Rivals unite to save nature
Once adversaries, environmentalists and ranchers are now working together against another foe - urban sprawl.
Under the pressure of expanding cities and an ever-growing population, California cattlemen and environmentalists have found some ground to agree on. Last week, more than 30 public, private and non-profit organizations signed the California Rangeland Resolution. The agreement to conserve both wildlife and private agricultural land draws attention to ways ranching supports endangered species.
“We're usually both waiting for the other side to sue, and now we're in the same room,” said Barbara Vlamis, executive director of the Butte Environmental Council in Chico. “It's not only impressed ourselves, but we hope it will impress our state and federal officials to help us move forward.”
Vlamis said the resolution brings together “unlikely partners” in striving to preserve vernal pools and oak woodlands while protecting owners of private rangelands.
A study published last year in the scientific publication Journal of Conservation Biology concludes cattle grazing can be beneficial for the pools, which fill seasonally with water. According to the study, the wildlife that depend on the pools' increasingly rare habitat actually become more diverse and abundant with grazing.
“One should not assume livestock and ranching operations are necessarily damaging to native communities,” wrote Jaymee Marty, the study's primary author.
Among the species covered by the agreement are the vernal pool tadpole shrimp and the Butte County meadowfoam, both listed as endangered under federal law. The Swainson's hawk, which traverses much of the state, including Yuba-Sutter, is listed as threatened under state law.
Vlamis said much of eastern Butte County from Oroville to the Tehama County line is listed as a top priority because it houses multiple sensitive species.
Resolution signatories hope the agreement will help them get more funding for restoration enhancement, said Tracy Schohr, director of industry affairs for California Cattlemen's Association. She said Yolo Land and Cattle Company has implemented many of the sorts of restoration programs the resolution boasts.
“The resolution helps environmental groups see the benefits of what we are doing,” said Scott Stone, whose family runs Yolo Land and Cattle. “We want to leave this place better than when we found it.”
The Stone family has operated the company for more than 20 years and says its ranch is used for winter and spring grazing for 500 cows.
Reseeding native, perennial grasses and other restoration projects not only provides habitat, it enhances the value ranches both economically and recreationally, Stone said.
“I think people would rather see that than a bunch of condos and houses,” he said.
Mike Darnell of the Middle Mountain Foundation, a land-preservation group that merged in November with the similarly purposed Yuba-Sutter Land Trust, echoed Stone's words, adding that the resolution benefits both parties as well as Californians who appreciate open country.
“(It's) a positive step toward helping to continue California's ranching tradition,” he said.
Appeal-Democrat reporter Eve Hightower can be reached at 749-4724. You may e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Appeal-Democrat editor Michael Green contributed to this article.