These cows don’t have names. Unlike the cattle found on the native homeland of Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) Environmental Manager Dr. Doug Feremenga, a Zimbabwe native, the dozens of cows that graze the land at Live Oak Plaza Conservation Area will remain nameless. But if all goes according to plan, their efforts will be something for the history books.
“If this pilot is successful, it opens up another management tool for land managers in Orange County and beyond,” Dr. Feremenga said of the three-year conversation grazing pilot program, which began in February.
Conservation grazing, or targeted grazing, is the use of grazing livestock to improve and maintain the quality of biodiversity of natural areas. In May, the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (F/ETCA) adopted conservation grazing as the preferred, science-based approach to reduce fuels and fire risk associated with the accumulation of dry vegetation at the 23.2-acre property acquired in 2005. In September, the Agency entered into a three-year agreement with 5 Bar Beef to perform the grazing. The land is set to be grazed up to three times each year in late winter, spring and late summer. The next grazing will take place in April.
“At TCA, we work to balance our transportation projects with environmental initiatives that restore the land and enhance our communities,” Dr. Feremenga said.
At Live Oak, nonnative mustard plants have overtaken the land, pushing out coastal sage scrub and other native vegetation. These nonnative species carry a heavy fuel load which, when combined with high wind conditions, creates a significant fire risk. Dr. Feremenga said. “Therefore, at TCA we are using science and data to find new ways to conserve the land and mitigate risk.”
“Conservation grazing is a carefully monitored and managed science-based tool to improve the quality of natural areas that have been disturbed in the past,” said Travis Brooks, a restoration ecologist. “Cattle is the preferred choice for grazing because we can achieve both goals. We hope to see the combination of a reduction in fire risk and an enhancement of native vegetation,” Brooks said.
In 2019, the F/ETCA and San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency (SJHTCA) Boards of Directors voted to adopt an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) policy for the more than 2,100 acres of preserved open space managed by TCA with the use of organic, nontoxic pesticides.
The grazing program at Live Oak is another example of TCA’s commitment to preserving native habitat. “We’re planning, designing and building with nature in mind,” Dr. Feremenga said.
What’s more, the cattle grazing program is innovative as the first of its kind in Orange County.
“In years past, grazing fell out of favor because it wasn’t done using the scientific method employed today. What we saw when grazing was taken out of the equation is that many of the lands did not recover in the way we had hoped. Properly monitored, scientific-based grazing can be used as a very effective tool to heal the land in a natural way,” Brooks said.
Live Oak Plaza, located in Trabuco Canyon northeast of the 241 Toll Road, contains valuable oak woodlands, riparian and coastal sage scrub habitat for the threatened coastal California gnatcatcher and the endangered Riverside fairy shrimp. Prior to being conserved as permanent open space by TCA, the site had been zoned for commercial (including a gas station) and residential development. It now provides natural wildlife movement corridors to and from the Cleveland National Forest approximately one mile north and east of the property, and O’Neill Regional Park and Whiting Ranch Wilderness Parks approximately 0.75 miles to the south and northwest, respectively.