Shared Navigation Interface

Shared Disclaimers
RangeNet.org Reference Maps Tools Projects Photos Flowers Conferences
Members Crosswords FolkSongs MySpace GoogleVideo Weather Morgue
RangeBiome.org Headlines  Editorials Alerets Links Genesis Cowfree Odds&Ends
Public Domain Photos Morgue        
RangeWatch.org MultiMedia Morgue          

This page last updated February 08, 2009

Table of Contents

The Year Ned's Cattle Came To Danville
(Continued)

9. THE RESULT: A CONTRADICTION IN LOGIC

In reviewing the EBRPD's Wildland Management Policies & Guidelines there is only one-half page of the 46-page document relegated to Rationale for Grazing. The document is virtually void of any extensive discussion on the negative aspects of grazing and how the EBRPD would assess and deal with such aspects of a grazing program. Hence, one might conclude that either:

  • the EBRPD does not have an awareness of the negative impact cattle grazing can have on public wildlands, or
  • it does not wish to specifically acknowledge the existence of the negative aspects of grazing.

There is one sentence buried in the section Vegetation Management Alternatives - Biological that states:

"…grazing animals defoliate, trample, and deposit manure and urine, which can have a positive or negative ecological impact depending upon how they are managed."

None of these issues are further elaborated upon in the EBRPD document.

After reviewing feedback on the Internet as well as some of the literature (see Section 3 - Related Documents) on the subject of cattle grazing, I have noted the following central themes and assertions by proponents of the policy:

  1. Mother Nature has not been adequately managing the growth of her grasslands. If she could just produce more cows to automatically mow the grass on a regular basis, she could produce lush grasslands of unsurpassed beauty.
  2. It is time for us to return to the Pleistocene Era where large ancient grazers were the sole managers of Mother Earth's grasslands and darn good ones at that. Cattle have now inherited the responsibility to carry on for the great roaming herds of mammoths and bison, their most respected ancestors.
  3. There are certain species of plants that Mother Nature should not have let become cohabitants with those that are native to the area. It seems to be a consensus that there are certain grasslands on the earth that should be returned to the native plants for their sole occupation. The cattle, now having been given responsibility for the management of such grasslands by their ancestors, are quite adept at sorting out which plants are native and which ones are not. It is quite widely known in cattle circles that only the non-natives are the best tasting species, so they are prime targets and should be munched to the ground.
  4. There are certain species of plants that are just trouble-makers (commonly referred to as pest plants) and should not be allowed to inhabit certain grasslands. Such definitions could be considered arbitrary when one considers the list of pest plants in the EBRPD Wildland Management Policies & Guidelines. The list is dominated by thorny plants, is this why they are considered pests? If so, then why not include native grasses, which generate foxtails that get stuck in your socks sometimes causing your feet to bleed? Then there are other species that are identified as "encroachers" such as that nasty coyote brush. From my experience in the SVRP, this species is a favorite munchable for the cattle and therefore is quite easily controlled by cattle grazing.
  5. Smokey the Bear would be proud of the cattle at SVRP. One of the commonly expressed opinions is that cattle grazing significantly reduces the risk of fire by reducing the highly flammable dry vegetation that exists during the summers of California.

I realize there is scientific merit for certain actions being suggested by wildlife biologists and other experts in the field, which favors cattle grazing as an effective wildlands management policy. However I would like to suggest that the use of cattle grazing in public parks within the EBRPD requires further thought and investigation. I will once again return to the central themes listed above in a later section. First let's take a look at the situation at the SVRP.


9.1. PREPARING FOR THE ARRIVAL OF NED'S CATTLE

The SVRP was officially created within the last 12 months. As development has proliferated in the Danville area, developers have been forced to contribute lands to the surrounding open space areas. The southernmost end of the park was the last to be contributed thereby paving the way for the official EBRPD takeover. The first course of action by the EBRPD was to clearly establish the park boundary by putting up barbed-wire fences all along the perimeter. This took approximately 4-6 months to complete. Of course the true purpose for requiring such an elaborate fence was to create an environment that will keep cattle in and people out, at least that's the way it seems to be working out at SVRP.

