©2002 Cascadia Times
10 western rivers trampled by the livestock industry
Kern River - California
cud's for you
its unique brilliant color, Golden trout are native
to just one river system on the planet, the Kern
in California's southern Sierras. Golden trout,
California's state fish, survive in the alpine meadows
of the Kern Plateau.
golden trout has been in trouble since the start
of the 20th century, when brown trout from Europe
and rainbow trout from other Western rivers were
introduced into the Kern. By the 1940's biologists
noticed that the golden trout had become rather
ordinary looking. The rare fish had been interbreeding
with other species.
this time, the Kern's alpine meadows were being
heavily grazed by several ranchers. By the 1990s,
the pure strains of golden trout had been isolated
from other species, but not from cattle. Cows owned
by beermaker Anheuser-Busch and three families had
destroyed most of the wet alpine meadows and caused
massive erosion along the river beds. Sagebrush
had replaced native vegetation.
of the ranchers is grazing cattle in the sensitive
Mulkey Creek watershed at the top of the Kern basin.
"That's some of the only remaining pure strain
California golden trout habitat," says Bret
Matzke, public lands director for California Trout.
"We've lost the species pretty much. There
may be a few populations out there that might not
the Budweiser bovines are gone. In 2001, the Forest
Service announced it had cancelled Anheuser Busch's
two 10-year permits to graze in Inyo National Forest
and in the Golden Trout Wilderness. The decision
also meant no more Budweiser cows in the Sequoia
National Park, where they often grazed illegally.
decision to get rid of the Budweiser cows marked
the first time grazing allotments in the entire
state of California had been rested for resource
protection. But it did not come easily for the Forest
Service. Initially the agency proposed to allow
the cows to remain, even though it acknowledged
they would continue to damage golden trout habitat.
The Forest Service also admitted it would have to
build fencing in wilderness areas to keep cows out
of streams, even though "fencing in designated
wilderness may not meet the intent of the Wilderness
Act." Experts from the Bureau of Land Management's
National Riparian Service not only advised the Forest
Service the grazing should continue, but found no
need for any change in grazing management.
after the Inyo National Forest received some 1.300
comments from the public in support of a proposal
to eliminate Budweiser's cows from the Kern, the
agency changed its mind. Budweiser's two permits
were cancelled as of September 30, 2001, "to
comply with the intent of the Wilderness Act."
But the decision will be reviewed in 10 years, and
the cows may come back.
area is not suitable for grazing, its too high elevation,"
said Matzke, public lands director for California
so, three ranchers continue to graze cattle in the
area, including one who appealed the cancellation
of the Budweiser permits. The Forest Service has
rejected that appeal.
of those ranchers grazes an area called Monanche
Meadows, where cattle damage has severe[ly] damaged
streams and wetlands. "It's turned into a mini-Sahara,
with miles of sandbanks where the river has widened
to 10 times its normal width," says Matzke.
"In some years the river goes dry."
good news, he says, is that Budweiser's former allotments
are recovering - albeit very slowly. "The question
is time," Matzke says. "Without grazing,
it's going to take 50 years. With grazing you're
looking at 100 years."
what if the Budweiser bovines return? "They
will over my dead body," he says. "But
with this administration, I wouldn't be surprised."
for the golden trout, it's future is still at risk.
In 2000, Trout Unlimited petitioned the Fish and
Wildlife Service to list it as an endangered species.
In June 2002, a federal judge ordered the agency
to take action.
Unlimited is, as a rule, disinclined to litigate,
but we have exhausted all other options and there
is a certain urgency to this situation," said
Steve Trafton, Trout Unlimited's California policy
coordinator. "Golden trout could very well
face extinction if they had to wait for the Fish
and Wildlife Service to get to our petition, and
the fact is we've lost nearly two years already
since we filed for listing. Neither we nor the state
fish can afford to lose more time."