Reforming livestock grazing on public lands, removing
commercial grazing operations to benefit native ecosystems and advocating
for reintroduction of native grazers
Domestic cattle are an introduced species that can cause considerable damage to native ecosystems and habitats. Livestock can compete with native browsers for forage, degrade riparian and aquatic habitat, spread invasive weeds, suppress native tree regeneration and foul water quality. Overgrazing by livestock contributes to erosion, sedimentation of creeks and excessive nutrients and can have negative impacts on water quality and seasonal quantity, stream channels, soils, riparian vegetation and wetlands. Many ranchers persecute ground squirrels and predators. Although there are circumstances where carefully managed grazing can have beneficial impacts for some native plants and wildlife habitats, particularly in grasslands, overgrazing can damage sensitive wildlife habitat. Cattle grazing damage can be severe in habitat for steelhead trout and other aquatic and riparian-dependent species.
There are extensive commercial grazing leases on public lands in the Alameda Creek watershed. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission SFPUC has 12 grazing leases in the upper watershed consisting of 21,636 acres of public land. The East Bay Regional Park District leases 12,550 acres - or more than three-quarters of Sunol and Ohlone Preserves - for private commercial cattle grazing, and also has grazing leases on Del Valle, Pleasanton Ridge and Mission Peak Regional Parks within the watershed. Unfortunately, proper management of native ecosystems is not always the primary goal. The EBRPD Wildland Management Policies and Guidelines for their grazing program are a vague set of principles with little scientific basis and no monitoring or enforcement provisions, that were established with no meaningful environmental review process or opportunity for public input. EBRPD grazing in Sunol and Ohlone Preserves proceeds without park Land Use Plans. Grazing on SFPUC lands is guided by the 1997 Alameda Watershed Grazing Resource Management Element, which also lacks a full analysis of livestock grazing impacts.
Rationales given for public lands grazing in the watershed are fire and invasive plant control, but there is no evidence grazing of grasslands reduces wildfires, there is very little rural/urban interface in the areas of grazing leases to cause fire concerns and cattle are a significant vector for spreading invasive plants. Nearby Mount Diablo State Park ended commercial cattle grazing in 1989, providing a local model for prioritizing natural ecosystem protection in parklands while managing for native plants, recreation and fire control.
Fisheries experts and consultants for the SFPUC have recommended restricting cattle access to the Alameda Creek streambed and riparian zone and the SFPUC agrees that heavy grazing of riparian areas can have negative impacts. The SFPUC has begun installing fencing to restrict livestock access to riparian areas, including nearly two miles along Indian Creek, three miles at San Antonio Reservoir, two miles at Haypress Canyon and 3,000 feet at Welch Creek Road, along with repairing two miles of riparian management fence in Arroyo Hondo Canyon. The SFPUC also has ongoing work to provide off-stream water sources for cattle to further reduce grazing impacts on streams. The SFPUC is seeking state and federal permits through their Habitat Conservation Plan for the Alameda Creek watershed, which will cover biological impacts of grazing leases. The SFPUC is proposing positive changes in grazing practices, such as excluding cattle from about 7.5 linear miles of upper Alameda Creek and associated riparian areas.
The Alameda Creek Alliance is committed to reforming livestock grazing on public lands in the watershed, removing commercial grazing operations where beneficial to native ecosystems, and advocating for reintroduction of native grazers such as elk and antelope where feasible.