Cattle Degrading Island Ecosystems

* Several recent letters to the editor addressed the controversy over cattle ranching on Santa Rosa Island in the Channel Islands National Park. These letters contained a remarkable amount of misleading information about the situation on the island.

The letters stated that cattle ranching is not degrading island resources. This is simply not true. The Regional Water Quality Control Board, range scientists from the University of California and other universities, as well as volunteer and staff scientists from the California Native Plant Society and other organizations have all documented severe cattle-related degradation.

The letters also stated that sudden cessation of grazing on the island would lead to an "environmental disaster" of noxious weed invasion. That prediction is, at minimum, highly debatable. Nevertheless, no one, none of the agencies, nor any of the scientific or environmental groups involved, are calling for an abrupt halt to livestock grazing. Scientists recommend immediate removal of cattle from sensitive areas, along with phased reductions to total cattle numbers and vigorous monitoring to catch and correct any problems that may occur, as the best way to begin to restore island ecosystems.

Santa Rosa Island was acquired by the Park Service (the taxpayers) in 1986 for $30 million. The taxpayers currently lease grazing privileges on the island to the previous owners on the condition that grazing is not "incompatible with the administration of the park or with the preservation of the resources therein." Grazing fees on the island are substantially lower than on other federal lands, ostensibly to offset the "extra" costs of shipping cattle out to the island to graze. The taxpayers also pay all costs for monitoring and restoring cattle-related damage. The island is inhabited by two other non-native herbivores--elk and deer, which also cause serious environmental damage.

There is no reason for the taxpayers to continue to foot the bill for environmental damage caused by a private business operating on public land. The solution will probably mean the eventual elimination of cattle, deer and elk from Santa Rosa Island, which will create improved environmental conditions for island plants and animals, better recreation opportunities, and better economic efficiency for the public.


Senior Land Management Analyst

California Native Plant Society


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