The Open Space Authority uses cattle grazing as a management tool to enhance the native biodiversity of California’s rare grasslands and oak savannas that support many native plants and animals, including endangered species. Grasslands have become rare due to development, and the remaining protected grasslands are under threat from invasive plant species. Invasive plants outcompete native plants for resources and suppressing natural wildfires have caused many shrubs and trees to establish themselves in grasslands. In the absence of fire or grazing, litter accumulates on the soil and can become fuel for extreme fires.
Scientific research has documented that cattle can reduce the growth and density of invasive plant species, help prevent wildfire spread, and promote native plant diversity. Recognizing the benefits that careful and managed grazing can bring to open spaces, the Authority’s Board of Directors approved a Grazing Management Policy. Each open space preserve that utilizes grazing follows an ecologist developed Grazing Management Plan that outlines customized conservation goals, grazing treatment, and management for that preserve. When choosing a grazer, the Authority undergoes a selection process where local ranchers bid on the opportunity to graze on Authority lands, based on the requirements outlined in the preserve’s management plan. The income the Authority receives from grazing leases is used for management and stewardship of open spaces. In addition to contributing to native diversity and reducing wildfire risk, grazing on open space lands contributes to the local ranching economy and the viability of ranching on private lands.
Through careful management and monitoring, the Authority is using grazing as a tool to promote native biodiversity. As with any management tool, monitoring is necessary to evaluate whether grazing is meeting the goals and objectives outlined and if any adjustments need to occur through adaptive management. The Authority continually evaluates its grazing program and ways to improve how to effectively manage the land for biodiversity in a changing and complex environment.
Watch this fun video from our partners at the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources on what to do if you encounter cattle in open spaces.