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Front Page » January 21, 2003 » Local News » Part Iii: Healing Rangeland
Published 5,148 days ago

Part Iii: Healing Rangeland

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Survival for Today's Ranchs

This riparian area was rehabilitated by the installation of meanders in the stream.
The stream channel before the restoration work in the picture above took place.

At the recent Utah Range Coalition's conference held in Moab, attendees heard from Courtney White who is one of the founding members of the Quivira Coalition from New Mexico. He serves as the executive director of the Quivira Coalition. An archaeologist by training, he became active in the environmental movement in 1994. He co-founded the Quivira Coalition in 1997 with a rancher and other conservationists in an attempt to share, "common sense solutions to the grazing debate." In 19a99 he was named the Innovator of the Year by the New Mexico chapter of the society for range management.

White said, "We hold educational events and projects which involve new ideas and bring ranchers, environmentalists and public land managers together. We conduct classes on how to gauge rangeland health. It's been five and a half years since we formed the Quivira Coalition.

We've developed elements concerning dormant season use, restoring riparian areas and experimenting with electric fence. The advantages of these elements have been well documented.

"A grazing plan to stay out of an area for two and a half years was implemented in some areas, dormancy and use can work. Also changing the season of use can be a benefit. It's a simple idea.

"Cattle grazing can be used to control the sediments going into water sources. Cattle are introduced to a pasture and seed is thrown down and the cattle, 'poop and stomp.' The rains come and the organic process takes place. This process can be used anywhere. It is now being used to restore land previously used for mining activities. One hillside was completely devoid of plant life and within one season it was restored with this method.

"We tried to get the forest service to let us try this cattle experiment on the lands burned by the huge fires the previous year in New Mexico, but they wouldn't let us on the land. We have the opportunity in front of us to restore landscapes." said White.

White presented a slide show which showed the reclamation project of the hillside which had been a prior mine use area. He also showed other areas which had been restored through these various projects. He spoke of developing projects for ranchers which aid the healing of the landscapes to the advantage of society. These methods are much more successful than typical reseeding and reclamation projects.

White spoke of the 50,000 acres of grazing lands they have lost to subdivisions in his area. He told the story of a rancher whose forest service grazing permit had been cut. He was willing to try and start the dialogue. He began a program of planned grazing and increased rangeland health. One element included encouraging the grasses of the cool season to come back and planning dormant season use. He allowed people on his property and this has been a positive experience for this rancher. The environmentalists and the ranchers can get along.

"One of the riparian restoration projects he used included, induced meandering. He found materials....discarded boards and short logs.....these were hammered into the creek and skunk brush was weaved into them. This slowed the water down and let nature do the work of restoring the riparian area. This work tweaked the system back to health. This was very simple to do.

"Another method is a one rock dam which slows the water down and encourages meandering. You can start anywhere in the watershed. This method also helps to slow down flash flood situations.

"Another project we have been involved with is holding ranch road workshops. These workshops focus on improving ranch roads to impede sediments from going into the water systems. This method of contouring the road helps direct the water to run to the sides of the road instead of down the middle of the road.

"Another project we have been heavily involved in is the grass bank. Some property was up for sale and the conservation fund bought the grazing permit for the property and the area also included 30 acres of forest service permit. This property was offered to the ranchers of New Mexico for a grass bank. Instead of taking their animals onto their allotments for grazing, they are brought to the grass bank, while their home ground is restored. This has been a collaborative effort with good forest service support. There is a long waiting list of those ranchers wanting to use the grass bank. It was filled the first year of its existence. The forest service works on the allotments while the cows are on the grass bank. They thin and burn trees and open up grasslands again. We are trying to get the natural processes back. This grass bank has been used as a model and we've had good support for it. The grass bank is also oversubscribed and there is a great need for more like it.

"We need to work to keep the rancher in business. The idea of the grass bank has not yet caught fire in our area of New Mexico. We had hoped for a number of them by now. But, this change is a slow process. The forest service hasn't done all the restoration work that needs to be done on the resting allotments and that needs to be speeded up as well. It takes three-four years on the grass bank for their home ground to be restored. We received a grant to hire a director for the grass bank. They are heavily involved in monitoring, both qualitive and quantitative. We are also looking at some BLM land to begin another grass bank.

"Will a grass bank work where you are? Think about it. We are looking at bringing everyone together to share knowledge and start dialogue. We want to quit fighting.

