat the sunrise and the dawn of the day which allowed my dog PJ & I to be greeted by owls that would search us out in the dark. Our most frequent wildlife encounters were with deer, coyotes, red-tail hawks, pheasant, quail, turkey vultures, gophers, field mice, rabbits, wild turkeys and frogs. The most exciting encounter was to see a golden eagle. That has happened only once since I started hiking in the area. It is also very enjoyable to experience the various wildflowers that bloom in the spring.
In the fall of 1998, the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) took over responsibility for the management of these wildlands that comprise what is now called the Sycamore Valley Regional Park (SVRP). At that time the EBRPD enclosed the subject area with barbed wire fences and access gates. On or about January 1, 1999 the EBRPD introduced cattle into the SVRP as part of their general Wildland Management Policies & Guidelines (see Section 3 - Related Documents), a general policy adopted in August of 1992 to apply to the entire EBRPD.
The reason for this report is to document my observations regarding the impact that the aforementioned cattle grazing policy has had on this area. As a citizen of Danville, one who knows the Sycamore Valley area very intimately, I was shocked by the rapid deterioration of these wildlands as a result of the EBRPD's cattle grazing policy. The amount of destruction of plants, shrubs, trails, riparian areas and the surrounding hillsides in as little as two weeks was alarming. This document contains detailed descriptions with numerous color picture examples showing the unfortunate transformation of a wild grassland area from one of natural beauty to one of unnatural beauty. The impact goes beyond that of appearance, a noticeable reduction in the presence of wildlife and wildflowers was also observed.
It was necessary to present the information in the form of this report because repeated attempts to increase the awareness of public officials within the EBRPD have been met with an attitude that this is our policy and it is one that is ecologically sound. Such blind acceptance of a policy that is having a negative impact on wildland areas, areas which the EBRPD has been mandated to protect and preserve for the public, requires reassessment by the EBRPD. I leave it to you, the reader, to assess for yourself whether this policy merits re-examination.
One final point of consideration, this wildland area was accessible to the public (though not advertised as such) for hiking for as long as I have been visiting this area. When the EBRPD took over and installed gates on the property, the points where people most frequently took access have been locked preventing public access. This has angered many Danville residents who used to hike on these lands. The citizens approved public bonds to finance the purchase of this land and now that the EBRPD has control over the land, citizens are restricted from access and Ned's cattle are the principle users. What's wrong with this picture?
This summary is a shortened version of the report for those who do not have time to review the entire report. I strongly recommend reading the entire report as it contains a narrative with pictures discussing the details of the environmental impact of cattle grazing. While this report provides a means of recording and presenting the key findings with regard to this important issue, there is nothing more effective than experiencing the environmental impact first-hand. The pictures in this report do not begin to come close to fully conveying the problems I found. It is not likely that these pictures will evoke the gut-wrenching feeling that I experienced while watching this park deteriorate before my very eyes. If you plan to read the entire report you may now turn directly to Section 8. If you plan to only read this Executive Summary then I would suggest thumbing through the report and briefly reviewing the pictures after you have completed reading this section.
The East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) is a public agency whose charter is to preserve and conserve open-space areas in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area. This organization is now in its 65th year of operation with 55 parks and 15 regional inter-park trails covering 91,000 acres in the Alameda and Contra Costa counties (web site: http://www.ebparks.org/). It has been common practice in recent years for developers to cooperate with the EBRPD to append open-space (i.e. wildlands) areas within the EBRPD jurisdiction. In 1998, the EBRPD officially completed acquisition of the land for the Sycamore Valley Regional Park (SVRP). A map of the area can be found on page 8. In the latter part of 1998 the EBRPD put up gates and a barbed wire fence to set the park limits.
According to the EBRPD 1997 Master Plan, an environmental ethic guides all that they do. They also indicate that they work to ensure the preservation of the natural beauty of the Bay Area and protect habitat for wildlife, including many rare and endangered species. Thus the EBRPD represents itself as an agency that acts with ecological and environmental concern.
In late December of 1998 or early January of 1999, Ned Wood of Lafayette, CA introduced approximately 200 cattle into the SVRP under a lease with the EBRPD. This is a common practice by the EBRPD. It is their position that:
"Land use and vegetation changes over the past two centuries have irreversibly altered the landscape, making it necessary to use management techniques to maintain an ecological balance between native and non-native vegetation and to achieve wildland fire safety objectives."
The primary management technique employed is the use of cattle grazing. In August of 1992 the EBRPD adopted the Wildland Management Policies & Guidelines, drafted by a technical advisory committee consisting of EBRPD staff and outside experts. This 46-page document discusses the types of vegetation commonly found in EBRPD wildlands and why management techniques such as cattle grazing are necessary. What is glaringly absent from the document is any extensive discussion on the negative aspects of cattle grazing and how they would assess and deal with such aspects of a grazing program.
