Rangeland Management

Cows grazing around a tree

The grasslands of Santa Clara County are home to a wide variety of plant and wildlife species, and many rare and endangered species.

California’s grasslands were historically dominated by perennial grasses and other native vegetation. Following the settlement by Europeans, the introduction of non-native plants and animals arrived, resulting in drastic changes in natural communities. These introduced exotic plants spread rapidly by out-competing native plants for light, nutrients and water. The spread of these exotic species poses a serious threat to grassland ecosystems within your Regional County Parks.

One tool the Parks Department uses to manage non-native species is the managed-Cattle Grazing Program.  The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors adopted the Parkland Range Management Policy on July 22, 1992, to help manage and enhance native vegetation, including wildflowers, by taking advantage of annual plant’s life cycles and the feeding and trampling action of cattle. The idea behind the managed cattle management program is for cattle to eat the annual grasses and non-native species before they are able to flower and go to seed, and trample and break up the thatch that has built up over time; opening the soils and native plants to available sunlight. This allows native grasses and wildflowers to germinate.  The managed-cattle grazing program also addresses other key goals including:

  • Maintenance of visitor access and recreational opportunities
  • Protect, conserve, enhance natural plant communities
  • Reduce fire hazards to parklands and private property by managing vegetative fuels
  • Establish cooperative relationships with adjacent landowners.

This science-based program is monitored throughout the year by the Department’s Natural Resource and Park Ranger staff. Staff monitors the effectiveness of cattle grazing by measuring percent coverage of plant species each spring. In the summer months, Natural Resource Program staff and the licensed cattle grazer measure the residual dry matter, essentially the grass and biomass remaining after the grazing season, to determine the rate of grazing the following grazing season.

Currently, Santa Clara County Parks have cattle grazing in Coyote Lake-Harvey Bear Ranch, Joseph D. Grant, Ed R. Levin, and portions of Calero County Parks. The Department has developed a grazing plan for Santa Teresa County Park and is currently working on installing cattle grazing infrastructure (water troughs, fencing, staging, etc.) through a grant with the US Bureau of Reclamation and US Fish and Wildlife Service. 

While recreating in a park with cattle grazing, here are a few tips to remain safe:

In the rainy season, the passage of cattle can cause damage to sections of trails, making the ground muddy, uneven with deep holes, and unpleasant to walk through. Like all other animals, cows produce manure, so visitors must watch their step. And, though it is rare, there have been some incidents of cattle charging people.

Cattle are large animals, but are not aggressive by nature. If threatened, cattle can respond in a potentially dangerous manner. Use common sense around cattle and remember the following:

  • Keep pets on leash AT ALL TIMES. Cows can't always distinguish between a dog and coyote and may feel threatened as the dog approaches. Loose, barking dogs can easily harass or injure livestock.
  • Try not to startle cows. Keep your distance and walk around groups of cows.
  • Not all animals with horns are bulls, nor are they naturally inclined to charge you.
  • Cows are protective of their young, so don't get between a calf and its mother, and don't try to touch them. If you see a stray calf, leave it alone -- its mother is probably nearby. Walk around the cattle as much as possible.
  • Don't approach or touch stray calves. Most likely the cow had gone off to graze, and will return for her calf.
  • If you see an animal in distress, do not attempt to intervene; instead, note the location of the animal and report it to park staff.

©2021 County of Santa Clara. All rights reserved.