Part Ii: Survival Tools for Today's Ranch
The recent Utah Range Coalition's conference on grazing was held in Moab. David James, public lands rancher from Durango, Colo. spoke to the group concerning his views on how ranchers and environmentalists should work together.
He said, "There is hope for the rejuvenation of public lands from the present day drought. In 1983 in one of the wilderness study areas someone began photographing the same identical place year after year. These photographs bear out how the country can have rainfall and then the grasses grow; the grasses respond to the rain. Drought is a common thing in our area.
"Where are we headed as a result of the environmental movement? To learn about what's happening we can look at other industries such as the health care industry. When the lawyers got involved a huge bureaucracy grew. It became a predator on the doctors who were trying to do a good job. The paperwork involved and the cost of medical insurance are astronomical. We have doctors leaving the industry because of the bureaucracy. People in the environmental community are bureaucrats.
"As militant environmentalists try to manage public lands, more and more bureaucracy happens. The strongest motivator is power and right now the environmentalists have the power. Innocent people have donated to these organizations and the leaders are about power. . The environmentalists are attacking the federal agencies. The feds need success stories out in the field; they might cut permits or whatever their management is. The moderate environmentalists have been trying to work with the Quivira Coalition
"Staying on the land is economically and socially important. A robust healthy land is conducive to the production of grass and wildlife. We all want the same things so it is logical to sit down and talk. The independent ranchers on public lands have to sit down and talk. You can create robust, healthy lands with cattle. The tools are very limited, grazing or resting. The tools to cause change are right on the ground with the cows.
"Also a mistake has been made in fire control. Fires have consistently been a part of the land throughout history. When the decisions were made to fight every fire, an abundance of trees developed which fueled the huge fires recently.
"We need to give the agency people our support, they are being attacked. Environmentalists campaign back East by showing a picture of a cow with the saying, 'They're using your public lands as a feed lot.' There are people out there who think it is bad to graze. They just don't know the facts. They have been led to believe a lot of stuff.
"That's why we need a dialogue....that's why Quivira will be successful. We need to give the agency people cause to support the ranchers.
"We need a drought plan. Drought is common. In 1,500 years of rainfall the average is the same as it is today. We go through wet spells and dry spells. We need a drought plan because it happens. We need a plan for grazing. File these plans with the agencies. Work on a vision for your ranch and share that with the range conservation manager for your area. Share a positive vision.
"Pay more attention to the litter accumulation. Spend more time in the saddle. These agency people will go to bat for you. We've had some great results in a collaborative effort with the BLM to build and clean ponds. They brought in a load of bentonite and helped to disc it in. Working together and cooperation is the key.
"We also need to educate the people on the importance of cattle on the land. We need to monitor our land. We can get the range con involved in monitoring. They'll send you articles and emails to help you. We need to get a dialogue going.
"We've been involved in mine reclamation through the use of cows. We need to think outside the box," said James.
The next speakers on the agenda were Steve Allen, rancher and Dave Bradford, USFS, Paonia, Colo. They discussed the grazing practices from their area of Colorado. The West Elk area includes 90,000 acres, 85 percent belonging to the forest service, 5 percent BLM and the remaining 10 percent is a wilderness area. This West Elk grazing pool consists of seven permittees with a grazing season from May 10-Oct.10. The area includes 30 units and four allotments. They began in the early 90s to develop a well defined goal. They worked to get rid of utilization standards and start on a plan which invited people to public meetings. They held a number of meetings where about 10-15 people showed up and they talked about what they wanted to see happen in the future and what they valued. They developed a goal that everyone could buy into. The forest service, permittees and the environmentalists as well as a few outfitters. Their goal from now and into the future stated that they would develop a secure economic situation and be good stewards of the land and enjoy doing it.
Their stewardship of the land would foster abundant and diverse flora and fauna as well as clean air and water and stable soils. Allen reported that it took a year to get everyone to agree on what they wanted. A vital part of making it work is saying what you want before you can come to an agreement.
Bradford described the landscape they have to work with, "Our landscape includes many different habitat types. We have adobe soils. We have a diversity of juniper which cover the 6-7,000 feet elevations. We have mountain shrub at 7-8,000 elevation. We have aspen ridges which open up in late June and the subalpine ranges of 9,500 to 10,500 feet elevations."
