Cattle Ranching in the Sierra Nevada

The 49rs searching for gold were not the only people hoping to grow rich from the bounty of the Mother Lode.  “The modern history of the west is very closely tied to livestock grazing” explains the U.S.F.S. website.  “During the 1800’s large ranching operations were established using the free forage available on unmanaged and unclaimed public domain lands. While the dominance of these cattle and sheep “empires” declined after restrictions on grazing began to occur in the early part of the 20th century, much of the custom and culture of the rural west is still very closely tied to ranching.”

A successful ranching business allowed Timothy Carlon to build on the Annex portion of the Groveland Hotel in 1914.  The ranching tradition continues locally to the modern day.  While forest land grazing in this area is much more regulated than it was during the Gold Rush, it is still used as part of the forest management plan.  There are currently around 2 dozen grazing “permittees” allowed to graze their livestock in the Stanislaus National Forest. 

One permit holder, The Erickson Cattle Company annually drives their cattle from lower elevations into the Stanislaus for summer grazing.  According to Guy McCarthy of the Union Democrat online: “There are about 356,000 acres in the Stanislaus National Forest considered suitable for livestock grazing. Of that, about 37,400 acres are considered primary range, and the rest is considered secondary.” Photographer Al Golub has been documenting these cattle drives for years.  The family puts out a yearly calendar with images from the drive.  More info and images from the drive can be found on Elizabeth Erickson Noe’s weblog.

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