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Natural Resources

There is an increasing interest among livestock producers in the West to grow forage legumes such as cicer milkvetch, sainfoin and medic as alternatives to alfalfa, at least in a situation where alfalfa is not a good fit.  However, establishment of these legumes is difficult because of low germination, hard seed coat or content, low seedling vigor, high weed competition and disease problems.  

One of the major causes for poor establishment is associated with the hard seed of legumes.  Hard seed coat or content is a protective outer layer of seed.  Many legume seeds are very hard and require artificial scarification to enhance germination and eventual good stand establishment.

There are a few methods or techniques to improve or enhance the stand establishment.  

For example, seed scarification, use of companion crops and seed inoculation with the right inoculants may enhance establishment.  Seed scarification is one of the easy ways to enhance seedling establishment in the field.  

Seed scarification is a process of physically damaging the seed to break the hard seed coat without lowering the quality of seeds.  This makes seed soft by scratching hard coat from outer layer of seeds and allows water from the soil to enter easily into the seeds.  As a result, seed germination and seedling emergence occur faster with uniform stands across the field.

Hard seed content varies significantly among species and even between varieties within the same species of legumes.  Many factors such as weather conditions, or cold and hot temperatures, snow fall, soil moisture, seed storage conditions and, most importantly, seed harvesting and transportation affect hard seed content of legumes.

A recent study in the Plant Sciences Department of the University of Wyoming showed that mechanical scarification, where seeds were rubbed by common sandpapers, greatly reduced hard seed contents and thus enhanced germination of legume seeds in the field.  In this study, several varieties of alfalfa, including Ranger, Vernal, Ladak, Falcata yellow flower alfalfa; sainfoin, such as Shoshone, Eski, Remont; cicer milkvetch varieties Monarch, Oxley, Lutana; and the medic variety Laramie were used.  Alfalfa and sainfoin did not need any scarification because of their soft seeds. Seeds also may have naturally scarified during seed harvesting and packaging. However, mechanical scarification greatly reduced hard seed content of cicer milkvetch and medic, which ranged from 77 percent  hard seed before scarification to four percent hard seed after scarification.  The scarified seeds were later planted in the field and successful and uniform stand establishment was achieved.

Hard seed information of forage legumes is provided with the seed-tag of the seed lots. If some seeds appear to have high hard seed content, it is advisable to scarify seeds before planting. Mechanical scarification can easily be done using sandpapers attached to the cement mixer.

Anowar Islam is an assistant professor and the University of Wyoming Extension Forage Agroecologist in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-4151 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The old saying that good fences make good neighbors holds some truth, but unfortunately some natural resource management issues are not easily confined to one’s own pastures, allotments or ranch. 

Water quality, wildlife habitat, invasive weeds and other management concerns do not always function within the convenient confines that are represented by boundaries on a map, but rather operate at landscape-scales. The actions of neighbors upstream affect water users downstream, habitat improvements on one ranch may lead to improved game populations on a neighboring ranch and management, or lack of management, of invasive weeds in one portion of a watershed may decrease, or increase, the potential spread of those same weed species to neighboring properties. 

I often hear unfortunate stories of landowners who have worked diligently to reduce weed populations on their property while adjacent properties leave their weeds unchecked to serve as a continual source of seed leading to constant reinvasion. Although some landowners working individually make excellent improvements to their natural resource base, might a more landscape-based approach lead to even greater improvement? Because issues such as invasive weeds do not respect geopolitical boundaries, a group of landowners working together may be able to increase the likelihood of successful weed control over a larger area. There are several existing models for how multiple individuals can work together to address shared management challenges.

Coordinated Resource Management

Wyoming has a relatively long-standing history in Coordinated Resource Management (CRM) programs, now led by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA). Although the WDA serves as the agency lead for facilitating the CRM process, one of the primary tenets of CRM is that it is landowner-driven. If multiple landowners see a need for increased cooperation in managing a natural resource issue, then CRM may be an appropriate tool.

