National Forest Livestock Grazing Impacts Your Water & Events

June, 2016


National Forest Livestock Grazing Impacts Your Water

Cattle grazing impacts - Big Meadows. Photo: Felice Pace.The North Coast Water Quality Control Board has begun work on a new Clean Water Act permit for “non-point” sources of pollution on national forests in the North Coast Region, including the Mendocino, Six Rivers, Trinity and Klamath National Forests. 

Unlike pollution that comes from a discrete source, non-point pollution comes from numerous locations—including logging, agricultural run-off, drainage from roads and pollution from livestock grazing. Non-point pollution can be controlled through use of best management practices (BMPs). BMPs for grazing include regular herding to make sure cattle do not graze in riparian areas and wetlands for long periods. Unfortunately, Forest Service managers do not require grazing BMPs be actually implemented.

Most grazing in California national forests is by cattle—which weigh up to 1200 pounds. Willow wetlands and emergent springs are particularly hard hit by poorly managed cattle.

Failure of Forest Service managers to require livestock owners to rotate grazing among the various “pastures” within a grazing allotment guarantees that water quality, riparian areas and wetlands will be degraded.  Water quality testing on Sierra Nevada National Forests by the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center and on the Klamath National Forest by the Quartz Valley Indian Reservation confirm and quantify the nutrient and bacterial pollution chronically degrading streams issuing from those national forest watersheds where poorly managed cattle graze for three to six months each year. State and federal limits on fecal bacteria and nutrient pollution are regularly violated.

Streambank, spring and wetland trampling also damages the ability of headwater meadows to hold and store water. A 2015 report by hydrologist Jonathan Rhodes in the Klamath National Forest documented that poorly managed cattle grazing not only degrades water quality, riparian areas and wetlands but also reduces the late summer and fall streamflows which are so critical to salmon, irrigation and community water supplies. 

A new report commissioned by Environment Now, which debunks the idea that we can increase California water supplies by increased logging, points to the elimination of public land grazing as one of three best methods to improve late summer and early fall flows in California streams.

The Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club used recent water quality testing results to advocate that more stringent requirements for grazing be included in the Clean Water Act permit for National Forests which the North Coast Water Board prepared in 2015. Results were mixed. The Board did require that Forest Service managers more closely monitor the impacts of grazing on water quality, riparian areas and wetlands. The Board did not, however, require the modern grazing methods needed to adequately control grazing-related pollution and habitat destruction.

If you would like to help monitor and document the destruction caused by poorly managed public land grazing, contact me at

Science Projects Receive Awards

For the tenth year, North Group sponsored an award at the annual Humboldt County Science Fair held in mid-March. This year a second prize was also awarded.

The $50 first-place award went to Rachel Meyer and Jazzy White, a 7th-grade team from Pacific Union School in Arcata. Their project investigated adding different substances as a top layer of a rapid sand filter, to see which would remove the most oil from distilled water—an idea that came from the fact that oil or gas from illegal marijuana grows may end up in streams used for domestic water supplies. While rapid sand filters are effective at removing bacteria, organisms, iron, and manganese, they do not remove oil and gas from water. The girls tested various additives that they hypothesized could clean the water more thoroughly: activated carbon (charcoal), shredded redwood bark, organic cloth, and clay-based kitty litter. Their results indicated that charcoal and bark were equally good at removing oil (while not fully effective).

A $25 second-place prize was awarded to “Ferntastic Forest” by Tommy Robinson, an 8th-grader at Jacoby Creek School in Bayside. Tommy hypothesized that sword fern frond length would be greater in old-growth forests than in second-growth ones and increase as one travels north. He hoped to show that fern length data could be used to track the general health of a forest, climate change, human impact, and effects of El Nino. He measured 100 fronds from both Prairie Creek Redwoods (Orick) and Redwood Park (Arcata). Fronds from Prairie Creek, which is the older and more northern forest, averaged 24 centimeters longer than those in Redwood Park.


One need not be a Sierra Club member to participate in these outings. Please join us!

Sun. June 5—North Group Sierra Club Smith River NRA-Jedediah Smith State Park Hike. From the trailhead off South Fork Road, we climb past a succession of botanical communities and stunning views to about 2000 feet through serpentine, and end  in redwoods at Howland Hill Road. Bring food, water, and hiking boots. No dogs. Moderate difficulty, ten miles one way, less than 2000 feet elevation change. Meet 9:30 a.m. Hiouchi Ranger Station. By reservation only. Leader Ned:, 707-825-3652 message phone.

Sat. June 18—North Group 6 Rivers National Forest Horse Mountain Trip. A series of one-to-three mile favorite rambles such as Indian Butte, Cold Springs, and Trinity Alps Vista Trail, including gravel roads, informal paths, and some cross country. Bring lunch and snacks, generous liquids, layered clothing, sun protection. No dogs. Class M-6-A. Carpools: Meet 9 a.m. Ray’s Valley West. 10 a.m. trailhead Horse Mtn. parking area. Leader Melinda: 707-668-4275, Rain, threat of thunderstorms cancel.

Sun. July 10—North Group Sierra Club Mad River Buttes 6 Rivers National Forest Hike. Come explore this beautiful potential wilderness area off Forest Route 1. Sturdy boots a must. Bring lunch and plenty of water. No dogs. Moderate difficulty, eight miles round trip, less than 1000 feet elevation change. Carpools: Meet 9 a.m. Ray’s (Valley West) Shopping Center. Leader Ned:, 707-825-3652 message phone.

Sat. July 16—North Group Redwood National Park Hike. Starting from the upper, Bald Hills end of Lost Man Creek Trail, we pass through second growth mixed conifer forest in process of restoration by the Park. The final miles enter pristine old growth redwood forest, concluding a total descent of some 2,000’. Bring lunch, water, layered clothing. No dogs. Class M-10-B. Carpools: meet 8:30 am. Ray’s Valley West. 9:15 am trailhead Lost Man Creek parking area. Leader Melinda: 707-668-4275, Steady rain cancels.

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