Carrizo plan may limit grazing for 1st time Please Sign the Petition for Marlene!
Sunday, Feb. 01, 2009
Carrizo plan tilts toward wildlife food
The first management plan for the monument reduces the amount for livestock grazing
David Sneed –

Eight years after the sprawling and ecologically diverse grasslands in San Luis Obispo County’s southeastern corner became the Carrizo Plain National Monument, its first comprehensive management plan has been introduced.

Livestock grazing is likely to continue to be a contentious issue. The new plan reduces the amount of grazing that will be allowed, giving wildlife first dibs.

The 206,000 acres of public land within the monument contain the last intact remnant of the grasslands that dominated the San Joaquin Valley in prehistoric times.

As a result, it contains one of California’s greatest concentrations of rare and endangered species.

It also contains a sacred American Indian rock art site, as well as the most visible section of the seismically active San Andreas Fault. The Bureau of Land Management is the lead custodian of the monument and author of the management plan.

“The plan contains a range of management alternatives developed in cooperation with our managing partners — The Nature Conservancy, California Department of Fish and Game — the monument advisory committee and the public,” said Johna Hurl, monument manager.

Despite its isolation, the monument has been a source of controversy since it was designated in the waning hours of the presidency of Bill Clinton in 2001.

First, there was a failed attempt to reduce the monument to a fraction of its current size. Later, a proposal to designate the area as a United Nations World Heritage Site was rebuffed.

Oil companies have also eyed the monument for exploration, something national monument status would not prevent. But the biggest controversy has been the use of livestock grazing within the arid landscape. Many felt that BLM managers originally placed too much emphasis on grazing at the expense of the rare plants and animals found there, said Neil Havlik, natural resources manager for the city of San Luis Obispo and a member of the monument’s advisory panel.

The controversy reached a crisis in May 2005 when monument manager Marlene Braun committed suicide, in part because of bitter disagreements with her BLM bosses in Bakersfield over grazing. The suicide delayed efforts to write a management plan for the monument for two years.

“The effort basically imploded,” Havlik said. “There was a tremendous loss of energy and effort at that point.” But new managers in Bakersfield have restored trust in the process.

“They are willing to listen to the partners,” Havlik said.

The new plan’s reduction of grazing is based on a scientific study of the effects of spring foraging on the valley floor of the monument. It uses 10,000 data points that found that grazing does not benefit giant kangaroo rats and other sensitive species to the degree originally thought.

“It’s the right plan at the right time for the right place,” said Tom Maloney, Central Coast project manager with The Nature Conservancy. “We’ve settled on a plan that gives primacy to the species and natural communities.”

This is not likely to sit well with ranchers who think that grazing can play an important role in rehabilitating the monument after many years of dry-land farming.

They point out that migratory herds of tule elk and pronghorn antelope played an important role in the ecology of the plain. Livestock, if managed properly, can duplicate the role that those wild herds used to play, said Chuck Prichard, a rancher who runs cattle on a 15-mile swath of land just north of the monument.

“Grazing has a definite role,” he said. “My problem is that many government managers don’t understand the role of grazing.”

Prichard hasn’t had a chance to read the new management plan, but he’s not optimistic.

He’s afraid that the plan will use what he calls the “Walt Disney approach” to resource management, sacrificing grazing in favor of improving aesthetics of the monument.

“Sometimes it looks great and sometimes it looks pretty beat up,” he said. “That’s part of the natural process.”

But there is one variable that is beyond human control that will likely dictate grazing levels on the monument more than anything else — weather. It has been more than a decade since the Carrizo Plain received enough rainfall to justify grazing at the certainty levels ranchers like, Havlik said.

“No one can argue that the weather has not become an issue,” he said. “I think most ranchers recognize that the area is pretty marginal for grazing.”


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