Montana Stockgrowers Seeking Applications for 2015 Environmental Stewardship Award

montana environmental stewardship award programHelena, MT – Do you know a Montana rancher who is a leader in stewardship and sustainability, implementing conservation practices to ensure the social, economic, and environmental sustainability of their operation? Encourage them to apply for the Montana Environmental Stewardship Award, presented by the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA). Applications for the 2015 award are due June 30.

Each year, MSGA honors Montana ranches that exemplify environmental stewardship and demonstrate commitment toward improved sustainability within their communities. This award recognizes Montana ranchers who are at the forefront in conservation and stewardship and are willing to serve as examples for other ranchers.

“Montana ranchers are leaders in this country when it comes to being stewards of our environment and conserving the natural resources that help make Montana such a great state to live in,” said Gene Curry, MSGA President and rancher from Valier. “We are asking the community to get involved in helping us identify ranches that really go above and beyond when it comes to environmental stewardship and conservation in their local areas.”

American Fork Ranch Environmental Stewardship Jed Evjene David StevensLast year’s recipient of the ESAP recognition was the American Fork Ranch, a commercial cow-calf operation in Wheatland and Sweet Grass counties. The American Fork is owned by the Stevens family and is managed by Jed and Annie Evjene, long-time active members of MSGA.

Over the past 17 years, the Stevens and Evjene families have focused on establishing relationships among all key aspects of the ranch: rangeland, water, crop production, cattle herd, wildlife, cottonwood forests, employees, family, community and the beef industry to integrate a model of sustainability. These cooperative efforts have led to relationships and projects in coordination with professionals from numerous universities, state and federal agencies, area and state Stockgrower organizations, and several youth programs.

Today, the American Fork Ranch is home to a diverse population of plant species and managed wildlife populations. Intensive record keeping, over a decade of range monitoring, water development projects and weed management have led to pasture conditions that promote diverse plant species and thick stands of stockpiled forage for year-round grazing. A heavy focus on riparian area management has allowed for recovery of plant species, Cottonwood forest regrowth, improved water quality and enhanced wildlife habitat, even in the presence of livestock grazing.

Read more about the American Fork Ranch on our blog.

Ranches wishing to apply for the 2015 ESAP award and recognition are asked to complete an application packet (available on our ESAP page), due to MSGA by June 30. Nominations can be submitted by contacting the MSGA office. Ranches must be a member of the Montana Stockgrowers Association to qualify for the award.

The ranch chosen for the award will be announced at MSGA’s Annual Convention and Trade Show in Billings, Dec. 3-5 at the MetraPark in Billings. The Montana ESAP winner will then prepare their application for the Regional and National Award competition, which is typically due in early March of the following year.

Since 1992, Montana Stockgrowers has honored 22 state winners, ten of whom went on to win the regional award and two named national award winners. To learn more, visit mtbeef.org, or contact Ryan Goodman at ryan@mtbeef.org or (406) 442-3420. The Montana Environmental Stewardship Award is funded in part by Montana Beef Producers with Checkoff Dollars.

Looking Ahead For Montana Sage Grouse Stewardship | Podcast

PodcastOn this week’s podcast, we’ll continue our conversation with Stockgrowers Executive Vice President, Errol Rice, to find out what happens in policy work after the legislative session ends in Helena. Plus, we’ll have a recap on sage grouse stewardship and what conservation of this bird’s habitat means for ranchers in the western states.

Learn more about Senate Bill 261, which establishes Montana’s sage grouse stewardship plans, that was signed by Governor Bullock last week.

Have questions or suggestions for future podcast topics? Connect with us via our Contact form.

Livestock Organizations Encourage BLM to Deny American Prairie Reserve’s Flat Creek Allotment Requests

Montana PLC LogoThe Montana Association of State Grazing Districts (MASGD) and Montana Public Lands Council (MPLC), recently submitted comments to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in response to a request by the American Prairie Reserve (APR) to change class of livestock from cattle to bison and to remove interior fences on Flat Creek Allotment in south Phillips County.

These organizations, along with Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA), National Public Lands Council (PLC) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), do not support the changes requested by APR.

In the application submitted by APR to the Malta Field Office, requests were made to change the class of livestock allowed on the grazing allotment from cattle to bison. APR seeks permission to remove interior fencing and manage their private lands along with the public lands as one common pasture. The request also included changing the allotment grazing season to year-round from the current May 1 – Nov. 15 grazing.

Change the class of livestock from cattle to bison

Given the APR’s plan for bison restoration on a desired millions of acres of contiguous land, the local, state and national livestock organizations request BLM consider a comprehensive review of bison management, before allowing additional change requests to occur.

