Efforts mutually beneficial
Worland – If you claim to be an environmentalist, it’s all the rage to support a green group trying to remove livestock grazing from federal and state lands. If you’re a true environmentalist, however, one who seeks to protect one’s surroundings, you may want to reconsider. Contrary to what so-called “environmental groups” tell you, livestock grazing actually benefits the range and wildlife.
“The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and livestock grazing permittees work together to create range improvements for livestock that also benefit wildlife and the range. We do all kinds of projects, like stock tanks, reservoirs and water pipe lines,” says Mike Phillips, Assistant Field Manager for Resources with the Worland BLM.
Developing water in different locations on livestock grazing allotments distributes livestock herds over the range, allowing them to make use of vegetation throughout the allotment, and preventing them from overusing an area near a single water source.
“The new stock tanks have bird ramps to help birds and wildlife get a drink without drowning,” comments Kathleen Jachowski, Executive Director of Guardians of the Range. The Guardians are a non-profit organization helping grazing permittees work with the BLM and U.S. Forest Service in northwest Wyoming. “Stock tanks also often have overflows, which creates mesic (wet) areas that are helpful for sage grouse and other wildlife.
“Adaptive management is good stewardship of an allotment, which helps benefit wildlife. It’s all about paying attention to range conditions (monitoring) and adapting management to enhance range health,” she explains.
“Rotational grazing is an adaptive management tool. The use of temporary electric or permanent fences, range riders and rest rotations for a pasture are the tools of rotational grazing,” says Jachowski. “For example, if part of an allotment is used by sage grouse, you ask yourself for which stage of their life cycle are they using the allotment (nesting habitat. etc., brood rearing habitat). You can put in temporary fencing to keep the livestock out just when that wildlife species is utilizing that area, but you don’t shut down the whole allotment. When you can’t fence an area, you can use a rider to move the cattle.
“Fencing and rotational grazing help manage livestock use by providing range forbs and grasses with needed rest periods,” comments Jachowski. “Forbs and grasses thrive under appropriate grazing regimes. Invasive weeds commonly will take over an area without the benefit of consistent grazing, which domestic livestock can provide. ‘Time and timing’ of grazing is a recognized tool in sustainable range management. Consistent time and timing of domestic livestock grazing is a terrific and proven tool in sustaining healthy and productive range resources. This control is not possible with wildlife herds, but the wildlife benefits from the vigor that time and timing can continually provide.”
She adds, “That’s what range cons and ranchers do to keep permits at productive levels. Several permittees have range degrees, and even those who don’t have a great reservoir of valuable experience. Many of them have seen allotments suffer from drought or catastrophic fire, and seen how rangeland responds to mining reclamation. They speak from personal observation.”
Prescribed burns are another adaptive management tool. They are planned in advance, and can take two to three years from the planning stage to implementation. “You have to look at the landscape and determine its potential. Fire can have a positive effect for the range, and for all creatures great and small,” Jachowski says.
“Noxious weed control is another method of improving the range,” says Dick Loper, Rangeland Consultant with the Wyoming State Grazing Board. “Better weed control would really be an asset, but weed control is not adequately funded.”
Loper adds, “Range improvement projects are either funded and implemented by the land management agency, funded by the agency and implemented physically by the permittee, or the permittee funds the entire project and does all the labor. Right now it’s about one-third for each, but the federal funding is declining, and an increasing amount of funds for range improvements are coming from family ranches.”
Jachowski observes, “Wildlife have benefited in this state more from agricultural water projects than from anything else. Ag related water developments improved winter wildlife habitat, which is the most critical factor affecting wildlife populations.” She says fewer wildlife starve or winterkill today thanks to agriculture’s work. “These water developments, then and now, introduced both available water and the winter forage of hay stacks and field stubble to help wildlife survive the winters.
“A significant and little-recognized benefit of livestock grazing on public land is the legally required consistent stewardship/monitoring of range conditions. This management helps to sustain healthy range conditions for both livestock and wildlife. Where no domestic livestock graze, range conditions are far more susceptible to invasive weeds, which degrade food sources for wildlife.”
Jachowski concludes, “The stewardship of domestic livestock grazing, required by public land grazing laws along with the private sector’s subsidy of the public’s wildlife, is an ongoing and seldom recognized benefit to this nation.”
For more information, contact Mike Phillips with the Worland BLM at 307-347-5100, Dick Loper with the Wyoming State Grazing Board at 307-332-2601, or Kathleen Jachowski with Guardians of the Range at 307-587-3723. Echo Renner, based in Meeteetse, is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup.