County Wildlife Corner: Feral Bovines Of Southwestern San Bernardino County

The feral bovines of southwestern San Bernardino County are not indigenous to the area.
But as early as the 1780s, the Spaniards were raising beef cattle in Southern California and by the early 1800s, cattle were grazing in the inland valleys and in the area of what is today known as Diamond Bar in eastern Los Angeles County, Brea in the extreme northeast corner of Orange County and in Chino and Chino Hills. Beginning in the 1950s, dairy farmers who had previously flourished in and around the Los Angeles County community of Torrance and the Orange County community of Anaheim found themselves displaced by expanding urbanization and they moved eastward into the Chino Valley. For a generation, the Chino Valley became the milk producing capital of the world.
In 1968 the Chino Agricultural Preserve was formed under the auspices of California’s Williamson Act — a 1965 law that was intended to preserve California farmland and to serve as a hedge against urban sprawl. The law granted substantial tax breaks to property owners agreeing to restrict their land to agricultural uses for at least 10 years. Within the preserve’s 17,000 acre confines were just under 400 dairies and 400,000 cows. By 1970, the Chino Valley was the source for most of Southern California’s milk as well as a major supplier of the cheese for a much larger geographical area.
With $800 million in annual dairy production in 1976, the relatively compact Chino Valley region alone was within the entire state of California a close third in milk output behind the much more expansive Tulare and Merced counties.
In time, the same urbanization that drove the dairies into the Chino Valley would in turn displace many of the Chino Valley dairies and result in the disincorporation of the preserve so that today there are now fewer than 60 dairies operating in the Chino Valley.
Though it is now very difficult to say exactly when, perhaps thirty years ago, perhaps as long ago as 60 or 70 years ago, maybe even a century ago, some bovines – both bulls and cows – wandered away from their confines. Perhaps a fence had deteriorated or was broken. Maybe a bull or cow pushed a span of fence down. At any rate, the bovines broke free from the grazing land or pastures and moved on through the rustic area surrounding the Santa Ana River, which transits the borderline near the San Bernardino/Riverside County border and then heads southwesterly through Orange County to the Pacific Ocean. Along its verdant banks grow plants that are both tasty and nutritious for ruminants. Likewise, much of the undeveloped land running from Chino Hills and through Carbon Canyon and Tonner Canyon is host to grasses and plants cows and bulls are wont to feed on.
As urbanization in and around Chino Hills has been ongoing for decades, having intensified in recent years following the city’s incorporation in 1991, pockets of wildland have remained.
One area near the intersection of Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties that has been deliberately safeguarded from development is Chino Hills State Park, which was founded in 1977 on what was initially 2,237 acres but which has since grown into 14,173 acres of grassy and rolling hills covered with oaks and sycamores, sage scrub and grasslands as well as horseback, mountain bike, running and walking trails along with picnicking and camping facilities. The park links up with a protected natural habitat area that that stretches a meandering 31 miles and leads ultimately to the Santa Ana Mountains, with the Whittier Hills and Puente Hills along the way.
Into this preserve of wildland, an unknown number of feral cattle have ensconced themselves. Estimates of their numbers vary, from 60 or 70 to over 200.
Occasionally a herd of as many as 25 has been spotted. Herds typically consist of usually one or as many as two bulls accompanied by several cows.
Some of the bulls and cows were born in the wild and have lived in the wild their entire lives. Such creatures are considered feral. Others are more recent escapees from dairies or livestock farms.
The State Park System has had a somewhat ambiguous, indeed schizophrenic, approach to the presence of the wild cattle on park property. Generally speaking, the state wants the cattle to leave. Put park rangers are not wranglers and they are not trained or equipped to remove them. Some of the individual rangers, on the other hand, celebrate the existence and presence of the animals in the park. There was an effort several years ago to tag the bovines as part of an effort to get an accurate count. Even so, there are several bulls, who for obvious reason, have never been tagged.
At one point, in an effort to rid the park of the cattle, the state summoned wranglers, extending the invitation to anyone who fit that description, to come in and haul them away. The state had, and has, no money budgeted to pay for that service, but induced some brave souls to undertake rounding the cows and bulls up by permitting them to keep them or sell them, at up to $1,000 apiece or more, for beef.
On occasion cowboys come into the area, often driving a cattle truck pulling a horse trailer. They will locate a herd or individual cow or bull and, after mounting their horses, seek to maneuver the bovine into the waiting truck. In this way, the cattle population has diminished by some 25 or thirty over the past few years.
But that effort has been less than concerted and intense and the feral cattle persist as a feature of the southwest corner of San Bernardino County and the two other counties that area borders. And in seeming defiance of the goal of getting rid of the cattle, people, in some cases the rangers themselves, have put out large buckets or containers of water or even larger guzzlers in the summer months when the creeks dry up. No one, it seems, wants them to simply die off.
In the meantime, the animals engage in the type of behavior that is typical of their breed. The males are particularly dangerous. Most often, they direct their hostility at one another. Young and yet unproven bulls will charge and head butt each other in an effort to exert dominance and attract a mate. Older bulls will charge humans, on occasion with unfortunate results.
In November 2012, a local cattle rancher, Bill Friend, who came into Chino Hills State Park in an effort to drive a few cattle back to his ranch, came between either a bull and his cows or between two bulls fighting over one of the bull’s cows. Friend, 82, was kicked and stomped, and succumbed to his injuries.

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