MASGD LogoAPR’s application for class change from cattle to bison appears to be a simple request for a change of livestock. However, BLM’s decision to convert grazing leases from cattle to bison represents a significant management change, which requires consideration of many other factors beyond the conversion of grazing from one livestock category to another.

Removal of Interior Fencing

The request to remove all interior fencing has raised considerable concerns in the livestock communities. In recent years, BLM has supported range management plans that utilize cross fencing, which allows livestock producers to increase carrying capacity and maintain additional control over the livestock movements. Removal of interior fences decreases management options and reduces carrying capacity when animals concentrate in desired areas.

Mr. Ted Turner’s Flying D Ranch in Gallatin County provides a prime example of this type of management action and reversal. During an interview in reference to his book (Last Stand, 2013), Turner described how he sought to “re-wild” the land and help the bison by tearing down all the fences on the ranch’s 170 square miles.

A few years later, Turner recognized the grazing management strategy was not working as planned. The ranch replaced some of those same fences to better manage bison grazing. A similar situation would exist should APR’s request be permitted on the Flat Creek Allotment.

Questions are raised for the need to remove interior fences when APR reports the success of wildlife friendly fences already in existence. APR’s website promotes its replacing of old fences and constructing “new fences designed specifically to manage bison and allow for the free movement of wildlife.”

Year-Round Grazing

BLM generally allows for very limited permits where year-round grazing is allowed. This application questions whether this is a special exception due to the animals being bison.

Concerns should be raised over the magnitude of this allotment management change, including how range monitoring will be completed and documented to meet BLM range standards. With the possibility of no interior fences and year-round grazing, it will be difficult for BLM to address range conditions that are not meeting standards and take corrective actions.

An additional concern is the impact this request may have on sage grouse and the pending decision on the status of the species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While grazing is certainly compatible and beneficial to sage grouse, it is important to implement grazing practices based on sound management principles. BLM has typically supported, encouraged and, in most cases, required grazing systems that allow for control of domestic livestock in a form of rest-rotation systems.

These time-controlled grazing practices tend toward increased herbaceous cover on rangelands, which is beneficial to wildlife and the resource itself. Given the importance of this potential listing and reduced options to address resource concerns, livestock organizations recommend BLM deny this request.

From the local, state and national level, MASGD, MPLC, MSGA, PLC and NCBA are directed and made up of ranchers representing the West’s livestock producers. The livestock organizations’ missions are to maintain a stable business environment for ranchers that utilize combined state, federal and private lands so that ranching families may continue their traditions of livestock production and stewardship.

Many of the requested changes in this grazing allotment have raised a number of resource concerns that these livestock organizations feel have not been fully vetted and analyzed by the BLM. Given these concerns, local, state and national livestock organizations request that BLM deny APR’s application for the proposed changes to the Flat Creek Allotment.

USDA Report: Ranchers’ Conservation Efforts Positively Impact Sage Grouse

Originally shared by Public Lands Council

The United States Department of Agriculture recently issued a report showing that since 2010, USDA and its partners in the Sage Grouse Initiative have worked with private landowners to restore 4.4 million acres of habitat for sage-grouse while maintaining working landscapes across the West. USDA also announced today that, through the provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill, it will invest in new sage-grouse conservation work over the next four years.

Sage Grouse Habitat MontanaThe Sage Grouse initiative is a diverse partnership between ranchers, state and federal agencies, universities, non-profit groups, and private business led by Natural Resource Conservation Service.

“We’re working with ranchers who are taking proactive steps to improve habitat for sage-grouse while improving the sustainability of their agricultural operations,” Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie said. “Thanks to the interest from ranchers and support of our conservation partners, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is working to secure this species’ future while maintaining our vibrant western economies. Since 2010, we’ve worked with ranchers to conserve, restore, or maintain more than 4 million acres of habitat on private lands – an area twice the size Yellowstone National Park.

Sage Grouse are found in 11 states across the western United States and their habitat encompasses 186 million acres of both federal and private land. Public Lands Council President Brenda Richards said livestock grazing and wildlife habitat conservation are complimentary efforts.

“Ranchers are the original conservationists and the have been the best stewards of the land from the beginning,” said Richards, a rancher from Idaho. “I’m happy to see the hard work and dedication of ranchers is not only being recognized by USDA, but also encouraged to continue. With cooperation from stakeholders on the ground, the species and its habitat will be given the best possible chance to succeed.”

