Local film tackles controversy over cattle grazing in Sierra


Noah Berner, Calveras Enterprise (CA) 

Mar 8, 2019


A new local film, “Cattle in the Sierra,” was screened at the Old Schoolhouse in Murphys, Feb. 24.


Built in 1860, the schoolhouse was a fitting venue to discuss upland cattle grazing, a practice that has been present in Calaveras County since the days of the Gold Rush.


The film was spearheaded by local historian Judith Marvin and local archaeologist Julia Costello. The Old Timers Museum in Murphys sponsored the film, and it was funded by a grant from a nonprofit organization called California Humanities.


Every seat in the Old Schoolhouse was quickly filled, and many members of the crowd stood along the walls of the room for the duration of the 16-minute film.


The film consisted largely of two interviews representing opposing views on cattle grazing in the Sierra. These were intermixed with scenic shots of cattle meandering through lush mountain meadows, historical photographs, sounds of country guitar and narration, which highlighted the history of upland cattle grazing in the Sierra and the issues surrounding it.


Transhumance is the practice of moving cattle from one grazing ground to another in a seasonal cycle. In California, this often takes the form of moving cattle to the high country during the summer months to take advantage of cooler weather and lush vegetation, then returning to the lower elevations for the wet months.


By the time the Stanislaus National Forest was created in 1905, transhumance had been practiced in Calaveras County for over 50 years.


Today, upland cattle grazing is still practiced both on private land and on U.S. Forest Service land tied to grazing permits.


While the National Forests were originally established for the public to extract natural resources through logging, mining and grazing, over the years conservation goals have become increasingly important.


According to the film’s narrator, “In the 1990s, a major shift in stewardship goals on federal lands initiated the modern grazing management era. Riparian meadows were identified as critical ecological zones, and conservation goals regarded equally with livestock production.


“The Forest Service implemented new regulations including reducing the number of cattle, specifying the minimum height of grass in meadows, setting dates for beginning and ending of high-country grazing season, and fencing off environmentally sensitive areas.”


According to John Buckley, executive director for CSERC...