I was pleased to see that the EBRPD was taking over the management of this property and erecting a fence. For one reason, it is unlawful to operate motorized vehicles within EBRPD parks. In previous years I would occasionally come across individuals raising havoc up in the hills of the Sycamore Valley with motorized dirt bikes but had no real recourse to prevent them from doing so since I didn't really know who owned the property at the time. On other occasions individuals would drive their trucks or 4-wheel drive vehicles up into the area. Encountering motor vehicles on the trails was disturbing to me as it resulted in the loss of the beautiful silence that most often prevailed in this area. So seeing the fence going up I knew that there would soon be restricted access for motor vehicles inside the park area.

The fence was completed in late 1998. Ned's cattle arrived at the SVRP in late December or early January of 1999. As I mentioned, I was pretty pleased to know that the area was now officially a regional park and I knew that it would be well taken care of, as I had hiked at nearly all of the EBRPD parks in the area. To the contrary, I was soon to get a rude awakening. I was about to experience first-hand the before and after of cattle grazing. Remember I had been hiking up in this area for the last 7 years, year-round about 5 times a week. I knew the area on and off the trails quite intimately. I was also quite familiar with the wildlife in the area, which I have already alluded to earlier in this report. I had experienced most of the other EBRPD parks but not in this before and after way. In most all of the other parks the cattle were already present, some to a greater or lesser degree than others do.

9.2. WHO IS NED?

At this point you're probably wondering who Ned is. Well, Ned Wood of Lafayette, CA is the rancher who owns the cattle that roamed the SVRP foothills this winter and spring. Ned was so kind as to bring approximately 200 head of cattle to share in the open space of the SVRP. Ned's cattle completed their 1st stay at the SVRP in mid-February 1999. They vacationed at another location until about mid-March 1999 when they returned to the SVRP to continue their munching responsibilities. They stayed on site until about the end of May 1999 (end of the grazing season). Apparently they are given a vacation every three months, two months on and one month off - not a bad deal for them. At the time of the writing of this document they had not yet returned from vacation and perhaps are enjoying an extended summer vacation as teachers do.

9.3. HERE IS WHERE THINGS BEGAN TO DEFY LOGIC

In Section 8 of this report I gave you The Premise: An Environmental Ethic is what drives all of what the EBRPD does. As the elected steward of the SVRP public wildlands, certainly the EBRPD must be acting in the best interest of the citizens of Danville. For that matter, the EBRPD policies should be in the best interest of all of the communities who let the EBRPD manage its public wildlands. That is another premise that is assumed to be true. The facts I will present next may question your confidence in having the current administration at EBRPD be our elected stewards.

The primary purpose of this report is to document the damage that the cattle have done to the SVRP area and to ultimately make some suggestions as to how this situation can be rectified. While there is obvious physical damage that has occurred, the EBRPD has also damaged its relationship with the citizens of Danville. The EBRPD's blatant refusal to admit that perhaps there is a problem with their cattle grazing policy is causing people to become angry and respond with reports such as this one. Appendix A of this report includes names of some of the residents of Danville and their comments about how they feel about the introduction of cattle into the SVRP.

9.3.1. THE LOCKOUT

Perhaps one of the most irritating and frustrating aspects of the EBRPD's actions was locking the public out of the park. Many people took this as a slap in the face. Their tax dollars went towards the purchase of these lands. They expected that they would have access. And when some did get access by climbing the gate, they did not expect to find what they found.

9.3.2. THE TRAIL DAMAGE

The most obvious impact of the presence of cattle to SRVP was the trail damage. The winter rains make the hillsides and trails very susceptible to damage by large animals such as cattle. The rain turns the exposed dirt on the trails into mud. Before grazing it was still possible to hike on these trails during the wintertime by judiciously navigating around the muddy portions and staying on the grass. A good example is the type of turf that is shown in the gate picture above.