In the past five years, NRCS has invested $296.5 million to restore and conserve sage-grouse habitat, and has pledged to extend these efforts by approximately $200 million over four years through the conservation programs funded by the 2014 Farm Bill. Additionally, NRCS is piloting use of its Conservation Stewardship Program to broaden the impacts of SGI by targeting up to 275,000 acres to enhance sage-grouse habitat in 2015.

Through the SGI, conservation easements have increased across the range to 451,884 acres and have focused on eliminating the encroachment of conifer trees on grassland, which not only benefit the sage-grouse, but also improve the forage available on grazing lands. The overgrowth of trees and brush serve as fuel for wildfires and are a significant threat to the rangeland, said Richards.

“The biggest threat to any wildlife population is lack of open space. Ranchers ensure that rangelands remain intact and in good health,” Richards said. “We also know that for the sage grouse, wildfire is another large threat. Due to SGI’s cooperation with ranchers and other stakeholders to remove fuel loads from the range, the risk of wildfire is greatly reduced.”

Public Lands Council Logo

USDA Report: Ranchers’ Conservation Efforts Positively Impact Sage Grouse

WASHINGTON –The United States Department of Agriculture this week issued a report showing that since 2010, USDA and its partners in the Sage Grouse Initiative have worked with private landowners to restore 4.4 million acres of habitat for sage-grouse while maintaining working landscapes across the West. USDA also announced today that, through the provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill, it will invest in new sage-grouse conservation work over the next four years.

The Sage Grouse initiative is a diverse partnership between ranchers, state and federal agencies, universities, non-profit groups, and private business led by Natural Resource Conservation Service.

“We’re working with ranchers who are taking proactive steps to improve habitat for sage-grouse while improving the sustainability of their agricultural operations,” Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie said. “Thanks to the interest from ranchers and support of our conservation partners, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is working to secure this species’ future while maintaining our vibrant western economies. Since 2010, we’ve worked with ranchers to conserve, restore, or maintain more than 4 million acres of habitat on private lands – an area twice the size Yellowstone National Park.

Sage Grouse are found in 11 states across the western United States and their habitat encompasses 186 million acres of both federal and private land. Public Lands Council President Brenda Richards said livestock grazing and wildlife habitat conservation are complimentary efforts.

“Ranchers are the original conservationists and the have been the best stewards of the land from the beginning,” said Richards, a rancher from Idaho. “I’m happy to see the hard work and dedication of ranchers is not only being recognized by USDA, but also encouraged to continue. With cooperation from stakeholders on the ground, the species and its habitat will be given the best possible chance to succeed.”

In the past five years, NRCS has invested $296.5 million to restore and conserve sage-grouse habitat, and has pledged to extend these efforts by approximately $200 million over four years through the conservation programs funded by the 2014 Farm Bill.  Additionally, NRCS is piloting use of its Conservation Stewardship Program to broaden the impacts of SGI by targeting up to 275,000 acres to enhance sage-grouse habitat in 2015.

Through the SGI, conservation easements have increased across the range to 451,884 acres and  have focused on eliminating the encroachment of conifer trees on grassland, which not only benefit the sage-grouse, but also improve the forage available on grazing lands. The overgrowth of trees and brush serve as fuel for wildfires and are a significant threat to the rangeland, said Richards.

“The biggest threat to any wildlife population is lack of open space. Ranchers ensure that rangelands remain intact and in good health,” Richards said. “We also know that for the sage grouse, wildfire is another large threat. Due to SGI’s cooperation with ranchers and other stakeholders to remove fuel loads from the range, the risk of wildfire is greatly reduced.”

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PLC has represented livestock ranchers who use public lands since 1968, preserving the natural resources and unique heritage of the West. Ranchers who utilize public lands own nearly 120 million acres of the most productive private land and manage vast areas of public land, accounting for critical wildlife habitat and the nation’s natural resources. PLC works to maintain a stable business environment in which livestock producers can conserve the West and feed the nation and world.

Grazing Management Tools for Young Stockgrowers | Annual Convention Speaker

We’re excited to have a great line up of speakers for the 2014 Annual Convention, Dec. 11-13 in Billings. The featured speaker during our Young Stockgrowers meeting on Thursday night will be Tyrrell Hibbard with Montana Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative. Earlier this year, GLCI released a new web program to assist with grazing management. Tyrrell will be discussing this new tool and other uses of technology Young Stockgrowers can utilize when managing pastures and grazing forages. To learn more about the Annual Convention speaker line up, click here.

New Grazing Recordkeeping System Offers Ranchers Better Tool

Bozeman —The Montana Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI) recently launched a new web-based planning and record keeping program for ranchers and grazing managers. GrazeKeeper is an electronic tool to manage livestock and pasture inventory, grazing plans, and grazing records.

