This page last updated February 08, 2009
The Year Ned's Cattle Came To
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.