When Ned's cattle arrived things changed dramatically. When 200 cattle start roaming these trails (they do tend to favor the trails when they are not grazing) in the wintertime any grass that was on the trail becomes trampled and obliterated while the trail turns into something that closely resembles a pigpen. The trails are virtually impassable. If you did attempt travel on them you had better have made sure you brought your AAA card and a cell phone because you will probably need to call a tow truck to pull you out of the muck before the hike is over. In some places you could easily end up in mud deep enough to cover your hiking boots. What makes the hiking experience even more enjoyable is to add to the mud mix the manure and urine that they frequently deposit on the trails as they travel to the next area they are going to graze.

Photo 2 was taken to the left and just inside the gate shown in Photo 1. This section was not a trail, it was a grassy area before the cattle arrived. The cattle graciously transformed it into what you see. This was what the trails at the SVRP were frequently turned into.

9.3.3. OFF TRAIL DAMAGE

Of all the damage that was noted, the off-trail damage disturbed me most. The lush green hillsides that normally existed during the spring months were no more. During the first two or three weeks that the cattle were introduced into the SVRP I was shocked to find that they had trampled nearly every square inch of the park.

As shown in Photo 3, the sides of hillsides were ripped up. There were hoof prints everywhere. If you attempted to travel off trail, it was nearly impossible because of the deep imprints from the hooves of the cattle. It was very easy to twist an ankle or hyper-extend a knee from these deep impressions. This was also true on the trails when the rains would subside and the hoof prints would harden. Even my dog would have difficulty navigating the trails in this condition.

Perhaps Mother Nature can repair this type of damage to the hillsides over many years. But it is not likely that this damage will ever repair itself to the point that it was before the introduction of the cattle. For now the damage is done and there is nothing that the EBRPD can do to repair it. This is the unfortunate part of this tragedy.The small canyon that Photo 3 was taken from was one of the most beautiful areas in the park. The cattle virtually destroyed it. The pictures do not do justice to the situation. I was so angry when I first saw this area that when I returned home from my hike I was on the phone to the EBRPD, to a reporter for one of the local newspapers and to the City of Danville offices. I just could not believe that this was really happening.

 

9.3.4. THE DAMAGE TO RIPARIAN AREAS

The damage to the riparian areas of the park was most disheartening. During the winter and spring there are numerous small streams that flow in the park. Photo 4 is a picture of an area on the north side of the park that contains a pond that is wet year-round. This pond, which is full of large cattails, is the home for many ducks and smaller birds such as pheasant, mourning doves, quail, sparrows and blackbirds. The brush around the shores of this pond was normally very dense, so dense that you could not see the waterline.

Examining Photo 5, it can be seen that there is no longer any brush along the shoreline of this pond. The shoreline was devoured and trampled. Hoof prints can be noted into the pond itself. While not viewable in this picture, there was also manure along the shoreline and in the water. On occasion hoof marks were filled with discolored water, determined to be most likely urine from the scent of the water.The perimeter of this pond is approximately a quarter of a mile. This condition existed around the entire pond. On the opposite side of the pond from this picture it was found that the cattle had wandered well into the pond and severely trampled and consumed nearly all vegetation present.







As mentioned at the beginning of this section, there are numerous small streams that flow in the winter and spring. As a hiker, one of the most wonderful experiences is to walk along a stream and see the beautiful way that water has carved its path through the earth. The results are often breathtaking and the sound of the water flowing is very soothing.

There was also an area in the park, shown in Photo 6, where a stream had a flat open spot, maybe 10 feet wide, where beautiful vegetation such as small intricate flowers would grow. I would frequently stop to sit and admire this area. Unfortunately it is no longer possible to enjoy the beauty of this area in its natural state, it was trampled too as you can see from the photograph.

Photo 7 is an example of a streambed that once had a small stream flowing. The trampling has impeded the water flow causing the water to collect in the hoof prints and further mix with cow manure and urine.

Photo 8 is an area just to the south of the pond discussed at the beginning of this section. This is a streambed that flows from the pond. The area along this stream has lost its beauty as the cattle have trampled, urinated and defecated in the area, polluting the water for the wildlife that drink from it. If you look closely you can see where the cattle have crossed the stream at this point.