Although CRM has historically been associated with multiple use issues often involving a federal-private land interface, the ability to identify shared resource management goals among various stakeholders makes the process well-suited for issues like invasive weeds. Participation in the CRM planning process is voluntary, but by including neighbors, agency representatives and others, the management of natural resources can not only take on a broader perspective across the landscape, but expertise from different areas may be available to the team that were not previously included in the management process. 

Several CRM groups in Wyoming are implementing integrated, strategic invasive weed management at a landscape scale using a watershed approach. Because weed populations upstream may serve as source populations to areas downstream via seed dispersal, reducing the seed source addresses a fundamental cause of invasion throughout the watershed. The ability for a single landowner to work at such a large scale is often limited, but it may be possible for several landowners working together. For more information about Coordinate Resource Management contact the Wyoming Department of Agriculture or visit wyagric.state.wy.us/divisions/nrp/resource-management/crm.   

Cooperative weed management

Somewhat similar to a weed-focused CRM is a Cooperative Weed Management Area (CWMA). Although specifically driven by the management of invasive weeds, the CWMA concept has a lot in common with the CRM approach. CWMAs are comprised of a group of neighboring landowners or managers who agree to manage invasive weed populations across landownership boundaries using a strategic landscape-scale approach. Increased accessibility to resources, a greater understanding of the extent and severity of weed infestations and enhanced coordination of weed management efforts are often associated with the formation of a CWMA. Some CWMAs form specific weed prevention areas within their boundaries and focus on preventing the introduction of new weeds into high-quality rangelands through the use of certified weed-free hay, diligent monitoring to catch new infestations early and educational programs. More information on CWMAs can be found at weedcenter.org

Successfully reaching our natural resource management goals can be challenging for a number of reasons. If you and your neighbors are facing the shared challenge of expanding invasive weeds, it may be worth considering joining together to form a cooperative group. When dealing with invasive weeds does misery love company – or is there safety in numbers?

Brian A. Mealor is an Assistant Professor and Weed Extension Specialist at the University of Wyoming and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. More information about ongoing weed science research at the University of Wyoming can be found at weedcontrolfreaks.com.

Rangelands make up much of Wyoming’s diverse landscapes. In fact, around 85 percent of Wyoming is considered rangeland. 

So, what exactly is rangeland? Rangelands are a type of land dominated by some mix of mostly native grasses, forbs and shrubs. Some woodlands are considered rangelands too, particularly if they have relatively open canopies and support a significant understory of grasses, forbs and shrubs. As many of us are keenly aware, these lands are managed for numerous uses and livestock production is a just one of the benefits rangelands provide. Wildlife habitat, energy, water and open space are others uses made possible by Wyoming’s rangeland ecosystems. However, with such diversity in uses comes also the variety of management strategies that have large impacts to Wyoming’s landscapes. To look at this further, a research team recently attempted to address the question of how management decisions are made by the ranchers who manage these diverse lands. 

The Rangeland Decision-Making Survey was developed in a collaborative effort among the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA), the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, the University of Wyoming and the University of California-Davis. Participants (WSGA producer members) were asked about their goals, ranch characteristics and management practices. There were a total of 307 respondents, or a 50 percent response rate, to the survey. Below are some of the key findings from survey results that can inform future policy, research and outreach efforts. Survey results also help describe the work that ranchers do. For the general public who may not know much about ranching, this information can help answer questions or inform a broader audience.

As many can relate, ranching operations in Wyoming are very diverse. The median size of respondents’ operations was 10,440 acres. Most operations included privately owned land (90 percent) and over half (71 percent) also included public land (federal or state). Private leased land was also common (60 percent). Most respondents grazed cow/calf pairs (91 percent) and nearly half (44 percent) ran stockers. About one-tenth (12 percent) ran sheep and few operations ran only stockers or only sheep. Other activities affected land management on almost three quarters of operations (74 percent).