"We are looking at the ground and the rangeland and the health of that land. We are looking at better working relationships with the feds. We are hopeful about the future. We are more optimistic today than we were yesterday. Our grassbank is the only one we know of that is functioning on public lands.

"We have an encroaching tree problem in New Mexico. They are choking the forest and we are losing grassland at a rate of 1 percent per year," said White.

There is a process underway in Emery County to begin grass banks. They are looking for permittees willing to sell or lease their allotment to be used as a grass bank. The forest service also has purchased two sheep allotments and they have plans to allow grazing on that allotment while home allotments are allowed to rest and revegetate.

After White had addressed conference goers the conference was opened up for questions and discussion. Those who had presented their ideas and reports on what is currently being done on rangelands were asked questions from those in the audience.

A synopsis of those questions and discussions were: Discussion on efforts to revise site descriptions for allotments.

Encouragement was felt with the grass bank where the forest service is deviating from the bureaucracy and looking at ways to work that are improving the way things are done now.

Discussion of soils and their ability to produce. Soils and climate changes in regards to the soil foundation. Soil is the basis....the foundation....determining the potential of that soil and its texture, depth and other components is beneficial in determining its capabilities in producing healthy grasslands.

Nongrazing of this land for years left it in poor condition.
This ground has sustained new growth as a result of grazing.

A question was brought up concerning a rest for an allotment on the forest service. "Does this include a rest from recreational uses or just from grazing uses?" Elaine Zieroth, forest supervisor, answered this particular question saying that it depended on why the allotment was being rested and what the problem was. They would look at all of the things causing a problem and address them. She said they like to keep areas open to the people.

One question about the controversy on resting allotments. They felt that people say when you don't fill an allotment that you're trying to eliminate grazing. Educating the people seemed to be the key to this controversy as well as grass banks which are established on private lands.

One rancher was interested in the low stress stock handling that the panel had introduced. Steve Allen said he had learned everything he knows from his dog. He said it takes time to work with the livestock. He said he had one dog who could always find a stray cow and bring him in. He said he copied how the dog worked with the cows. He said he also works in conjunction with the Quivira Coalition in giving hands on clinics discussing low stress livestock handling.

Some discussion of the environmentalists and their ideas about public lands and grazing was discussed. White told about the Pecos Wilderness in his area where they didn't want cattle in their wilderness. He said it was not an ecological issue but a value issue. This value issue was separate from the ecological health of the wilderness. This wilderness isn't functioning and a lot of wilderness areas are not is a clash of values and society needs to know that this is a social issue. This is not an ecological issue. The environmentalists are just masquerading it as such. They should just say they don't want cow poop in the wilderness.......not try to make it into an ecological issue....because we all know that grazing is good for the land.

"Their goal for wilderness is to have an esthetic experience, but don't they want it healthy ecologically? Grazing is beneficial to wilderness.

Discussion about the elk and how they like the areas grazed by the cattle was mentioned. They flock to these grazed areas and avoided the wilderness area where there hadn't been any grazing for five years.

White again expressed his dismay with private lands being eaten up with subdivisions and his fears about permittees being pushed off of public lands. "How do you reform a subdivision? We are losing our wildlife corridors. The environmentalists don't consider the effects on private lands."

The question of money for restoration projects was brought up. White explained a little about how Quivira Coalition has looked for grants and monies in unusual places. The Sierra Club has donated to their efforts as well as other environmental organizations. "Be creative," White encouraged, "The amount of money going towards restoration projects pales in comparison with the amount of money federal agencies are being forced to spend in litigation, lawyers and court cases. These funds should be turned into problem solving funds. We should help the feds and all band together and pool resources to work together.

White also talked about the huge volunteer efforts taking place where volunteers have come in to work on the riparian areas. Farmers play a major role. They need to let people know what you do and how you make things work. Educate people. People need to know where their sources of water are and how to work to see these remain uncontaminated.

Working to educate people in the areas of science involved with the land and the water was also discussed. Keeping explanations simple enough for people to understand and making it relevant to them and their situations. Zieroth stressed the fact that people need to feel connected to the land and in today's society that is not the case. They don't understand the land and are disengaged from the land.

It was stressed that ranchers need to get the message out of what they are doing. White also mentioned that there is a potential in the Farm Bill to pay farmers for conservation efforts for land and water projects.

Barton ended the conference by saying, "Grazing in Utah may not mean much to the outside world, but it means a lot to you and me."

(This is the conclusion of a three part series on rangeland. Photos on front page courtesy of theQuivira Coalition.)

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