Beermaker yanks cattle from Sierra Nevada

The Associated Press
Wednesday October 25, 2000

FRESNO — To the golden trout of the Sierra Nevada: This Bud’s for you. 

Facing pressure from environmentalists, Anheuser-Busch suspended grazing on fragile Sierra Nevada meadows that threatened the habitat of the state fish. 

The controversy with the world’s largest beermaker has been brewing for years in the Golden Trout Wilderness of Inyo National Forest, about 200 miles north of Los Angeles. 

More than a century of grazing sheep and cattle high in the rugged mountains has trampled meadows, killed vegetation and muddied waters where the fish – prized for its brilliant colors and said to sparkle like a $20 gold piece – once thrived. 

“The fish are rare in one extreme, they spawn in degraded habitats,” said Brett Matzke, public lands director for California Trout in Fresno.  

“Now almost the entire river is spawning habitat so they’re starving to death.” 

Two weeks ago Trout Unlimited, a conservation organization, filed a federal petition to list the troubled trout as an endangered species, citing grazing as one of the hazards to its health. 

Earlier this summer, a number of environmental groups, including California Trout and the Sierra Club, threatened to boycott Anheuser-Busch products unless it removed its herd from the last natural habitat of the golden trout. 

The company, which makes Budweiser beer, said it was not those threats that drove its herd from the hills. 

“We’ve had people threaten to boycott us because we support the Humane Society because the Humane Society opposes cockfighting,” said Anheuser-Busch spokesman Charles Poole. “We thought it was the right thing to do for us at this time.” 

St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch has been in the cattle business in the Owens Valley since 1986. It bought the Cabin Bar Ranch in Olancha to lock up valuable groundwater rights in case it needs water for its Van Nuys brewery. 

The company also benefitted from the century-old ranching operation, cashing in on valuable permits to graze cattle on U.S. Forest Service land. 

In the summer, the ranch drives 900 cows and their calves onto 100,000 acres in the mountains between 8,000 and 11,000 feet. The cost is about $4,700 a year for the permits and the government picks up the tab of mending fences and other upkeep. A study by Inyo National Forest — home of Mount Whitney — found it spent about $80,000 a year to restore resources, manage permits and monitor the area. 

“It’s nothing more than a welfare system for cowboys,” Matzke said. “It’s unfair for people who graze private land and it’s unfair on the American taxpayer. We’re subsidizing these folks.” 

During the time Anheuser-Busch cows have grazed in the Golden Trout Wilderness, a forest service study found the meadows have continued to recover from degradation caused through the 1930s when grazing was poorly regulated. Improvements have occurred slowly and now the question is how fast recovery should take. 

The future of cattle in the area could forever be altered when the forest service presents a grazing plan next month. 

Eliminating grazing would be the quickest route to restoration, but the area can also recover amid grazing, said Del Hubbs, a range conservationist at Inyo National Forest. 

“It’s kind of like saying if you want your car to last you don’t drive it. But in the real world we do drive,” Hubbs said. “In the real world we have to manage a balance between all users.” 

The beermaker’s future in farming in the Sierra could be decided by the government’s plan. Anheuser-Busch will only say it won’t be grazing cattle in the wilderness next year. 


On the Net: 

Inyo National Forest Web site on the Kern Plateau: 


California Trout: 




Trout Unlimited: