Flowers don’t help end this fight

February 2, 2008

We’ve been fighting an uphill battle lately at T.O. Cattle Company. I use the word “fighting” carefully because I dislike the image so much. We teach our children not to fight. We think of it as a last resort when civil discourse has failed and we are left to defend others – or ourselves – from harm.  Unfortunately it’s the word that best describes where we are with one of our landlords.

We lease the majority of the land we run cattle on: a private, family-owned ranch in Watsonville, Calif., two state parks near Hollister, Calif., and a private foundation’s wildlife reserve, also near Watsonville, Calif.  Essentially, our “landlord” on two of the ranches is the State of California, meaning all of its residents.  Our fight, however, is with misinformed bureaucrats who have a bias against cattle grazing and are working their hardest to eliminate it (us) from state parks. (See previous blog entry “Cattle and Carbon.”)

We have been managing the land on this ranch for the past six years and have seen amazing results: increased wildflower populations, new growth of native, perennial grasses, an abundance of wildlife and healthy soil that nurtures and promotes the very landscapes state biologists have asked for. We have invited our customers to join us on an annual Spring Wildflower Walk on this ranch to share its beauty and teach them how their purchases of Morris Grassfed Beef support healthy watersheds and grasslands. The park is open to the public and provides miles of trails for walkers, horseback riders and others who want to experience nature. We are proud to be stewards of this land and have taken seriously our responsibility to manage it well. We have monitored our management and have five years worth of data to support the argument (there’s that fight thing again) that cattle can indeed be beneficial for the land. Managed properly, grazing is a valuable tool in a holistic management plan.

So why the fight? Under state law, the lease must go out to bid. We understand, and agree, that state property should be managed by the people who will best take care of it and fulfill the goals of the park. There is also the issue of “Animal Unit Months” or AUMs, this is the payment ranchers make to a landlord and is based on how many animals are on the ranch. T.O. Cattle Company pays the State of California to run our cattle there. It’s a win-win: California residents make money, while we are able to improve the land and make a living by producing healthy, grassfed beef for the community. 

 The State notified us that the lease would go up for bid three months ago. We turned in our proposal on the due date in early January and have not heard back from them. We’re told there are several other bidders and they are “reviewing each proposal.” Fair enough. What’s not fair is their timeline. We were not told the lease would be up for bid again until December. Nor were we informed that state park biologists would essentially ignore six years worth of positive results right before their eyes and threaten to remove cattle altogether.  

Meanwhile, we have not been able to put any cattle on the ranch. The grazing season runs from about November through May: a crucial detail state park biologist seems to have missed. It is February, meaning state residents have lost three months of income (from our rent) and we have been unable to ship “stocker” cattle from Nevada, another part of T.O. Cattle Company’s operations.  These stockers are a valuable source of income for T.O. Cattle Company and enable us to continue our work of producing local food. By the time we hear back from the state, the grazing season may well be over, as will the state’s opportunity to earn rent money while improving the land. The most frustrating aspect is that we are put in a position to defend our work. The uphill battle I refer to at the beginning of this entry is the constant ambivalence – or outright hostility – toward good land managers. Instead of being celebrated and compensated, they are questioned, criticized and – perhaps worst of all – ignored by the very people whose job it is to protect California’s public parks.  

Maybe “fight” is too strong a word. It’s exhausting to constantly have to defend responsible land management. It is hard to understand why society does not appreciate the work of individuals on the land who are protecting our communal natural resources. It only becomes a fight after civil discourse fails. Our civil discourse was not only six years of communicating our program to the parks but the results our management produced. Usually, flowers help end a fight. In this case, not even acres of rare wildflowers have won over the state parks. 



One Response to “Flowers don’t help end this fight”

  1. emceekate Says:

    Wow, this really bums me out. You’ve written a very moving post about a very distressing situation. Is there anything CA citizens/voters can do? Would letters help? What a waste!

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