The purpose of the VWA's public lands livestock grazing reform effort is to work with the managing agency to ensure that the interests of wildlife, habitat, sensitive species, heritage resources and recreation in areas subject to the environmental pressures of public lands ranching are respected and safeguarded .
Since the summer of 1999 the Forest Service has been working hard to justify the reauthorization of commercial cattle grazing on the public lands of the Big Sur coast. After conducting some cursory studies, a few years ago they floated the first round of proposals to continue turning the cows out on this very sensitive landscape, but ended up withdrawing their decisions to do so after a successful appeal was filed by the Ventana Wilderness Alliance and Center for Biological Diversity. The valid points brought up in that appeal sent the Forest Service range managers back to the drawing board.
After conducting more in-depth studies and making a much stronger effort to be in compliance with applicable laws and policies, in December of 2004 essentially the same proposals were re-floated for public review and appeal, only with much more supporting documentation this time around. The VWA Public Lands Grazing Committee quickly joined forces with the Center for Biological Diversity, Los Padres Forest Watch, the Ventana Chapter Sierra Club, and two independent botanical experts to evaluate the proposals. Upon discovering what we considered to be numerous violations of the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the National Forest Management Act, as well as a pervasive disregard for recreation and only cursory regard for biodiversity in favor of providing deeply discounted forage to private cattlemen, we again appealed the decisions.
On 8-March-2005, the Appeal Deciding Officer for USFS Region 5 in Vallejo informed us that the revised decisions to reauthorize commercial livestock grazing on the public lands of the Big Sur coast had once again been withdrawn. It appears that the Forest Service is having a rather difficult time justifying their intent to continue the practice of commercial cattle grazing in an area as biologically, spiritually and recreationally important as the marine terraces and coastal slopes of the Monterey district. They've worked at it for 6 years, given it their best shot twice, yet are once again heading back to the barn. To those of us who know these lands well, it comes as no surprise. Herds of cattle have the potential to negatively impact a sensitive landscape in short order, which is a difficult fact to downplay.
Be it known that the VWA is not averse to the use of livestock grazing as a closely monitored management tool when used to achieve specific goals in terms of habitat conservation and biodiversity, and when not in conflict with other resources. But we strongly feel that the historic practice employed by the Forest Service by way of permitting cattle to be turned out, left to wander the range largely untended, then rounded up and trailered away six months later is not in the best interest of the land, the flora and fauna that call it home, nor the American public that own it. Until such time as the permission of cattle grazing on local public lands is indeed employed as a management tool with the stringent oversight and immediate removal provisions necessary to improve and protect all resources rather than simply providing livestock operators with subsidized forage, the VWA will continue to be critically involved in the process.