Environmental Stewardship 2016 Winner | Cherry Creek Ranch

Reukauf family ranch thrives in arid eastern Montana by going for environmental gains

By Laura Nelson
Montana Environmental Stewardship Program

Cherry Creek Ranch Environmental Stewardship Lon ReukaufPersevering in the harsh ranching climate of eastern Montana can build character, that’s for sure, Lon Reukauf jokes. But lessons of the land often run on repeat, so a well-read history book can point to opportunities to learn, grow, conserve and preserve a sustainable future.

Fortunately, the Cherry Creek Ranch in Terry, Montana has a well-read history to help build the future. When Lon Reukauf’s grandparents homesteaded the area along Cherry Creek in 1910, there was a new pioneer home every half-mile along the dusty trail. Families were eager to try their hand at eking out a living with the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909. While 160 acres in the vast, dry land of eastern Montana could not sustain a family, this act allowed for 320 acre settlements.

Today, the Reukaufs are one of five original ranches still left on the homesteading land that once held 200 families. Lon married Vicki, his high school sweetheart, after graduating from Montana State University. They returned to Cherry Creek Ranch in 1982, faced with many of the same struggles his grandfather’s family persevered through decades before. Namely, they faced the onset of another lengthy, browbeating drought. Still, Lon and Vicki raised their two children on the ranch while tending to the land and cattle.

Cherry Creek Ranch Lon ReukaufThey added another page to the Cherry Creek Ranch history book this winter when the Montana Stockgrowers Association honored the Reukaufs with the 2016 Montana Environmental Stewardship Award. The family accepted the award at the Stockgrower’s annual convention in Billings.
“The advantage of good stewardship is, your sustainability and longevity depend fully on it,” Lon says. “You’re much more likely to weather serious disasters like drought, fire and the like if you’ve taken good care of the land.”

The overall objective of the commercial cow-calf ranch is simple, Lon says: “Take good care of the land, plants and animals while making some profit to live on, retire on and pass on to the next generation.” Achieving that goal is a touch more complicated. To do it, the Reukaufs focus on four primary areas of stewardship: build a forage reserve, build a financial reserve, build on cow reproduction and build and preserve a healthy landscape to pass along.

BUILDING A FORAGE RESERVE

“What you do during the drought, once it’s that dry, really isn’t that relevant. It’s what you do before and after that grass is dry and dormant that’s really going to matter,” Lon says. Precipitation is scarce in a good year at the Cherry Creek Ranch, and lengthy drought patterns are normal throughout thousands of years of history.

Strategic grazing allows the Reukaufs to maintain a full bank of forage reserves that will keep the family and their base cattle herd afloat in dry years. The strategy also works to continually invigorate their landscape and encourage diversity in plant growth.
“A big part of the forage reserves is about having an opportunity to pick the market you’re selling into, as opposed to being forced into selling into a market you don’t like,” Lon says.

BUILDING A FINANCIAL RESERVE

Like a forage reserve, a financial reserve is critical to the long term sustainability of the ranch. Adversity is easier to overcome if an emergency fund is built in good years.
“One of the biggest problems with the legacy of farm and ranch families is ensuring the older generation has enough savings in order to step out of the way if and when the next generation comes home, so you’re not both there starving to death,” Lon says. That focus is not only geared to ensuring the ranch can safely transition to the next generation, it’s a key component to maintaining today’s stewardship.
“I can’t think of anything that will make ranchers make worse environmental decisions than buying land at too high of prices, then trying to figure out how to make money off it,” Lon says.

BUILD IN COW REPRODUCTION

Longevity and fertility in the cowherd are the top two production goals at the Cherry Creek Ranch. On the arid eastern Montana landscape, cows must be super-efficient. They’re expected to average at least eight calves in a productive lifetime.
“Cow longevity is our number one cost, if it’s not there,” Lon says. “We want to be mindful of feedlot performance and carcass quality, too, but a super high-production cow just isn’t going to be efficient out here.”
At least 95 percent of cows should breed up and then calve in the first 30 days of the reproductive cycle, which hinges largely on an adequate plan of nutrition during breeding season, made possible by the previous year’s forage reserve and pasture movements timed for this purpose.

BUILD, PRESERVE A HEALTHY LANDSCAPE TO PASS ALONG

Cherry Creek Ranch Lon ReukaufLike his father and grandfather before him, Lon’s biggest goal is to better the landscape so it may continue to be sustainable, profitable and productive for the next generation.

“If I could say what his motto was, it would be to leave the land better than he found it. That’s what he’s worked his whole life for,” Vicki says.
That’s quantified by managing the land for increased production and increased plant and animal diversity. “The problem with that goal is, you never know how far you can go with it. So you just keep improving and keep raising the bar,” Lon says. “There’s never really an end in sight.”