Primary management goals are livestock production and forage production. Secondary goals were water quality, riparian/meadow health, soil health and invasive weed management. Wildlife, recreation and carbon sequestration were lower priority management goals expressed by respondents. 

Management practices emphasized by respondents focused on livestock production and improvement of natural resources. Grazing management generally involved a less than 90-day rotation (87 percent) of one to five herds (84 percent) through multiple pastures (92 percent) and incorporated rest (99 percent). 

The most important facilities for management practices were water development (97 percent) and fencing (81 percent). The most popular herd management practices were planning for herd health and supplemental feed (93 percent and 90 percent, respectively) and matching calving season and genetics to local conditions (93 percent and 90 percent, respectively). The most popular vegetation management practices were grazing livestock and using herbicides to change species composition (64 percent and 68 percent, respectively). The most frequent landscape enhancement was restoring meadows and wetlands (52 percent). 

Drought is another issue of concern to producers in Wyoming. Management practices regarding drought varied as well. Over 80 percent of participants said they prepared for drought by applying certain management practices, but 100 percent responded to drought. Preparations for drought included stocking conservatively (48 percent), resting pastures (47 percent), increasing flexibility by adding stockers (28 percent), grass banking/stockpiling forage (22 percent), and using one to three month weather predictions to adjust stocking rates (16 percent). 

Responses to drought were reducing herd size (80 percent), purchasing feed (63 percent), weaning early (47 percent), renting additional pastures (42 percent), moving livestock to another location (27 percent) and selling retained yearlings (24 percent). Over a third (40 percent) of respondents said that drought will be more influential in their management plans and operations in the next 10 years than it had been in the prior 10 years.  

Regarding information, other ranchers were the most often-used (97 percent) source to gain new information about ranching. Over 80 percent of respondents had internet access, largely high speed connections (75 percent). Almost half accessed the internet daily (42 percent). Although, a majority preferred to receive information about ranching through print publications (69 percent), rather than the internet (21 percent) or word of mouth (27 percent).

These findings illustrate that although there is much diversity among surveyed ranches, there are some commonalities that can guide future policy, research and outreach efforts. Many ranches consist of multiple land ownership, graze cow-calf pairs and incorporate other activities that affect land management. This diversity of ownership and activities implies that partnerships among multiple landowners, public land managers and other stakeholders may be increasingly necessary for integrated production and sustainable land management efforts. Outreach efforts for this audience may prove to be more effective with a multi-pronged approach using several different media sources.

This was only a subset of questions and responses from the Wyoming Rangeland Decision-Making Survey used to describe the characteristics, goals, management practices and information sources used by operators. Stay tuned for more information. Ongoing analyses focus on the factors driving rangeland management decision-making during drought, as well as relationships between particular goals and management practices. The information provided by respondents will also guide future research regarding management practices. 

A factsheet summarizing survey results is available at rrru.ars.usda.gov. A research paper summarizing survey results will be published in the online journal Natural Resources in March. 

If you are interested in finding out more about survey results, please contact Emily Kachergis at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 307-772-2433 ext. 105. Rachel Mealor is the UW Extension Range Specialist and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The Rangeland Decision-Making Survey was funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.

Turf grass species require large amounts of irrigation water to produce good-quality turf. In the semi-arid Central Great Plains (CGP) of Wyoming where average annual precipitation is less than 14 inches, water availability for turf grass irrigation is limited. Identifying drought-tolerant, low-maintenance turf grass is of prime interest to landowners and turf managers. 

Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue are the most widely planted cool-season turf grass species for high and low-maintenance turf systems. Recent reports suggest that several cultivars of Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue provided high visual quality under reduced inputs, such as irrigation and fertilization.

Although tall fescue has been reported to produce high-quality turf under low-maintenance conditions across several regions in the Midwest, information on the performance of recently released cool-season turf grasses under drought conditions is limited in the semi-arid CGP. Selecting grasses that have the ability to maintain green cover for long periods without supplemental irrigation could have a significant impact on seasonal water use.