Allen said, "We plan the grazing every spring at a big planning meeting. One of the factors considered are time and timing. Our meetings are also open to the public. We discuss frequency, hunting and the opportunity for plant regrowth. We have to deal with the elk calving and deer fawning seasons as well as the spotted leopard frog. We have 30 pastures and we determine the number and season they will be grazed. We work to accomplish the resource objective. We have also used the cows for an oak brush treatment in an area where the accumulation of oak brush was too thick.
"The cattle are managed as a herd as they move through the 30 pastures. We take the herd as one group through a rotation. The livestock are moved through the allotment using low stress handling. I use border collies in the herding of the cattle. There are usually cow leaders that want to push on to the next pasture and the dogs work to slow the leaders down as well as speed up the tail end. They work to see that an area isn't overgrazed by the stragglers. They work to slow the leaders down so they don't come out early. We let the cattle flow. We have found if you can get the front going the back will come.
"The collies know their commands which are, 'get' and 'that'll do.' Most pasture moves are drifting from one pasture to the adjacent pasture. In the winter they move through dormant grass using them as they go. Most of the moves are drifts using animal behavior such as fresh feed and salt to move them. We used to push the animals all the way up the trail eight miles to get them up where they needed to go and now we just start them out at the bottom and two guys pick them up at the top.
"I use salt sparingly, maybe half a ton a year. I use it as an attractant only. I put the salt behind the cattle as a reward for staying where you leave them. When you identify cows with undesirable traits, then ship them.
"I stay on the fringes of the herd to get what I want to happen. These cows work for me, I don't work for them. We string temporary electric fence to control cattle bunching. We also have photos of managed grazing in action. Historically in our area there were smaller numbers and longer grazing seasons.
"There is no formula for designating a successful grazing plan. You need to deal with your specific circumstances. Base grazing plans on a biological approach. Start quickly and don't get bogged down. We were able to get the environmentalists to buy in and the forest service told us, 'If the rules don't let you do what's right for the land. We'll change them.'
"Plan on having a wreck, things can and do go wrong; nothing works perfectly. It isn't a mistake if you don't repeat it. Schedule meetings every year and fine tune your plan. Get out and look at the ground together.
"Why this approach? This approach provides flexibility on the ground. The cattle perform better. Relationships with other ranchers improve. We all get along better because we are trying to work together for the goal. Do more than your share and it all gets done. Working with the forest service is helpful. Range conditions have improved and we can ask for more numbers. The forest service wanted to monitor and improve range conditions. We have had a lot of success in Colorado. We are trying to initiate change. We have held range schools with the extension office, BLM and the forest service. They teach range management courses. We are working to bring information to ranchers.
"We use management based on time and timing. This past year we got through the drought without any reductions. The sheep people moved their sheep more than 20 times in some places, but they made it through the drought," said Allen.
Bradford said, "We have used the cows for a vegetative treatment of an area that was thick with oak brush, which the elk use in their winter range. It was so thick they couldn't penetrate it. So when the cows came off in the fall they gathered in a sorting area which was a confined area. The cattle helped to create more open area in this oak brush. It was a subtle change but we are making improvements.
Some of those present asked questions of Bradford and Allen. They wondered about the grazing within the wilderness area. "There are some roads in the wilderness area, but you can't use motorized vehicles within the wilderness area. We do cut trails with chain saws. The grazing is managed the same in the wilderness area," said Bradford.
The question was asked, "How long does it take cattle to get used to being managed like this?" Allen said, "By the end of the season it was working pretty good and they fall back into it in the spring because they are familiar with it. But, plan on three years for the cattle to adjust."
The question of whether there was any overlap of cattle and sheep was asked. Bradford said, "There has been dual use since the late 70s, the biggest problem has been the people getting along."
They were asked if they had an elk problem. Bradford said, "We have a lot of elk and there is some conflict. The calving areas for elk have to be dealt with and 70 percent of the grasses are used by the elk. The elk will drift off after the cows move into an area and then they will come back when the cattle move on."
One rancher wanted to know about the effect of the cows in the wilderness area on those using the area. Allen said, "The cows love the camp sites. They talk to everyone they come across. We post the grazing schedule at the trail head so hikers and others will know where the cattle will be at any given time. A lot of people see the wilderness area on horse back. We don't have any significant conflicts in the wilderness area."
"We believe in what we do and are trying to spread the word. We work under the same rules as everyone else and we can see the benefits on the land. Envision what the land will be like. Is our plan taking us to the place we want to be? Build trust and vision. The range schools are beneficial. You can have a biological explanation of what you want to do and why it's beneficial to the land," said Bradford.
(This is the second in a series of articles on rangeland issues)