Ranching is an endemic way of life on the Central Coast and has evolved in tandem with California.
Native Americans managed wild herbivore herds with controlled burns to create park-like pastures throughout the Central Coast.
The Spanish padres and military survived on cattle milk, sheep flocks, and bear meat when supply shipments failed to arrive from New Spain (i.e., Mexico).
Californios ran cattle on open range on unmapped large ranchos and commercially traded in tallow and hides.
During the Gold Rush, ranching changed from a pastoral way of life to a singular focus on beef production when meat prices soared.
Within the first couple of years of statehood, California legislators intentionally passed laws to facilitate the repartitioning of the ranchero system to create land for settlement.
Today, ranches remain on the Central Coast. Many ranching families are able to trace their ancestral roots to Spanish colonial days, Mexican Ranchos and/or early Californian settlers. These families are guardians of a special culture and keepers of an important part of California history.
Interesting stats for my Cattle buddies. The study area* covered 13.5 Million Hectares in California
– 40% (195,000 ha) was converted to development between 1984 to 2008.
– The majority of the conversions were to rural residential development.
– 49% of conversions was through agricultural intensification
– 37% of unconverted rangeland was protected by a voluntary tax incentive program (i.e., the Williamson Act)**.
– 24% of unconverted rangeland was protected through conservation easements
– 38% of unconverted rangeland had no protection from conversion
– An important point is that when prime Ag land is absorbed by urban development, then, the nearby subprime land will be converted from rangeland to irrigated Ag land on the edges of urban development.
* Includes the Central Valley, Central Coast, Kern County. Excluded far northern and southern areas and desert regions.
**Note: this statewide program was transferred to counties in 2009 and only 20% of the counties have continued it.
Books and References
Cameron, D. Richard. Whither the Rangeland?: Protection and Conversion of California’s Rangeland Ecosystems. PLOS. August, 20. 2014. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0103468
Niman, Nicolette Hahn. Defending Beef, The Case for Sustainable Meat Production, The Manifesto of an Environmental Lawyer and Vegetarian Turned Cattle Rancher. Chelsea Green Publishing. October 31, 2014.