The Rangeland Watershed Program at UC Davis has been working with ranchers, agencies, and others to foster good stewardship practices for more than 25 years. (Ray Lucas | UC ANR)
For two days in March, the “new frontier” of livestock grazing in California was on full display at UC Davis as more than 200 ranchers, researchers, regulators, and others gathered for the third Rustici Rangeland Science Symposium.
“The path forward is integrated research and management to address the ecological, economic, and social aspects of grazing,” said Ken Tate, a UC Davis Cooperative Extension specialist in rangeland watershed science and one of the principal organizers of the event.
The symposium focused on sharing knowledge about maintaining rangeland water quality, which is of particular concern as the State Water Resources Control Board considers new regulations for water quality on lands used for grazing livestock.
“Public land grazing is a difficult topic with substantial polarization about its suitability and acceptability on our state’s rangelands,” Tate said. “Water quality is a topic that transcends private and public rangelands, so we addressed both topics.”
Eighty percent of California’s surface water passes through 57 million acres of public and private rangeland. In addition, a $3 billion cattle and sheep industry, as well as thousands of plant and animal species, depend on surface water. The Rangeland Watershed Program at UC Davis has been working with ranchers, agencies, and others to foster good stewardship practices for more than 25 years. A ranch water-quality short course, for instance, has been conducted in 35 counties since 1995.
Updates presented at the symposium indicate that livestock grazing is a minimal source of water quality impairment.
Nutrients and pathogens are top water quality concerns. However, updates presented at the symposium indicate that livestock grazing is a minimal source of water quality impairment. In one study, grazing was identified as a potential problem in only 4 percent of 7,294 state-listed impaired water bodies — “a much lower number than expected,” Tate said.
The symposium was organized by Tate, who is a faculty member in the Department of Plant Sciences, project scientist Leslie Roche, graduate student researcher Tracy Schohr, and UC Davis soil science professor Randy Dahlgren. Russell Rustici was a North Coast cattle rancher who bequeathed a substantial part of his estate to the university to support rangeland science. Both Tate and Dahlgren hold endowed chairs from Rustici’s gift and have used endowment proceeds to keep symposium registration costs low to ensure access to as many stakeholders as possible.
Jeff Wiedemann, a Pleasanton rancher whose family has been in the cattle business since 1867, attended the symposium. “The public demands that ranchers be more environmentally conscious and that’s a good thing,” he said. “I don’t think ranchers are environmentally conscious because they have to be. That’s the way we’ve always been.”