Restoring rangelands takes primacy for landowners, land managers across the West
As invasive species and human interference wreak havoc on the natural state of the rangelands of the West, rangeland restoration efforts have taken a front seat for environmental agencies of the West.
“When we approach a project, we want to start with the end in mind and understand our environment and opportunities,” says Colleen Faber, an environmental health and safety supervisor with Anadarko.
“The best defense is a good offense,” Faber comments. “If we proactively go in and treat landscapes before we disturb them, we are likely to get a better outcome.”
She stresses the importance of coming together between agencies and landowners and laying out the entire objective of the restoration project so everyone is on the same page.
“We want to begin with the end in mind,” says Faber. “We need to understand our environment and view our challenges as opportunities.”
Part of being proactive is understanding the landscape we’re working with, according to Faber.
“Use field data to determine what is going to be successful,” says Faber. “We will fail if we plant a seed that needs 19 inches of precipitation in a seven-inch precipitation zone.”
Doug Miyamoto of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture agrees that being proactive is an important factor of success in restoration projects.
“We could do everything right, but if the rains don’t come, we won’t be successful,” Miyamoto comments. “We want to be ready, though, so when the rains do come, the soils are in good condition.”
One of the major issues facing many western states is the increase in invasive annual winter grasses, according to Derrick Sebastian, Bayer western area sales manager.
“These grasses increase the thatch layer, which increases fire frequency and intensity and creates monocultures of pure invasive grasses,” according to Sebastian. “What’s scary about this is, monocultures can be a truly landscape scale transformation with these grasses.”
Sebastian stresses the importance of depleting the seed banks of these grasses to be truly successful in eradicating them.
“We will not see the success we want on a large scale if we are unable to completely deplete the seed bank of these grasses,” says Sebastian.
Sebastian has been working with the herbicide Esplanade®, which targets broadleaf weeds and grasses where warm season turfs are desired. Though the product is not currently labeled with a grazing tolerance, Sebastian’s team hopes to submit a full grazing package to the EPA by the end of the year.
“The unique thing about this product is that with a single treatment, we are finding anywhere from two to four years of control,” comments Sebastian. “If an invasive annual grass only lasts that long, we could potentially deplete the seedbank with a couple treatments.”
According to Sebastian, one of the major advantages of controlling invasives, such as cheatgrass, is the increased leader growth in the shrub community.
“Shrubs such as rubber rabbit and bitterbrush serve as critical overwintering habitat for mule deer,” says Sebastian. “We will also see restoration in pollinator habitats.”
“Restoration happens with boots on the ground, one acre at a time, one square meter at a time, but to be successful we have to scale up,” says Garth Fuller, The Nature Conservancy’s eastern Oregon manager.
Fuller comments, as someone who has been working in restoration for over 20 years, there is more failure than success.
“We have to pick the right places to work to have meaningful success,” says Fuller. “Over time, we must stitch together all these single projects into something at a landscape or even regional scale.”
According to Fuller, it’s crucial to match the correct plants and seeds to the location to maximize the return on investment.
“If we are targeting the right plants, the right seeds and the right locations, we are utilizing adaptive management,” says Fuller. “Adaptive management needs solid monitoring and frameworks so we can learn from our mistakes.”
While Fuller applauds the high-tech restoration tools coming into the scene, he is a believer in old-fashion, low-tech strategies.
One thing Fuller would like to see put into action is a space where researchers can discuss practices that didn’t work, so the industry is able to fail forward and be more productive as a whole.
The Western Governors Association recently sponsored a discussion panel regarding restoration of rangelands. The panel featured experts ranging from academia to industry professionals discussing best practices in which to restore rangelands to a healthy state.
Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.