Travelers headed to Cook’s Corner for lunch over the past year may have noticed cattle grazing in the field across the road from the historic biker bar.
What many observers might not know is those cattle have been walking and eating with a purpose. The purpose, known as conservation grazing, or targeted grazing, is the use of grazing livestock to improve and maintain the quality of biodiversity of natural areas.
The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) recently concluded the first year of a three-year pilot program in which cattle graze the land at the Agencies’ Live Oak Plaza Conservation Area. Grazing occurs up to three times annually and lasts two to three weeks per event.
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.
The site provides natural wildlife movement corridors to and from the Cleveland National Forest, O’Neill Regional Park and Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park.
While other cities and agencies use different livestock — such as goats — for grazing, TCA is the only agency in Orange County to use cattle. Cattle were chosen due to their unique ability to graze on targeted non-native annual grasses and forbs, allowing for native species, such as coastal sage scrub, native perennial grasses and annual forbs to thrive.
The first year of the program saw the achievement of the early goals of the program, which included:
- Increasing bare ground cover
- Decreasing invasive non-native vegetation cover
- Decreasing dry vegetation which increased fire risk
- Reducing the nonnative annual weed seed bank
“For more than a quarter of a century, our environmental initiatives have protected the natural resources of more than 2,000 acres of habitat and open space,” said F/ETCA’s Chair and Yorba Linda City Council Member Peggy Huang. “We are pleased with the early results of this innovative program and hope to leave a roadmap in targeted grazing for other agencies to follow.”
TCA has already received industry recognition for the Conservation Grazing Pilot Program.
In November 2021, the program was announced as the honorable mention of the Sustainable and Green Development Award at Turning Red Tape into Red Carpet Awards hosted by the Orange County Business Council. The award recognizes programs that simultaneously target and create relationships between economic development, environmental sustainability and climate adaptation.
Most recently, the Orange County Branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers recognized the program as its 2021 Outstanding Wildfire Hardening Project of the Year.
“It is rewarding to be recognized for the contributions the Agencies continue to make towards Orange County’s quality of life. Staff takes pride and great satisfaction in working with our existing Boards of Directors to continue our Agencies’ legacy of environmental stewardship while we continue to provide mobility options for Orange County residents,” said TCA CEO Samuel Johnson.
“As highlighted in our recently approved seven-year Strategic Plan, we remain committed to balancing the need for roads and highways with the preservation of open space and wildlife habitat throughout the county.”