Ranchers contribute to a healthy Sierra

As a cattle rancher, I'm an active, concerned environmentalist. On our family ranch, we use stewardship practices based on the best available science for both our private property and land we lease from the Stanislaus National Forest -- not because we have to, but because it's the right thing to do. We take pride in our ranch and we take pride in how California cattle ranches contribute to rural communities, the environment and to safe, affordable food.

Researchers at University of California Cooperative Extension have conducted many years of research and outreach on livestock grazing and water quality, and on how effective livestock management can remove much of the risk to water quality.

For example, ranchers draw cattle away from streams by placing water, feed and supplements such as salt at strategic locations throughout the range. Another management tool is herding; many ranchers spend a lot of time moving cattle away from streams and throughout the range. That serves several purposes. It protects water quality, makes the best use of the available pasture, allows the cattle to control any invasive weeds on the rangeland and reduces the risk of fire.

Keep in mind that many other factors affect water quality on national forest lands, such as wildlife, recreationalists and anything they don't pack out, and overstocked timber stands that lead to increasing fuel loads and catastrophic fires that cause erosion into Sierra streams. Just because cattle are in the Sierra doesn't mean they're the only things affecting water quality.

Let me be clear that this is not an excuse for poor livestock grazing practices. Where there are problems, we work as a community to solve them, based on science. But science and experience have shown that proper grazing management can cut environmental risks to a level where benefits outweigh costs.

I have seen first-hand the benefits of managed grazing to wildlife, insects, native plants and the rangeland ecosystem as a whole. Scientific research confirms those benefits. Remember that large herbivores grazed California rangelands thousands of years before humans lived here, so native plants and wildlife evolved in a grazed ecosystem.

Forest Service land and other public land were intentionally established under a multiple-use system, in order to best serve all citizens and maintain a healthy environment. In states like California, where half of the land is owned by the government, the management of these public lands directly affects the health of surrounding communities.

These communities are the economic and cultural base of the area. People who want to create new national parks or who oppose multiple-use forest management tend to be weekend outdoor enthusiasts. We welcome them as visitors but their proposals will directly affect the people who actually live, work and raise their families in our local communities.

As people who walk the land and drink the water in the Sierra, cattle ranchers contribute to the environmental and economic health of our region. We look forward to working with the Forest Service, Cooperative Extension and our neighbors to assure a sustainable future for our land, our water and our communities.

Gaiser is a Tuolumne County rancher and Stanislaus National Forest permittee.