Meeting conservation goals in the face of changing environmental conditions

Conservation grazing is one of the tools Midpen uses to maintain coastal grasslands, protect biodiversity and improve wildland fire safety on the San Mateo County Coast. Our Conservation Grazing Program is a mutually beneficial partnership with small-scale local ranchers that accomplishes multiple goals aligned with our mission, which on the Coast includes encouraging viable agricultural use of the land.

Midpen staff monitor grasslands to ensure conservation goals are being met in the face of changing environmental conditions, including drought. Midpen staff work with each conservation grazing tenant to adjust the number of livestock, their grazing durations and locations to appropriate levels for optimal grassland health, which is especially crucial during drought years. This past winter, rainfall was significantly below normal, creating moderate drought conditions in San Mateo County.

“Our job is to care for the land, and rainfall is a major driver of diversity and growth in California’s grasslands,” Midpen Rangeland Ecologist Lewis Reed said. “Unfortunately, we can’t change the amount of rain we receive. We can, however, change how we steward the land and proactively worked with our tenants to manage operations to fit within the dry conditions this year.”

Appropriately placed water troughs and wildlife-friendly fencing also help move livestock around and contain them to areas where conservation grazing is desired and beneficial.

Coastal grasslands are one of the most biodiverse and threatened ecosystems in North America. They need regular disturbance to prevent loss of biodiversity to introduced species, shrubs and forest. These disturbances were historically provided by large and now extinct herbivores, as well as natural fires and Native American burning practices.

Research over the last decade has shown that carefully managed grazing can favor native grasses and wildflowers that are otherwise out-competed by non-native species in our grasslands. Conservation grazing also supports endangered, threatened and special-status species that need grassland and aquatic habitat provided by stock ponds, including San Francisco garter snake, American badgers, burrowing owls and California red-legged frogs.