By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER
Despite the resulting hardship, foothill ranchers with permits to graze their cattle on public land would continue ranching even if their permits were pulled. So say the results of a study by University of California, Berkeley, researchers.
This could ease fears that more of California's remaining open space, 80 percent of which is privately owned, will be bulldozed into subdivisions and strip malls if ranchers lose their permits and sell their own land.
"They came down on us hard for a long time and then they saw the light and said, 'Wait a minute, if we run these people out of the cattle business, then we're going to have a lot of open space for houses,' " Jamestown rancher Barbara Mailloux said of critics who claimed that cattle ranching hurts the environment.
She and her husband, Price, are among a number of ranchers in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties who hold permits to graze their cattle on Forest Service land each summer.
"It's a pretty huge, hot issue," said Christy Bozora Creegan, representative for California Rangeland Trust, one of three groups that requested the study. California Rangeland Trust strives to sustain rangeland agriculture while protecting the ecosystem's natural balance. It was founded in 1998 by a group of ranchers in the California Cattlemen's Association, which represents the state's cattle industry in Sacramento.
"If ranchers should lose those Forest Service grazing allotments," Creegan said, "would they sell their land to developers?"
This study was sponsored by California Rangeland Trust, California Cattlemen's Association and Sierra Nevada Alliance, an umbrella environmental group made up of 80 organizations throughout the Sierra Nevada.
"It was an interesting exercise in finding common ground between the environmental community and the ranching community," Creegan said, as to why the study took place. "The study doesn't promote public lands grazing. It merely promotes the presence of the private land, and how if the public land is not available, how that will affect private land."
"Our perspective may be a surprise to some folks. We're definitely into saving some working landscape in the Sierra," said Joan Clayburgh, executive director of Sierra Nevada Alliance, which is based in South Lake Tahoe.