ADDRESS ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES

Water quantity and natural water quality pose the largest challenges at the Cherry Creek Ranch.
“Water is so important to us. We could have cattle thirst to death in a matter of a couple days out here,” Lon says. “So we have to have a plan, and we better have a plan B.”

While the ranch has nearly 15 miles of riparian zones, these are small, ephemeral springs that do not provide reliable stock water in the 20 days of the year they run.“The rotational grazing has a lot to do with keeping the vegetation around the reservoirs from becoming nothing but dirt. By having our watershed covered with an adequate amount of litter and vegetation, it greatly decreases the amount of silt that runs into our reservoir,” Lon says.

REST ROTATIONAL GRAZING, WINTER FORAGE USE

The main management objective of the Reukauf’s six-pasture rotation is resting one pasture for 14 months and then using it exclusively the following May. The ranch utilizes winter grazing with the pastures constituting the majority of the cow’s winter diet, supplemented by high protein for part of the winter. As a result, the tree and shrub regeneration in winter pastures has been successful. In general, grazing use levels of herbaceous plants during the dormant season (October-April) can be higher than during the growing season without significantly stressing the plants. It is important to maintain ground cover to decrease the amount of soil exposed to wind and water erosion. This will also capture more snow and retain moisture.
All cattle are placed in one pasture that was rested the year before for the month of May, or used ‘light and late.’ The other five pastures get deferred until after June 1. All livestock are concentrated in a single pasture except in the fall. Four of the six pastures are deferred until late July.

The combination of these tactics allow for adequate surplus root growth, seed production and new seedling establishment. The ranch also has two, three-pasture deferred rotation systems with the goal of using one pasture only from June 15 to Sept. 1. This allows shrubs and trees to receive no hot season use two years out of three to encourage growth. The late used pasture becomes the early grazed pasture the next year.

STRATEGIC WINTER FEEDING BOOSTS DIKE IRRIGATION SYSTEM

Cherry Creek Ranch Environmental Stewardship Lon Reukauf BLMThroughout the year, mineral, salt and protein blocks are strategically placed as bait to draw cattle into areas with extra forage and away from sensitive areas. No salt or mineral is placed within one-half a mile of water during winter to allow riparian areas to regenerate, and strategic feeding areas feed into a dike system that grows a small amount of hay.

“Manure is a wonderful thing, as long as you don’t pile it up too high,” Lon says. “The two things we can’t afford to lose here are nutrients and water.” Animals are supplemented on a rotating location schedule, with the goal to maximize the use of nutrients by avoiding runoff into clean water. Meanwhile, runoff is captured in a system of dikes to grow forage. Without the diking system, the ranch would be unable to grow a hay crop. The nutritional content of the manure runoff also eliminates the need for synthetic nitrogen.

“We feed like we would spread fertilizer,” Lon says. The 300 acres of hay production on the ranch adds an estimated $50-75,000 of value to the ranch each year.

EARLY WEANING PAYS IN EFFICIENCY

Decades of market analysis and studying forage availability led Lon to weaning early and selling lighter calves to help his cows be more efficient, and also to increase his bottom line.

“When you wean that cow and calf, you can figure you’re cutting your forage consumption in half. You have a dry mama who’s not lactating and a calf who’s no longer eating. That early weaning is a fast way to decrease forage consumption per cow-calf unit,” Lon says. While it costs about $150 per head to feed the calf for an extra 100 days off the cow, it pays off in cow efficiency, near-perfect conception rates and an increased forage bank.
Selling calves at just below 500 pounds has also increased efficiency at the ranch. While they normally wean at 180 days, drought conditions may call for weaning 100-day old calves.

“For us, the cost of adding pounds after 500 is just not worth it. If you put 50 pounds on, how many more dollars per pound per head do you get? It’s not that much when you pencil the true costs in our environment,” Lon says.

TREE REGENERATION POINTS TO HEALTHY LANDSCAPE

A healthy landscape is a diverse landscape, and the Cherry Creek Ranch is home to a wide variety of grasses, shrubs and trees that offer shelter to domestic and wild animals. Years of tree planting efforts throughout the family’s history created a healthy seedbed for regeneration, and the rotational grazing system is geared toward creating a healthy environment for trees to thrive in.Cottonwoods are slowly making a comeback on the ranch, where Lon started placing a square of woven wire paneling around the seedlings to protect young growth. The BLM successfully borrowed his technique for use on other public land in the area.

“It’s not much, but if we can add even just two trees each year, and they live for 80 years – well, that’s a lot of trees,” Lon says. He protects the regrowth of new shrubs and trees by avoiding grazing on 2/3 of the pastures during their most critical growth – June 20 through August 20 – to give the green ash, buffalo berry, snowberry and other woody species a chance to establish. The change has been hugely noticeable, particular over the past 20 years.

“You can see the diversity of the age of these trees; that shows in the landscape,” Lon says. “My dad was an avid bird watcher, but we also just don’t want to live on a barren landscape.”

