Sierran Masthead

Budweiser Cows Trample Wilderness

By Todd Shuman

Anheuser-Busch, the St. Louis-based brewer of Budweiser and Bud Light, is a major corporate welfare rancher currently operating in the Sierra Nevada and the Owens Valley of California. Anheuser-Busch grazes 800 cow-calf pairs for three months on the Inyo National Forest's Whitney and Templeton Allotments, both of which are located on the federally-designated Golden Trout Wilderness, just south of Mount Whitney (the highest point in the lower 48) and roughly 150 miles north of Los Angeles.

These Kern Plateau grazing allotments, which are located next to the southeast border of Sequoia National Park and at the southern end of the second largest unroaded chunk of wildland in the lower 48, are being overgrazed by Anheuser-Busch, and such overgrazing is damaging the habitat upon which native California Golden Trout depend!

Golden Trout and Grazing

The allotments grazed by Anheuser-Busch-owned cattle harbor the northern reaches of the "Wild and Scenic" South Fork of the Kern River and Golden Trout Creek -- the core riparian habitat areas for the last remaining pure strains of the Volcano Creek Golden Trout (the California State Fish). Areas with such critical fish habitat are generally not suitable for cattle grazing for two very important reasons. First, "[g]razing . . . greatly reduces habitat complexity; a narrow sinuous meadow stream with undercut banks and overhanging willows becomes a wide, exposed ditch [1]." Second, those habitat features that are preferred by California golden trout (especially undercut stream banks, aquatic vegetation, and narrow sedge-lined streams with deeper water) are precisely those features that are typically damaged by livestock grazing [2]. Nonetheless, the South Fork of the Kern and Golden Trout Creek have seen no relief from negative livestock impacts for the last 140 years.

Historically, the Kern Plateau has been grazed intensively by domestic livestock since at least 1860; there are historical reports of 200,000 sheep and 10,000 cattle present on the Kern Plateau at different times throughout the late 1800s. Such numbers resulted in long-lasting ecological damage that is aggravated each year by contemporary livestock grazing. As a consequence, most of the meadows and associated riparian areas in the Golden Trout Wilderness remain in a degraded state. (For instance, the 1995 Inyo National Forest [NF] Watershed Improvements Needs [WIN] assessment of McConnel Meadow [on the Whitney Allotment near a northern segment of the South Fork of the Kern River] classified 80% of the meadow as "damaged".) Moreover, some of these meadows are still continuing to decline in condition (the 1995 Inyo NF WIN assessment of South Fork Meadow [also on the Whitney Allotment near the headwaters of the South Fork of the Kern River] revealed that the proportion of the meadow in "healthy" condition has declined from 35% to 15% over the last 15 years!).

Anheuser-Busch and Overgrazing

Recent monitoring data from the Inyo National Forest (NF) indicates that these meadow/riparian habitats have been significantly overgrazed by the Anheuser-Busch ranching operation. Actual consumption of forage by cattle on two key meadows on the Whitney Allotment in 1995 was documented at 79% removal of new sedge growth by weight! More significantly, the Big Whitney Meadow Complex (representing nearly 40% of total Whitney Allotment meadow acreage) was grazed at an outrageously high utilization level (70% of weight) and far beyond the legally allowable level (50%). Similarly, the 1994 utilization record for Volcano Meadow documented that 76 out of 100 sampled grazed sedge plants had residual stubbleheights of 1.5 inches or below.

Anheuser-Busch also has a poor record of compliance with the Inyo NF Trampling and Chiseling (T&C) Standard. (This standard allows no more than 20% of any sampled stream reach to be trampled, compacted, or chiseled.) In 1994, three samplings on the Templeton Allotment yielded T&C values of 38, 40, and 60%. In 1995, four of the five sampled areas on the allotment exceeded the 20% threshold, and two of these measurements yielded values of 34 and 36%. In 1995, the four sampled meadows on the Whitney Allotment had T&C values of 40.5, 33.5, 39, and 51.5%.

Finally, evidence of illegal livestock trespass onto high elevation meadow areas in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park was documented recently. The Inyo National Forest acknowledged in a July 26, 1996 letter that it seems most probable that the source of these trespass livestock is Anheuser-Busch's Whitney allotment [3].

What Is To Be Done?

To start, we should consider what needs to be done. Peter Moyle, California's most eminent fisheries biologist, stated recently that "[i]n some areas, such as the fragile Kern Plateau, grazing should be eliminated forever; it is simply too hard on the endemic plants and animals, including golden trout [4]." Therefore, the Golden Trout Wilderness Protection League is calling for Anheuser-Busch to withdraw its cattle from the Templeton and Whitney Allotments until all the meadows and riparian areas attain 90% "healthy" condition (according to Inyo NF standards). We encourage you to contact: August Busch III, President and Chairman of the Board, Anheuser-Busch Companies, One Busch Place, St. Louis, MO 63118-1852; 314/577-2000. Second, the Inyo National Forest needs to hear from you. Specifically, the Inyo NF needs to be encouraged to modify immediately the Whitney Allotment grazing permit and Allotment Management Plan so that allowable forage utilization rates conform to the parameters specified by the new Inyo NF Forest Plan Amendment #6. The Inyo NF should also be encouraged to declare the Big Whitney Meadow area as unsuitable for livestock grazing and remove this area from the Whitney Grazing Allotment altogether. Send your letters to Dennis Martin, Forest Supervisor, Inyo National Forest, 873 North Main Street, Bishop, CA 93541-2494; (619) 873-2400.

Third, feel free to contact your congressional representative and request that he or she sponsor legislation that would phaseout (that is, eliminate over a 10-20 year period) livestock grazing from federally-designated wilderness areas such as the Golden Trout Wilderness.

For more information, contact the Golden Trout Wilderness Protection League, 1442 Walnut St., Suite #240, Berkeley, CA 94709; 818/956-0207.


1) Quote by Peter Moyle, Professor of Fisheries Biology, University of California at Davis, in "Talking Trout: An Interview with Dr. Peter Moyle", interviewed by Tom Martens, California Flyfisher, Oct 1996, p.72; Back

2) Kathleen Matthews, "Habitat Selection and Movement Patterns of California Golden Trout in Degraded and Recovering Stream Sections in the Golden Trout Wilderness, California", North American Journal of Fisheries Management 16:579-590, 1996; Back

3) Letter from JoEllen Keil, Assistant Forest Supervisor (Inyo NF), to Cabin Bar Ranch, July 26, 1996; Back

4) See footnote 1, p.73. Back

Copyright © 2007 Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club, all rights reserved.[7/20/02]efp

Fall 1996