The introduction of Ned's cattle into the SVRP area has had shocking after-effects. I base this conclusion on a before and after comparison. I have hiked almost daily on these lands for the last 7 years, so I know them intimately. I have had 7 years to experience these lands without cattle grazing. The experience I had this winter and spring was disheartening to say the least. It was like a bad dream. The amount of damage inflicted upon the area in as little as 2 weeks of grazing activities was alarming.
The EBRPD statements above, regarding their ecological responsibility as our elected stewards of these wildlands, defy logic. How does any organization claim an environmental ethic when they enjoin a cattle grazing program whose the effects are so devastating? This report documents damage and other negative impacts in the following areas:
The park area is approximately 500 acres, resulting in a ratio of 2.5 cattle per acre. This ratio seemed excessive in light of the small size of this park. This ratio caused rapid deterioration of the park as well as giving one the sense that the cattle were everywhere. In light of my direct exposure to this situation, I tried on one occasion by telephone and two occasions by letter to elicit a meaningful response from the EBRPD as to how this destruction could be allowed to happen. The phone call was ineffective, I simply heard all the reasons why grazing is such a necessary program. The two responses to my letters can be found in Appendix B. In every case their position was simply to justify why it was OK. These responses along with the fact that the negative aspects of grazing are not addressed in their policy document leads one to conclude that either:
To make a bad situation worse, the EBRPD chose to lockout the public. All of the primary access points had locked gates. This has made residents of the area, who have enjoyed hiking on these lands for many years, very angry. It is their tax dollars that went towards the acquisition of these wildlands and now they are locked out while cattle are given full run of the park. Those who chose not to be locked out and climbed the gate were appalled at the mess that they encountered on the trails. Some of those people have expressed their opinions in Appendix A.
What was most interesting to me as I researched the cattle grazing issue was the volatility of the topic. I had no idea that this was such a controversial issue. As I became familiar with the justifications for grazing by proponents, I found that there was a handful of such justifications that were consistently touted. The consistency reminded me of the political term of "spinning". The "spin" on this topic was so consistent that proponents would nearly use the exact same wording when describing these justifications to me in conversation. The following is a list of justifications in the order I that would typically hear them described:
When I first heard these justifications I had a difficult time understanding how the chaos that was occurring before my eyes could lead to the favorable outcomes proponents described. But I thought that perhaps there was something to these arguments and was willing to give it more time. So throughout the winter and spring season I began to observe what transpired at the park as a result of having cattle around to graze, keeping in mind all of these wonderful benefits that might result.
The cattle left the park in June when the hot whether set in, as most vegetation had stopped growing by that time. It was at that point that I put my logical mind to work. I first assessed the state of the park at the end of the grazing season. Then I tried to hypothesize how these justifications, individually or in combination, could become a reasonable defense for allowing cattle to graze in the SVRP. I will suffice to say that these arguments are very weak if you reason them out in the context of what has occurred within the SVRP. The ecological costs in relation to the benefits achieved are inconsistent. The costs significantly outweigh any benefit in my opinion. Furthermore, the innate ability of cattle to achieve such a specific list of accomplishments suggests that cattle must be quite intelligent creatures. I beg to differ with such a conclusion. More detailed information regarding my conclusions on the inadequacy of these justifications can be found in section 10.
I would like to end this summary with a brief discussion of my conclusions on this entire issue. My primary purposes for writing this report were first, to document what occurred in the park this year because it cannot be ignored; secondly, I wanted to cultivate some dialog and awareness among others, and finally to prompt the EBRPD to reassess their position on the cattle grazing issue.
The following are my conclusions:
The Sycamore Valley is located in the San Francisco Bay Area approximately 25 miles due east of the city of San Francisco as the crow flies. The maps and inserts shown below identify its specific location and the topography of the Sycamore Valley Regional Park (SVRP) area. The SVRP is approximately 1.5 miles long and 0.5 a mile wide, comprising about 500 acres. The park presently has two predominant trails, one running northwest/southeast along a ridgeline and another running northeast/southwest. These two trails are shown in the map at the lower left.
The EBRPD (web site: http://www.ebparks.org/) is now in its 65th year of operation. It has 55 parks and 15 regional inter-park trails covering more than 91,000 acres in the Alameda and Contra Costa counties of the San Francisco Bay Area.
If you visit the EBRPD web site you will find the following quote:
The Park District works to ensure the preservation of the natural beauty of the Bay Area and protect habitat for wildlife, including many rare and endangered species.
Furthermore the EBRPD has a Master Plan (1997) that further states:
It should be clear after reading these statements that the EBRPD represents itself as an agency that acts with ecological and environmental concern. The remainder of this report will challenge this representation and your sense of logic as you attempt to try and see the correlation between the statements above and the use of cattle grazing as a public wildlands management policy.