“We are very glad to see GrazeKeeper become a reality,” said Chase Hibbard, Montana GLCI committee member who helped develop the program. “This will offer ranchers a tool they have not had before to make their recordkeeping and grazing decisions easier.”

GrazeKeeper, on the web at www.grazekeeper.com, allows users to inventory resources, track in- and out-dates of numerous herds, automatically track weather and precipitation using NOAA data, and map the ranch and pastures with Google Maps. GrazeKeeper is uniquely capable of providing reports by management group (animal herd) or by pasture and mining several years of data to compile in-depth reports.

Key Features of GrazeKeeper:

  • Simplifies the task of keeping pasture records
  • Simplifies the process of creating grazing reports, either by pasture or management group
  • Facilitates making informed decisions regarding stocking rates, carrying capacity, and grazing movements
  • Customizes pasture, livestock, and grazing reports

grazekeeperInterested users can sign up for GrazeKeeper at www.grazekeeper.com under a free 90-day trial period, which offers full functionality of the program and its valuable reports to users. After the free 90-day trial period, users will receive a payment window to purchase the product. Depending on the number of pastures a user wishes to track with GrazeKeeper, subscriptions run from $12 per month (for 10 pastures or less) to $48 per month (for unlimited pastures).

For more information about GrazeKeeper, and to sign up for a free 90-day trial, please visit www.grazekeeper.com.

Preliminary analysis of EPA/Corp’s Waters of the U.S. Proposed Rule

environmental protection agency epa logoAriel Overstreet-Adkins, MSGA legal/policy intern, has been working this summer to evaluate the EPA WOTUS rule changes. To learn more, contact the MSGA office, (406) 442-3420. To submit comments, visit www2.epa.gov/uswaters before October 20, 2014.

MSGA is currently undertaking a comprehensive legal analysis of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) proposed change regarding the definition of Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act (CWA). We hope to have our comments drafted by the end of August  to provide members with guidance about submitting your own comments, which are due by October 20. The proposed language itself is only about a page and a half in length. [View our online newsletter to read] The language would apply to 12 different sections in the Code of Federal Regulations. MSGA is also engaging with the Interpretative Rule that accompanied this proposed rule (see side bar).

One thing is certain as MSGA engages in a preliminary analysis; this proposed rule does not achieve the EPA and Corps’ goals of clarity and simplicity. There are many ambiguous words and phrases that could be interpreted in any of a number of ways. Our main areas of concern are on the definition of tributary which would include ditches. There are a couple of exemptions as it relates to ditches, but we are unsure how applicable those will be in Montana. Important words in the proposal are not defined, such as “upland,” “significant” in significant nexus, “other waters,” and “through another water.” The role of groundwater is also a murky area. While the EPA claims this rule does not regulate groundwater (and the CWA itself specifically says it does not) the new rule proposal includes language about “shallow subsurface hydrologic connection” between two bodies of water. That phrase is not defined and leaves confusion about the role of groundwater, whether it is regulated under this proposal, or if it can be used to establish a connection between two bodies of water with no surface connection for the sake of regulation.

Our biggest question at this point is what are we doing so poorly in the state of Montana that the EPA feels they need to obtain more jurisdiction over our waters? We have strong laws and regulations in the Montana and ranchers work hard to protect the land and the water that is so vital to their everyday operations. Our constitution recognizes and confirms existing rights to any waters for any useful or beneficial purpose and states that “all surface, underground, flood, and atmospheric waters within the boundaries of the state are the property of the state for the use of its people and are subject to appropriation for beneficial uses as provided by law.” (Article IX, Section 3(3)).

MSGA will continue to grapple with these questions as we analyze this proposed rule and its potential impacts on ranching in Montana. Earlier this month, MSGA staff attended the Montana Legislature’s Water Policy Interim Committee in Helena where this rule was discussed. Staff also had an excellent conversation with Senator Jon Tester’s staff about the proposed rule and our concerns.

To read the full proposal and other documents (including the EPA’s scientific and economic analyses); visit the EPA’s website at www2.epa.gov/uswaters.  If you have any questions or comments about the proposal, especially comments about how this proposal might affect you personally, please call Ariel at (406) 930-1317 or send an email to arieloverstreet@gmail.com.

NRCS Sets Program Funding Application Deadline for June 1

Image via NRCS EQIP

Image via NRCS EQIP

BOZEMAN, Mont., April 15, 2014–The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has set a June 1, 2014, application deadline for agricultural operators to be considered for 2015 conservation program funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

NRCS provides funding and technical assistance to help farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices that provide environmental benefits to help sustain agricultural operations. Conservation program participation is voluntary and helps private landowners and operators defray the costs of installing conservation practices.

