Sept. 25, 2003
wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger,
will address Eureka Rotarians on Monday at the Eureka Inn. Shriver
is an NBC news anchor and member of the Kennedy clan,
and she has been traveling around Northern California of late,
assuring citizens that the Schwarzenneger administration will
take women's issues seriously.
Ranchers, state wildlife agency, partner up
Wildlife area in Arcata Bottom is the site of a grazing experiment
by KEITH EASTHOUSE
What bugged rancher Pete Bussman [pictured below] was that the land was going unutilized. There it was, 435 acres of bottom land west of the Arcata Marsh, and the vegetation was growing unimpeded. Not a grazer in sight.
Where surrounding pasture land had fresh, nutritious green grass thanks to frequent trimming by cows, this parcel was getting overwhelmed by brush, by plant species unpalatable to livestock and wildlife alike. What with all the cover, rodents were rampant, as were their primary predators, raptors and feral cats.
Actually, what really bugged Bussman was this: There weren't any geese. It was the Mad River Slough Wildlife Area, owned by the California Fish and Game Department for the past 15 years, and there weren't any geese.
Instead, the geese were to be found on greener pastures, so to speak, on choice bottom land he leases and owns in the area. And on other ranchers' land. Droves of them. Munching the grass that's supposed to be reserved for their cows. Avoiding the Fish and Game wildlife area because the food out there was much less tasty.
"They'll just descend on a field and basically what you'll get before long is overgrazing," Bussman, clad in cowboy hat and suspenders, said on a recent warm, hazy morning out on the vast Arcata Bottom. "It's the second bite that hurts," he added. "It diminishes the roots and kills the plants off."
Ranchers have been angry for some time that Fish and Game wasn't doing more to take the pressure off their pasture lands by making the wildlife area attractive to geese. But what really "brought things to a boil," as Bussman put it, was a dramatic increase in the geese population over the past few years.
Bussman and others are pleased that a solution of sorts has been reached. After removing cattle from the land when it purchased the property from the Ford family in the `80s, Fish and Game is bringing them back. It is leasing 135 acres of the wildlife area to the Humboldt County Farm Bureau. With the help of an $11,000 federal grant funneled through the county's Resource Conservation District, the bureau is hoping to make the land more hospitable to geese and other types of wildlife simply by grazing it.
"The cattle are just a tool. We're not doing this to graze cattle or make money" but to return the land to an earlier successional stage, Bussman said.
Fish and Game's decision to turn to grazing follows an attempt three years ago to burn the wildlife area that went awry when the wind shifted and sent a thick cloud of smoke over Arcata, prompting air quality alerts.
The lease with the bureau, which has a duration of five years, has been in effect for about a year. During that time various improvements have been made to the land to make grazing possible, including the construction of fences and the installation of water troughs. To celebrate the completion of "phase one" of the project, the bureau held a press conference this week to update the local media on the project.
Humboldt State University is also involved. Armed with a two-year, $30,000 grant from the California Coastal Conservancy, wildlife biologist Matt Johnson and 20 undergraduate students have been taking an inventory of all the critters living on the wildlife area. Now that grazing has begun, they're going to monitor how it changes the wildlife makeup. "The vegetation is going to get a lot less thick, so that could benefit species that like short grass, such as shore birds and waterfowl," Johnson said. "It's probably not going to be good for species that like tall grass, like rodents and things that like rodents, such as kites and hawks."
Making things even more interesting for Johnson is that the ranchers are going to be employing a somewhat unorthodox grazing technique: intensively grazing livestock in a small area for a short period of time and then moving them to another area.
The theory is that this is supposed to maximize the growth rate of vegetation and produce more nutritious forage. That, Johnson said, could be good for cattle and other species that eat grass.
Ranchers, of course, hope that one of those other species are those pesky geese. But given that the amount of land they are grazing in the Mad River Slough Wildlife Area is relatively small, they are not under the illusion that that alone is going to solve the problem. But they are hopeful it will set a precedent.
"We are looking to build partnerships," said Katherine Ziemer, executive director of the farm bureau. "More and more land is getting taken out of production for wildlife habitat. We think we can work together."
© Copyright 2003, North Coast Journal, Inc.