Cattle Call at Anthony Chabot Regional Park

The parks district brings back cows after a two-year hiatus.


A tranquil scene in the Oakland hills following the reintroduction of cattle.

Photo by Chris Duffey

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Atop the chaparral-covered hills at Anthony Chabot Regional Park, jays squawk, and downy seeds float on sage-scented air. It feels remote enough to make you want to sing and shout to warn off any mountain lions that just might be napping nearby. But now, new sounds, scents, and sight are on the wind, as cattle return to the park after a hiatus of two years. And not everybody is happy about it.

In mid-November, the East Bay Regional Park District introduced 50 head of cattle to the terrain, which is often steep and consists of eucalyptus groves, chaparral, and grasslands. Large new signs, depicting cows standing in lupine-filled meadows, explain that grazing keeps grasslands healthy, increases habitat diversity, prevents wildfires, minimizes invasive plants, and creates space for wildflowers and native grasses. But even before the cows began to chew their way across the hills, opening up space for California oatgrass and purple needlegrass and leaving behind steaming pats of manure, neighbors began to complain about new fencing that the district installed along several trails to prevent the cattle from escaping.

Denise Defreese, the park district’s acting wild land vegetation manager, says the district replaced a 60-year-old fence along the MacDonald Trail, above Bort Meadow, with lengths of five-strand barbed wire. The district also replaced 2,781 feet of fencing and installed new vehicle and pedestrian gates along a portion of the Grass Valley Trail. The combined cost of these cattle-proofing operations? $36,745.

“The primary complaint is that the fencing is too close to the edge of the trail and is not wildlife friendly,” Defreese said. She agreed that the new fence is definitely closer to the edge of the trail. “It hasn’t been that close before,” she said. But she disagreed that it is any less wildlife friendly than other park fences. “It’s standard fencing that we use throughout the district,” she said.

Observing that the old fencing was “off into the bushes,” Defreese predicted that the new fencing will become less noticeable, over time.

“Typically things will grow in, so it won’t feel so close, but the trail is still 12 feet wide.”

Defreese noted that when goats were brought into the park in recent years, they came with temporary electric fences, set above the trail. “But with cattle, fences need to be secure,” she said.

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