Beale’s Four-Legged Airmen, a Testament to Collaboration Between Humans and Nature

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Sharon Cardenas
  • 9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

Beyond its strategic importance as a hub of some of the most sophisticated reconnaissance capabilities, Beale AFB also embraces its environmental responsibilities through participating in one of the biggest cow grazing programs in the DoD. This one-of-a-kind feature to Recce Town is part of the 9th Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resource Department’s symbiotic partnership with local ranchers where the base welcomes an average of 2,000 cows from all over California to its vast expanses of open terrain.

Approximately 12,000 acres of the 23,000-acre military property are leased each year; from November to May. The revenue collected from the program is put toward several natural resources or natural restoration projects and improvements.

Geoffrey McGinnis, 9th CES environmental protector specialist, is Beale’s very own cowboy and serves as a key liaison for the collaboration.
“The bovine grazing program plays a multifaceted role in maintaining the ecological balance of a military installation that is also considered a designated wildlife sanctuary,” said McGinnis.

The dry fields across the installation can see months without a drop of water, and invasive plant species combined with overgrown vegetation make Beale highly susceptible to wildfires in the months of May to October. When the herds are brought to base, they graze in different parcels where grass can reach heights of three feet or more.

“Cattle can help promote the exchange of non-native plants for native plants that are inherently better adapted to withstand fires as they generally have deeper root systems,” said McGinnis.

While livestock play a crucial role in maintaining pasture heights to mitigate wildfires, it is not their paramount purpose. McGinnis and Eli Rose, 9th CES natural resource manager, remarked the critical role of establishing native plants in the development of wildlife corridors, which highlights the broader ecological implications of the grazing program.

Native plants have evolved over time to adapt to specific local conditions, providing a diverse array of habitats and resources that are crucial for wildlife. When incorporated into wildlife corridors, these plants act as ecological bridges, connecting fragmented habitats and allowing for the free movement of species. This connectivity is vital for the survival of many wildlife populations, enabling them to access breeding grounds, feeding areas, and escape routes from predators or changing environmental conditions.

Moreover, native plants contribute to biodiversity by supporting a multitude of insects, birds, and other organisms necessary for the preservation, long-term resilience, and viability of wildlife populations in the face of habitat fragmentation and climate change.

The grazing program also attests to Beale leadership’s aim to create and maintain relationships with local communities. Providing fresh grazing terrain to local ranchers effectively allows their private land to undergo a period of recovery which is important to restore the ecosystem’s functionality while also making their land more sustainable, resilient, and cost-effective.

For more than a decade, the four-legged Airmen and team Beale’s continued commitment to engage in the grazing has become an integral part of the identity that resonates within the core of the Beale community. It is a testament to collaboration between humans and nature that serves as a reminder of the uniqueness of Beale AFB, the land we call home.