cattle grazing on open space land

Conservation grazing is one of many land management tools Midpen uses to achieve conservation goals, such as protecting biodiversity and enhancing habitat. Midpen’s Conservation Grazing Program is a collaboration with small-scale, local ranchers accomplishing multiple goals that align with our Coastal mission:

  • Maintain and restore native grasslands and their unique biodiversity
  • Manage vegetation to reduce wildland fire risk
  • Support agriculture on the San Mateo County Coast

Our conservation grazing program began in 2007, and now encompasses approximately 9,000 acres leased (approximately 6,500 acres of which are accessible to periodic grazing) to seven local cattle ranchers. These partnerships are a critical tool helping Midpen manage large-scale coastal grasslands and the rich biodiversity they support on portions of these five preserves:

Coastal Grassland Conservation

Coastal grasslands are one of the most diverse ecosystems in the country, and one of the rarest. They evolved with regular disturbances historically provided by now extinct wildlife herds and Native American burning practices. Without these periodic disturbances, now provided in part by appropriately managed conservation grazing, native grasslands and their biodiversity can be lost to introduced plant species, shrubs and forest.

Conservation grazing in coastal grasslands supports the management and recovery of endangered, threatened and special-status species that need grassland habitat including San Francisco garter snake, American badgers, burrowing owls and California red-legged frogs.

Management and Monitoring

Well-managed conservation grazing requires proper infrastructure and monitoring plans. A custom Rangeland Management Plan is developed specifically for each area where conservation grazing is considered an appropriate management tool to maximize biodiversity benefits and protect natural resources by controlling number and type of livestock, grazing duration and location restrictions. Appropriately placed water troughs and wildlife-friendly fencing move livestock around and contain them in areas where conservation grazing is desired and beneficial. Rangeland monitoring by Midpen staff has shown increased diversity of native grasses and wildflowers.

Conservation Grazing Science

Midpen is using the best available peer-reviewed science on conservation grazing in coastal California to inform our conservation grazing program. An independent Science Advisory Panel conducted extensive review of peer-reviewed scientific work regarding rangeland management, with a focus on grazing in coastal California. Watch a video presentation of their findings from a public meeting on November 4, 2020 to the Midpen board of directors. No board action was taken.

Livestock grazing and its effects on ecosystem structure, processes, and conservation

Watch the video of the presentation:

Wildlife and Livestock Protection Research

Staff updated Midpen’s conservation grazing management policy through a public process in 2020-21 to include furthering scientific research that informs wildlife and livestock protection regionally and studies the best tools to consider for proactively reducing interactions between wildlife and livestock. On June 23, 2021, the Midpen board of directors will consider entering into a contract with Panthera to perform this research.

 Find out more

(additional photo credits for Lewis Reed's presentation)

Agriculture on the San Mateo County Coast

Agricultural production on the San Mateo Coast has a rich history. Today, small family-owned farming and ranching businesses play a role in the coastal economy, production of locally sourced food and continuing the agricultural heritage of the area.

Midpen, as part of the Coastside Protection Area Service Plan, has committed to conserving open space and agricultural land, preserving agricultural operations on the coast, and encouraging viable agricultural use of Midpen-owned lands on the San Mateo County Coast.