Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Cattle once again roam on nearby Naval Weapons Station

In a win for both fire safety and endangered species, cattle have once again begun to roam the Fallbrook detachment of the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station.

The livestock began arriving April 6 at the 8,800-acre installation, which is located between the giant Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton and the community of Fallbrook. Over 7,000 acres of the base have been leased to the Mendenhall Cattle Company for grazing 400 head of cattle.

“Grazing occurred on detachment land during the Rancho Santa Margarita days, long before it became Navy property,” said Navy conservation program manager Christy Wolf. “Since the Navy acquired the property in 1942, land has been leased for grazing to reduce fuels for fire management. Unfortunately, the lease ended in 2004.”

Originally, the cattle grazing lease was only seen as a simple and environmentally friendly way to keep down the fire hazard associated with tall grasses and weeds.

“By the late 1980s, benefits of grazing to the federally endangered Stephens’ kangaroo rat were identified,” said conservation specialist Vanessa Shoblock. “This species needs open grassland with little shrub cover and areas of bare ground. As it turns out, grazing is a great tool for maintaining these areas as open grassland.”

“A well managed grazing program is compatible with the station’s four other federally listed species too,” said Wolf. Those species include the arroyo toad, the Southwestern willow flycatcher, the least Bell’s vireo, and the coastal California gnatcatcher.

Significant drops in kangaroo rat population distribution and densities have been noted since the cattle were removed, said Shoblock.

A new lease was not successfully put out to bid until the end of 2009, following a regulatory approvals process and consultations with such organizations as the State Historic Preservation

Office and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Station infrastructure, such as cattle fences and water troughs, was also enhanced.

“We’ve had a lot of rain and vegetation growth this winter, so it’ll be nice to know that we have cattle helping to reduce the fuels this year as the fire season nears,” said Wolf.

“Only time will tell how successful the cattle are in helping to bring back the Stephens’ kangaroo rat population on the station, but we’re optimistic that there’ll be measurable improvements for the species,” added Shoblock.

In February the detachment was announced as a recipient of the 2009 Chief of Naval Operations Environmental Award for Natural Resources Conservation.

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