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TRPA will examine cows

Andy Bourelle

Lake Tahoe ranchers and cattle owners may have to update their facilities and management techniques by 2001.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency today will look at livestock grazing issues, possibly adopting an ordinance that would regulate grazing in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

If amendments are passed, cattle and horse owners would have to implement TRPA’s Best Management Practices to their barns and corrals by October 2001. Ranchers whose cattle graze on basin meadows would be required to come up with grazing management plans by May of the same year, in order to minimize the impact of the cattle.



An estimated 600 cow-and-calf pairs and 75 horses and mules graze on about 34,900 acres of private and federal land in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Additionally, about 220 livestock, mainly horses, are in commercial stables around the basin, and about 250 horses and other domestic animals live on residential land.

Grazing is believed to have significant impact on the water quality of the streams running into Lake Tahoe, most significantly from additional sediment runoff but also from pathogens from manure.



Ninety percent of any livestock manure deposited in a stream will settle to the bottom within 150 feet, and bacteria from the manure will remain living for several weeks.

An average cow – weighing about 1,000 pounds – deposits waste containing about 1.1 pounds of nitrogen and 0.3 pounds of phosphorous directly into a stream during the course of a summer grazing season, according to the TRPA. In one summer, a herd of 200 would deposit 220 pounds of nitrogen and 60 pounds of phosphorous. In a year, a herd of 200 could deposit 500 pounds of nitrogen and 160 pounds of phosphorous.

Livestock grazing also damages the streams in other ways, including trampling banks and causing erosion, eliminating stream bank vegetation and increasing the stream temperature, which negatively affects fish habitat.

Joe Pepi, TRPA planner, said the agency has several documents outlining direction regarding grazing and livestock.

He said the latest amendments to the various ordinances will make all the requirements comply with one another.

TRPA-required livestock containment facilities – corrals or barns – needed to be upgraded by 1992. However, TRPA did not follow through on enforcement, Pepi said, and this is an effort to re-emphasize that livestock containment facilities need to comply with TRPA’s Best Management Practices.

The TRPA staff recommendation comes after more than seven meetings of a Grazing Advisory Committee in 1997 and 1998.

Pepi said the feelings of Lake Tahoe ranchers and residents are mixed.

In a letter written to TRPA, Kimball Chatfield of South Lake Tahoe said the regulations may not be enough.

“Although (allowing cattle limited access to stream channels) is an improvement over allowing grazing livestock to access stream channels at multiple … locations along a stream channel, it still allows grazing animals to defecate and urinate into stream channels that directly flow into Lake Tahoe,” Chatfield wrote.

He continued: “I would prefer (the amendment) read, ‘Livestock shall not have access to any waterway that flows directly into Lake Tahoe unless those livestock are actively herded across the stream bank for the sole purpose of crossing.'”

Others disagree, including Shirley Giovacchini, a Genoa resident whose family has grazed cattle at Lake Tahoe for decades.

“I feel TRPA is going way beyond its legal authority when they begin dictating to the owners of private property what must be done,” she wrote to TRPA. “It seems obvious to me that the individuals who are grazing cattle in the basin are folks who love the land as much, or more, as conservationists.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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