NRCS accepts conservation program applications year-round; however, applications for 2015 funding consideration must be submitted by June 1, 2014. Applications made after the deadline will be considered in the next funding cycle. Additional information is available on the Montana NRCS website at www.mt.nrcs.usda.gov.

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The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers in order to address natural resource concerns and deliver environmental benefits such as improved water and air quality, conserved ground and surface water, reduced soil erosion and sedimentation or improved or created wildlife habitat. Learn more about how Montana ranchers utilize EQIP funding to implement conservation practices on ranches through the Montana Environmental Stewardship Awards Program.

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Montana Environmental Stewardship Award

Montana Stockgrowers Seeking Applications for 2014 Environmental Stewardship Award

Montana Environmental Stewardship AwardHelena, MT – Do you know a Montana rancher who is a leader in stewardship, implementing conservation practices to ensure the social, economic, and environmental sustainability of their operation? Encourage them to apply for the Montana Environmental Stewardship Award, presented by the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA).  Applications for the 2014 award are due June 30.

Each year, MSGA honors Montana ranches that exemplify environmental stewardship and demonstrate commitment toward improved sustainability within their communities. This award recognizes Montana ranchers who are at the forefront in conservation and stewardship and are willing to serve as examples for other ranchers.

“Montana ranchers are leaders in this country when it comes to being stewards of our environment and conserving the natural resources that help make Montana such a great state to live in,” said Ryan Goodman, MSGA manager of communications. “We are asking the community to get involved in helping us identify ranches that really go above and beyond when it comes to environmental stewardship and conservation in their local areas.”

2013 Montana ESAP Award Winner – LaSalle Ranch, Havre, MT. Read more in a previous post.

Ranches wishing to apply for the award and recognition are asked to complete an application packet (available at mtbeef.org/mesap); due to the MSGA office by June 30. Nominations can be submitted by contacting the MSGA office. Ranches must be a member of the Montana Stockgrowers Association to qualify for the award. A committee, which will include representatives from Montana Stockgrowers, Montana Beef Council, past Environmental Stewardship Award winners, and others invested in Montana stewardship and conservation will evaluate the applications after all applications are completed.

The ranch chosen for the award will be announced at MSGA’s Annual Convention and Trade Show in Billings, Dec. 11-13 at the Holiday Inn Grand Montana. The Montana ESAP winner will then work with MSGA staff to prepare their application for the Regional and National Award competition, which is typically due in early March of the following year.

Since 1992, Montana Stockgrowers has honored 21 state winners, ten of whom went on to win the regional award and two named national award winners. To learn more, visit www.mtbeef.org/mesap, or contact Ryan Goodman at ryan@mtbeef.org or (406) 442-3420. The Montana Environmental Stewardship Award is sponsored by MSGA’s Research and Education Endowment Foundation and funded by Montana Beef Producers with Checkoff Dollars.

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USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service logo

USDA Extends Deadline for Conservation Stewardship Applications

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7, 2014 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has extended the deadline for new enrollments in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for fiscal year 2014. Producers interested in participating in the program can submit applications to NRCS through Feb. 7, 2014.

“Extending the enrollment deadline will make it possible for more farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to apply for this important Farm Bill conservation program,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said. “Through their conservation actions, these good stewards are ensuring that their operations are more productive and sustainable over the long run and CSP can help them take their operations to the next level of natural resource management.”

Weller said today’s announcement is another example of USDA’s comprehensive focus on promoting environmental conservation and strengthening the rural economy, and it is a reminder that a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill is pivotal to continue these efforts. CSP is now in its fifth year and so far, NRCS has partnered with producers to enroll more than 59 million acres across the nation.

The program emphasizes conservation performance — producers earn higher payments for higher performance. In CSP, producers install conservation enhancements to make positive changes in soil quality, soil erosion, water quality, water quantity, air quality, plant resources, animal resources and energy use.

Eligible landowners and operators in all states and territories can enroll in CSP through Feb. 7 to be eligible during fiscal 2014. While local NRCS offices accept CSP applications year round, NRCS evaluates applications during announced ranking periods. To be eligible for this year’s enrollment, producers must have their applications submitted to NRCS by the closing date.

A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help producers determine if the program is suitable for their operation. The checklist highlights basic information about CSP eligibility requirements, stewardship threshold requirements and payment types.

Learn more about CSP by visiting the NRCS website or any local USDA service center.

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USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of Adjudication, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (866) 632-9992 (Toll-free Customer Service), (800) 877-8339 (Local or Federal relay), (866) 377-8642 (Relay voice users).