Warm-season species

Blue grama and buffalograss are native grass species found in the North American Great Plains. These warm-season grasses are tolerant to drought, adapted to semi-arid regions and are being used as low-maintenance turf grass species across the Great Plains. Efforts have been made to breed native grass species particularly buffalograss for their suitability as turf grass in the CGP. 

“Bowie” and “Cody” are turf-type buffalograss cultivars released recently by the University of Nebraska with superior turf quality and drought tolerance. In Manitoba, Canada, blue grama cultivar “Bad River” has been reported to produce good-quality turf with excellent drought tolerance with great potential as a low-maintenance turf.

These newly released cultivars are reported to have wider geographic adaptability, but their performances in the CGP have not been widely evaluated. 

Researching species

Scientists in the Department of Plant Sciences conducted a recent evaluation of several turf grass cultivars at the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) near Lingle during 2009–2011. Two treatments were imposed: cultivars/species and irrigation management.

Three cultivars of Kentucky bluegrass (“Bandera,” “Common 85/80” and “Midnight”), tall fescue (“Blackwatch,” “Tar Heel II” and “Watchdog”), buffalograss (“Bison,” “Bowie,” and “Cody”) and blue grama (“Alma,” “Bad River” and “Hachita”) were evaluated. Cultivar selection for each species was based on reported drought tolerance. Irrigation management included irrigated versus rain-fed. The study was planted in May 2009. Seeds were broadcast onto a clean, firm and smooth seedbed then softly raked-in and rolled into the soil. Sowing rates of pure live seed were 175, 436, 87 and 131 pounds per acre for Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, buffalograss and blue grama, respectively.

During the establishment year of 2009, rain-fed plots received irrigation water as needed to ensure good emergence. Good precipitation conditions following sowing in 2009 aided rapid plant establishment. Plot establishment in the autumn of 2009 was identical among all treatments. The supplemental amounts of water added to the irrigated turf grass plots were nine, 9.5 and 10.5 inches in 2009, 2010 and 2011, respectively. On average, the irrigated plots received 67 percent more water than the rain-fed plots.

All plots were mowed bi-weekly to control weeds and stimulate growth. Plots were fertilized based on soil test results with 50 pounds per acre of nitrogen as urea, phosphorus as mono-ammonium phosphate and 20 pounds per acre of sulfur as elemental sulfur in mid-September in the second and third year of the establishment.

Results

Turf grass establishment was successful, and plant performance was similar among irrigated and rain-fed treatments in the establishment year in 2009. However, differences occurred over time. Coverage of turf grasses was similar in both irrigated and rain-fed conditions for the entire evaluation period. In general, better performance and turf quality in terms of vigor and color were obtained in irrigated plots. Plant vigor and color rankings were tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, buffalograss, blue grama under irrigated conditions. However, under limited water supply, plant vigor and color were superior for the warm-season turf grass species buffalograss and blue grama.

Tall fescue cultivars “Tar Heel II” and “Watchdog” performed very well under rain-fed conditions showing their superior drought tolerance and low water requirements comparable to “Cody” (buffalograss) and “Bad river” (blue grama). There was little-to-no weed invasion in tall fescue turf grass plots over the three-year evaluation period indicating its superior competitiveness to weed infestation compared to other turf grass species tested.

Based on three-year results from the evaluation, tall fescue cultivars “Tar Heel II” and “Watchdog,” blue grama cultivar “Bad River” and buffalograss cultivar “Cody” are the most promising drought-tolerant cultivars and have potential for use in the CGP of Wyoming, and perhaps beyond, under limited irrigation. Specific cultivar information can be obtained by contacting the author.

Anowar Islam is an assistant professor and the University of Wyoming Extension Forage Agroecologist in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-4151 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – As over 600 people gathered for the joint convention of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts and the Wyoming Section of the Society for Range Management, Governor Matt Mead addressed the group’s Dec. 11 luncheon.