Every single one of the park streams exhibits this type of destruction in areas where cattle have had access.

9.3.5. THE DAMAGE TO INNOCENT VEGETATION

One of the problems with using cattle to manage wildland vegetation is the indiscriminate nature of their vegetation consumption. The result is damage to innocent bystanders such as the coyote shrub. The shrub shown in Photo 9 was a full, beautiful shrub for as long as I can remember. It used to be about 10 feet in diameter and about 8 feet tall. This is what it looked like this spring after Ned's cattle came to Danville and it became a targeted species. The cattle don't just simply eat the greens; they chew off entire limbs. As you can see from the picture on the front cover of this report, there are not many coyote shrubs in the park. There are only two that I am aware of that are in close proximity to the trails. This one, which you can also see middle left at cow level in the front cover picture, and another about a quarter of a mile down the trail from this one. Both of them look the same, chewed down to almost nothing. The other one is slightly larger and was partially trampled from the cattle trying to reach the center for good eating.

Photo 10 is from the Sunol Regional Park, also managed by the EBRPD. I offer this as another example of how the natural beauty of park vegetation can be unfavorably altered by the indiscriminate grazing of cattle. This was a very large blossoming shrub, perhaps 30 feet in diameter and 15 feet tall. Notice that this shrub has been chewed from the ground up to a level equivalent to the height of a cow.



9.3.6. THE LOSS OF WILDFLOWERS

Another victim of the indiscriminate grazing by cattle is wildflowers. The number of wildflower species present in the park was noticeably reduced within the park this spring. It appears that the continuous grazing (even with periodic rest periods) does not give the flowers a sufficiently long enough period to grow and bloom.

Wildflowers that would normally grow on the trails were trampled and destroyed by the cattle when the trails would be turned back to muck after a spring rain. The absence of wildflowers was very noticeable when compared to a trail outside the park that paralleled a trail inside the park. The trail outside the park was rich with wildflowers while the park trail had virtually none.

9.3.7. THE REDUCED PRESENCE OF WILDLIFE

One very noticeable effect was the lack of a presence of wildlife within the park shortly after the introduction of Ned's cattle. One of the rewards of an early morning hike is encountering wildlife. The most frequent wildlife encounters in this park were with deer, coyotes, skunks, red-tail hawks, quail, pheasant, turkey vultures, gophers, field mice, rabbits, wild turkeys, frogs and numerous species of small birds. Now it's mostly cows.

In my years of hiking I have found a few indicators that reveal the potential presence of wildlife in an area; these are small narrow wildlife trails, footprints and animal feces. Once the cattle had been introduced, I noticed that wildlife was rarely seen inside the park. For example, I would often see deer grazing outside the fence limits of the park. The deer could no longer sleep under the oak trees at night because the cattle were constantly intruding. Rabbits and coyotes no longer had the brush to take cover in so they moved outside the park where they could safely take such shelter. Also the wildlife trails were taken over by the cattle and few, if any, wildlife footprints could be found on these trails.

An ecological cycle appeared to be playing itself out. Since small animals were rarely present in the park, then their predators like the coyotes, the hawks and owls would soon move to locations outside the park where they could again find prey. As I hiked through the park when cattle were grazing, I noticed that the frequently found hair-filled coyote feces were nowhere to be found on the trails. But as I exited the park onto an asphalt trail that paralleled the park on its northeast side, there were numerous places where I spotted coyote feces.

What was even more telling was when the cattle were moved out of the park for about 4-6 weeks to another location for a rest period. A few weeks after the cattle had been moved the coyote droppings returned to the trails inside the park indicating that they had returned. I also began to have sightings of the coyotes and other animals inside the park. Encounters were still not as often as before the cattle were introduced but at least they were making their way back.

Gophers were noticeably not present this spring. After seeing the deep hoof prints that were made throughout the park on the hillsides, it is not surprising that they might avoid being trampled. The cattle must surely have some effect on the habitats of the gophers as well as other small rodents who live in the ground.

