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Coastal voices: Managed grazing benefits wildlife

By Randy A. Brown

Contrary to the Jan. 15 guest opinion in The Daily Triplicate, managed grazing practices at the Lake Earl Wildlife Area and elsewhere in Del Norte County are important for wildlife habitat management, and essential for the conservation and recovery of rare species located here.

Many people are familiar with the role that managed fires play in maintaining a healthy ecosystem in forests. Certain habitats, and the species that use them, would simply disappear in the absence of disturbances such as grazing or fire. Managed grazing is an ecologically justified practice for managing some habitats and endangered species.

For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that targeted, controlled grazing on the North Coast is economical and effective for maintaining and enhancing habitat for the federally listed endangered western lily, which requires direct sunlight to thrive. Intensive, short-duration grazing by goats or cattle helps ensure that this rare, beautiful lily does not go extinct because of encroachment by surrounding vegetation. Similarly, we are testing grazing as a way to manage habitat for the federally listed Oregon silverspot butterfly.

Your readers may recall an article published in The Daily Triplicate on May 30, 2007, entitled "Saving the silverspot butterfly." The article describes how the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are collaborating to conserve the Oregon silverspot butterfly in Del Norte County. It also discusses efforts to use grazing and other treatments to mimic historical disturbances and prevent the loss of the butterfly's open prairie habitat to encroachment by willows, spruce and shrubs.

Separate from these efforts, the California Department of Fish and Game has recently used goats to manage wildlife habitat in the "peninsula" of its Lake Earl Wildlife Area. This recent grazing is not associated with any endangered species management. Critics, however, have mistakenly charged that it is impacting the Oregon silverspot butterfly.

Intensive investigation of this butterfly in Del Norte County over the past six years produced no evidence that the Oregon silverspot, or any suitable habitat for the species, occurred in the grazed area of the peninsula.

Also unfounded is criticism that insufficient public notification was given for the recent goat grazing on the Wildlife Area peninsula. The 2003 Management Plan for the Wildlife Area went through a lengthy public review period before its adoption. The plan states that the grasslands and emergent wetland vegetation on the peninsula may be subject to controlled livestock grazing to maintain or enhance the character and values of this vegetation for wildlife use.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service strives to protect and recover wildlife for the continuing benefit of the American people. The grazing being conducted in Del Norte County is helping us achieve this goal.

Randy A. Brown is deputy field supervisor with the Arcata Fish and Wildlife Office.

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