“Last year, in my State of the State address, I tried to highlight those things that mean a lot to Wyoming in terms of our culture, heritage and traditions, and in terms of economy,” Mead said. “One of the things I spent time on was the value of agriculture to Wyoming in the past, currently and why we need to make sure agriculture remains strong in the future.”

In highlighting that agriculture as the state’s third largest industry, he also mentioned that while the industry is responsible for maintaining Wyoming’s landscapes, it is also under never-before-seen pressures.

Agriculture pressure

“Agriculture adds so much in terms of our lifestyle – whether that is open spaces, clean air or clean water,” Mead noted, “but we have to remember the most critical point – ag is under pressure.”

Not only on a state level, but also on a national scale, the agriculture industry is facing pressures from the public that are unprecedented, according to Mead, who added that it is because the ag industry hasn’t done a very good job of educating our public.

“My concern is this – the heart of agriculture is that it puts food on the table,” he said. “For the most part, I don’t think we are doing a very good job of educating the public about what ag really does.”

Mead continued, “We talk about natural security in terms of having energy independence, but certainly, making sure that, as a state and as a county we can feed ourselves today and into the future, is important.”

Because of the misunderstandings about the agriculture industry, Mead noted that the public doesn’t understand the implications of policies and actions that adversely affect agriculture.

Wolf example

Mead noted that wolves have provided a perfect case study toward the public perception of agriculture. 

“When I got elected, I thought that one of the issues we needed to tackle was the issue of wolves,” said Mead. “It is an issue for producers, certainly, but it is a broader issue for sportsmen, as well.”

Working with policy advisors, the public and experts around the state, Mead noted that they collaboratively developed a wolf management plan they believe to be a good plan based on sound science.

“I believe it is a very good plan,” Mead noted, “and as you have seen during this hunting season, there hasn’t been a wholesale slaughter on wolves, but there is still a vitriolic reaction to any sort of hunting wolves.”

“My point is that we have not done a good job educating people in terms of what producers do and why we need to have strong producers,” he continued.

Mead also demonstrated that the issue has resulted in letters of malice directed toward him and his family, and he noted it is because of misunderstanding.

“I appreciate that people have different viewpoints, but when we are in a position as producers that we look at the things we need to make sure we maintain our livelihood and continue to supply food, and these are the challenges that we have,” Mead commented. “I would submit that the people who send these letters have full bellies, and they haven’t experienced hunger. We take for granted what ag has provided, and we take for granted the things ag will continue to provide.”

Educating

“As we address these issues,” Mead said, “one of the things we need to continue to do is educate the public.”

While he noted the task is not an easy one, it is necessary, as there are citizens of the U.S. who still believe, for example, that their food comes from the grocery store – the same people who continue to write letters supporting those policies that harm agriculture.

“With regard to agriculture, I am suggesting that the state and our country need to take the longest term view possible in making sure that today, tomorrow and forever, our country can feed ourselves,” he added.

Not only is the general public uninformed, Mead stated, but the federal government places challenges on agriculture.

“Another case study is related to the renewable fuel standard,” Mead noted. “I and several other Governors asked the EPA recently to waive the volume requirements for the renewable fuel standard program, based on the effects of the drought and the feed stocks of corn used to produce renewable fuels.”

The EPA, however, denied the request with the reason that they do not see implementation of the program as severely harming a state, regional or national economy. 

“I wonder what sort of circumstance would create an exception to the renewable fuel program,” Mead asked. “What do we need to do or what would have to happen to get that waiver?”

Litigation’s role

While agriculture continues to fight for the right to continue to produce, Mead said, “We have been and we will continue to be heavily involved in litigation.”

Mead pledged to continue to fight against those things that adversely affect agriculture, citing the Bighorn sheep and domestic sheep lawsuit in the Medicine Bow areas, as well as the Green Mountain common allotment case.

“When we talk about these situations, we have to recognize that in Wyoming we need to do our jobs,” Mead commented. “We should proudly say that we have helped to provide for on the table and we keep as many people fed as possible, and that is something to be extremely proud of. That is part of ag.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.