Our Grazing Reform Program

ForestWatch works to reduce the harmful effects of livestock grazing on public lands, and aims to ensure that grazing complies with laws designed to protect sensitive habitats and waterways. We work with the agency to improve rangeland conditions across the entire forest.

A grazing operation in the Happy Canyon grazing allotment of the Los Padres National Forest.

ForestWatch has initiated a forest-wide inventory of all 107 grazing allotments on the Los Padres. We are identifying allotments that occur in highly sensitive areas, and will monitor these areas to ensure compliance with grazing permits and environmental laws. We will notify agency officials when violations are discovered, and will pursue strategic litigation if violations are not cured in a reasonable time.

In addition to this forest-wide study, we also track new grazing proposals as soon as they are announced by the agency. We want to ensure that new grazing proposals comply with environmental laws and are consistent with the best available science.

Livestock Grazing on Public Lands

Livestock grazing affects more acres than any other activity on our Western public lands. In fact, grazing has degraded or destroyed over 700 million acres of Western grasslands. Because these impacts are so widespread, grazing has been called the single most pervasive and damaging activity on Western public lands.

After decades of overgrazing, the grazing operations on the Carrizo Plains Ecological Reserve between the Carrizo Plain National Monument and the Los Padres National Forest were suspended indefinitely in 2014 following efforts by ForestWatch.

Cattle waste pollutes water sources, and livestock is the greatest non-point source polluter of water in the West. Livestock grazing is also the single greatest cause of biodiversity loss, and the greatest threat to endangered and threatened species. In fact, grazing on public lands has resulted in the listing of 90 endangered and threatened species across the nation. Not only do livestock consume large amounts of native grasses, but they also trample the soil and microbiotic crusts, resulting in increased erosion and soil compaction, increased runoff, flooding, and the decline of soil nutrients. Livestock also promote the spread of invasive weeds, and destroy streamside vegetation.

Grazing on the Los Padres

The LPNF supports over 860,000 acres of grazing and has the third-highest number of grazing allotments in the state of California. Because the LPNF has more sensitive species than any other national forest in California, livestock grazing is becoming increasingly incompatible with species preservation.

Unfortunately, the Forest Service allows grazing to continue in sensitive areas, including along the Big Sur coastline, pristine wilderness areas, and habitats of sensitive species such as the red-legged frog, steelhead, and the Smith’s Blue Butterfly. Over half (57) of the grazing allotments in the Los Padres occur in wilderness areas, consuming over 120,000 acres of wilderness lands. In addition, livestock grazing has damaged and destroyed several local sites of cultural significance to Native Americans.

The Forest Service is not doing everything it can to reduce these impacts. In fact, a recent study found that most (78%) of the grazing allotments on the LPNF have not even been studied for their environmental impacts as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. This is the highest noncompliance rate of all 18 national forests in California.

Voluntary Grazing Buyout

Public lands livestock grazing is directly subsidized by our taxpayer dollars. The federal government pays $500 million every year to support grazing on our public lands. This is because the government charges only $1.75 per cow per month, while the true market rate on private lands is over $10.00 per cow per month.

There are varied solutions to reduce or eliminate the economic and environmental impacts of public lands livestock grazing. Some organizations are working to end public lands grazing completely, maintaining that it creates too many conflicts with other uses of public lands. Other groups are pursuing legislation that would compensate ranchers for voluntarily retiring their grazing permits in favor of wildlife and watershed values.