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The Planet

Bud's Bovines Get the Boot

A beer company's loss is a fish's gain in this cowboy tale from the high Sierra.

by Jenny Coyle

Moooove 'Em OutFor 12 years, Anheuser-Busch - maker of Budweiser, Busch, Michelob and others beverages - has grazed hundreds of cattle in California's Golden Trout Wilderness. The cows have trampled meadows, torn up stream banks inhabited by golden trout - the state fish of California - and dropped so many cowpies in some meadows you couldn't find room to pitch a tent.

In February, the Inyo National Forest called a halt to the destruction by canceling the company's grazing permits. No cows will be allowed in the area for 10 years, and all fences will be removed. An appeal was filed by a former Anheuser-Busch consultant, so action is needed to cement the ruling.

"I'm very happy with the decision; this is an area that's dear to my heart," said Joe Fontaine, who chaired the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Task Force during the years the Club and others pressured the agency to make this decision. "We're hoping it will become a permanent ban."

"But running hundreds of cows through some of the last remaining habitat for the state fish is anything but natural," said Fontaine.

Golden Trout WildernessFontaine worked hard to see the 300,000-acre Golden Trout Wilderness established in 1978. But in the Budweiser battle, he said, no one in the Club worked harder than Todd Shuman, a former Mammoth Mountain Ski Area food service worker - now a Southern California schoolteacher -who's stayed on top of the issue since 1995.

"In the summer I'd backpack up there for a week at a time, using my camera to document the damage," Shuman said. Early on, he took a training course with the California Grazing Reform Alliance and learned what to look for. "That's when I started a file."

He used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain federal documents, wrote complaints, spoke up at hearings and provided detailed written input during public comment periods. He accompanied agency and Trout Unlimited-sponsored teams that went in to assess conditions and survey damage.

"Todd made himself an expert on this stuff," said Fontaine. "He learned the language that let them know he was knowledgeable."

A couple of times, Shuman and Fontaine - working on the issue with CalTrout - came close to asking the Sierra Club's national board of directors to approve a boycott of Anheuser-Busch products.

"We let Anheuser-Busch know that we were all moving in the direction of a boycott, and it kind of put the company on notice," said Shuman.

"It's awesome country up there," he said. "Big volcanic mountains surrounded by some of the largest meadows in the Sierra, unrivaled views of 13,000-foot peaks and Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States. I'm glad it's going to be left alone now."

Take Action:
The regional forester is expected to make a decision on the appeal by May 10. Write now and ask him to uphold the Inyo National Forest decision to cancel permits on the Whitney-Templeton grazing allotments, where Anheuser-Busch runs its herd. Send letters to:

Regional Forester Bradley Powell
USDA Forest Service
Pacific Southwest Region
1323 Club Drive
Vallejo, CA 94529

Photos: OK, so Anheuser-Busch cattle don't really advertise Bud while they graze. But they do tear up the banks of streambeds, like the one that runs through Tunnel Meadow in the Golden Trout Wilderness. Bottom photo courtesy Todd Schuman.

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