November 11, 2 pm
Upon looking out into the Little Lake Valley landscape, what is seen is the flat, open grazing lands that are an important part of the complex ecosystems within it. The Willits Bypass Mitigation Project covers 2,094 acres of the Little Lake Valley and 1,065 acres of this area are designated grazing lands. The livestock support the grazing lands that are an integral part of sustaining two plants in our valley, one listed as endangered and the other threatened, Baker’s meadowfoam, and North Coast semaphore grass. It is believed the cows assist with seed set when they trample the plants that have gone to seed. It is believed this significantly improves the germination of both species of plants and prevents seeds from floating away when the valley floods in the winter months. The cows also help in the recovery of these threatened plants by reducing the thatch layer via grazing, thereby opening the light resource that gives these plants a much-needed head start in the spring.
It is one of the mitigation objectives for the bypass project to manage grazing to benefit these listed plants. Livestock grazing, if done with care, is a powerful vegetation management tool that can be used to promote ecosystem health by helping to control nonnative invasive grasses. This increases the diversity of plants in our grazing lands while benefiting NCSG and Baker’s meadowfoam. All the grazing is done with a careful eye for improving the natural ecosystems present.
Additionally, there is an economic and cultural benefit with grazing Little Lake Valley for the community. Local ranchers, who are currently leasing these mitigation lands, provide the Willits community and other close-by towns with local, grass-fed beef. In some cases, these lessees have been grazing these lands for more than 40 years and it is important to look closely at how that relationship with the land has shaped our current plant community. It is a collaboration for conservation grazing purposes. The Resource Conservation District sometimes uses targeted grazing to help achieve mitigation goals while the ranchers preserve their livelihoods and the community gets a local food source. Cattle grazing helps us in keeping a tradition of community self-sufficiency while contributing to the conservation goals for the bypass mitigation project. It is a win-win situation for community and the environment.