Cattle must leave Carrizo while grazing is studied

Cattle will be temporarily removed from the Carrizo Plain Ecological Reserve as a result of a court settlement announced Tuesday.

Under the deal signed in San Francisco Superior Court, the 3,600 cattle that are allowed to graze on the ranch each year must be removed within six months. The cattle must stay off the ranch until the state Department of Fish and Game completes a review of the environmental impacts of grazing on the 30,000-acre wildlife refuge.

The settlement comes from a February 2010 lawsuit filed by two environmental groups, Los Padres Forest Watch and the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. The suit said the reserve was being overgrazed and that cattle were being allowed to trample environmentally sensitive areas.

The area has long been used for grazing, and since 2006, Neil Dow of Oregon has been grazing his cattle there through a lease issued by Fish and Game.

“We’re pleased that all parties could come together and agree on an approach that will best protect reserve lands,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres Forest Watch.

It is unclear how long it will take the agency to do the environmental review, Kuyper said. The agency is also preparing a long-term land management plan for the reserve, a draft of which is due by August.

The Carrizo Plain Ecological Reserve — also known as the Chimineas Ranch — is located between the Carrizo Plain National Monument and the Los Padres National Forest in the eastern part of San Luis Obispo County. The land was obtained by the state in 2002 and 2004 using voter-approved bond initiative money.

The reserve consists of blue oak woodlands and native grasslands and is home to herds of tule elk and pronghorn antelope as well as other rare and sensitive wildlife species.

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.