9.3.8. THE EXCESSIVE PRESENCE OF CATTLE

Ned brought about 200 cattle to Danville, which is about 2.5 cattle per acre given my rough estimate that the park area is 500 acres. I do not know what the normal ratio of cattle per acre is but this seemed excessive given their presence everywhere you turned. This park is quite narrow and it seemed that no matter where you went there were cattle roaming around you. The privacy and solitude I once felt in this park were gone. When I would stop somewhere to sit and read a book for awhile, the cattle were also found to be an aural disturbance. The cattle frequently would call out in dismay as if they were in great distress. Instead of hearing the birds singing, the distressful mooing of the cows would prevail throughout the park. For that matter, I could frequently hear them from where I lived, a quarter mile away from the park.

9.3.9. TRAILS LITTERED WITH COW MANURE

Navigating around the green liquid manure on the trails was truly a challenge. If you were not constantly paying close attention to where you were stepping, it was very easy to end up in a large pile of cow manure. The manure was not always in a neat little pile (Photo 11) either. As illustrated in Photo 12, it can be splattered across the trails.

So what's the big deal you might ask? As Ned once said to me, "C'mon it's just processed grass!" Ned is probably more tolerant of such a mess for a couple of reasons. One reason is they're his cattle. Like a mother who cleans her baby's diaper without complaint, Ted accepts without question that his cattle will make messes. The difference is he doesn't have to clean it up! Secondly, he doesn't have to hike in it. He just drives through it once in awhile in the comfort of his big white Ford pickup.

The reality is that the stench from the cow urine and manure predominates over any of the more preferable scents that you might be hoping to experience while taking a hike in nature. Nature's most exquisite scents occur in the springtime. You have little chance of enjoying them if cattle are grazing in the area. If the parklands are primarily for the public's enjoyment then cattle should not be allowed to defecate and urinate to the extent that they do where the public is expected to hike.



The EBRPD allows users of the park to bring their dogs along on hikes off leash. Ask any dog owner who uses EBRPD parks where cattle are grazing and you will find they are not happy for the most part. Dogs will instinctively attempt to mask their own scent by burying a shoulder into fresh cow manure and rolling in it. For the pet owner who drove to the park in their new car, this is not a good situation.

There also appears to be something very attractive about the scent of cow manure to dogs because they love to eat it. There was an instance with my dog where he had found a bone that he was very unwilling to give up to anyone. But as soon as he came across a fresh pile of manure, he immediately dropped the bone and started lapping it up. The downside to this is they don't know when to stop eating it. After a two-hour hike they can consume enough to make them sick and vomit later on in the day. This does not make for a happy relationship with my wife when her white carpet ends up with a large green stain that will not come out unless professionally cleaned!

9.3.10. HILLSIDE DAMAGE - POTENTIAL FOR EROSION

When Ned's cattle arrived, they were given free run of the park. There was nowhere that they were prohibited from going. When the cattle arrived in late December of 1998 it was the wet and rainy season in California. The cattle quickly began taking excursions up and down some of the steep hillsides. These hillsides would be sensitive to human travel to say nothing of a large beast such as a cow. This resulted in extensive damage to the hillsides as large chunks of the grass were ripped away exposing the bare soil. This is illustrated in Photo 13. This hillside is normally completely covered with grass. It can be seen that numerous trails have been cut into the hillside and nearly 50% of the grass has been torn away. The turf on this hillside is very soft and the hillside itself is quite steep with perhaps a 60 degree slope.

The potential for serious erosion on this hillside is quite obvious. California has experienced record rainfalls in recent years and had the 1998-99 season experienced the same rainfall as the previous year then this area could easily have experienced serious mudslides.

I have many more pictures from other areas of the park that show additional damage but I believe this sampling is sufficient to make my point. Cattle will forever alter and destroy the beauty of the parks, especially riparian areas, as long as they are allowed to roam freely in our regional parks.

(Continue to Section 10)