ONE TREE AT A TIME

Cherry Creek Ranch Reukauf FamilyThat dedication was drilled home each spring of the family’s early years, filled with “character building” memories from Vicki and the kids.“There aren’t many trees here in Eastern Montana,” Vicki says. “Every spring, Lon would order 200 trees, and the kids and I would be out in the mud, creeks and shelterbelts planting hundreds of those trees with shovels.”

The success rate is small – water is scarce, the environment is harsh – but the effort is worthwhile. Each tree that survives improves wildlife habitat and the ranch’s landscape. Year after year, the same painstaking effort goes into water development, strategic grazing and native rangeland health.“It’s all gradual – there’s no magic shazam to doing things right,” Lon says.

Rather, it’s the discovery of little successes – one new cottonwood, a shade greener stream bed, a fresh patch of native grass, a higher percentage of bred cows – that continues to drive stewardship, conservation and sustainability at the Cherry Creek Ranch.
“I didn’t return here to this place and this lifestyle for money.” Lon says. “I love the land. What’s important to me is taking care of things now so the next generation can make a stable income and enjoy a beautiful, clean, diverse place to call home.”

 To learn more about the Montana Environmental Stewardship Award program, click here. The Montana ESAP program is partially sponsored by the Montana Beef Checkoff programs.

Sage Grouse not listed as Endangered Species

sageGrouseOn Tuesday, September 22, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services announced that the greater sage grouse would not be listed as an endangered species. This is a significant accomplishment following extensive work by officials, industry and conservation groups in 11 states who have worked to form plans for conservation of the bird’s habitat.

Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell made the announcement on Tuesday via video. Click here to watch and read her statement.

Montana Stockgrowers Association, Montana Public Lands Council and Montana Association of State Grazing Districts are supportive of the recent decision. Even with sage grouse not listed under ESA, our organizations will still be working on this issue on our members’ behalf, at both the state and federal level.

At the state level, Montana has developed state legislation and a state plan, which will be operational by January 1, 2016. In order to accomplish this accelerated time schedule, we will be participating in all facets of the program, such as:

  • Attendance at the Montana Sage Grouse Oversight Team (MSGOT) meetings
  • Further developing program rules for mitigation and habitat exchanges
  • Development of landowner incentives

The MSGOT will hold two more meeting this fall, with the next being November 17 in Helena. Click here to learn more about Montana Sage Grouse Management.

In addition to the state plan development, our organizations will be also working on the federal level. On the federal side, BLM has just released their Resource Management Plans (RMP) for the state. These plans provide the direction for public land and federal minerals managed by the Bureau of Land Management and provide a framework for the future management direction for the planning area.

With the release of these RMPs, we will be:

  • Reviewing these plans as it relates to impacts to livestock grazing
  • Work with the agency to ensure livestock grazing is not impacted by sage grouse decisions
  • Clarify specific criteria and requirements within the document and how they will impacting livestock producers.

Montana’s leadership provided statements regarding the DOI and USFWS announcement on Tuesday:

Our organizations also request input from our members on areas of possible concerns or program areas where livestock producers can receive some benefit. Please contact the MSGA office if you have any further questions. Stay tuned to MSGA News updates and emails for more information as it becomes available.

Guest Column: Ag, Development at Risk with Sage Grouse Listing

sageGrouseThere is an ongoing debate in the Endangered Species area that could have grave consequences for agriculture and resource development in Montana. Namely, the Greater Sage Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus.)

The sage grouse, or sagehen, as it is commonly called, is a slow-moving, larger, clumsy, flying member of the Phasianidae family that relies almost exclusively on sagebrush for nourishment and habitat.

Its mating “dance” is extremely colorful, occurring on specific locations called leks. As with most Phasianidae family members, sage grouse return to the same lek year after year to “dance” and mate.

They have become somewhat more scarce in recent years, but not necessarily more scarce than 100 years ago. Wildlife data counts and inventories by various state and federal agencies on sage grouse numbers do not go back even 50 years.

Herein may lie the dilemma of whether the sage grouse should be listed as endangered. Nature is always in a state of flux. Wet years produce abundant forage; dry, hot summers enhance grasshopper cycles; and hard winters decimate antelope populations. That’s just to name a few environmental “fluxes” over which we as humans have absolutely no control.

World War II drew a lot of young, rural males “off the farm,” so to speak. The sheep industry here in Montana was huge – 4,280,000 head in 1934. Carter County boasted that it was the largest sheep-raising county in the USA! It currently ranks number one in Montana today.

The sheep business can and did respond to better climatic and economic conditions after the droughts and financial crises of the 1920s and early 1930s. Smaller farm flocks are very productive when labor (big families) are available. As economists would say, farm flocks do not necessarily conform to the economy of scale rule, i.e., bigger blocks are not quite so profitable.

Although we take it for granted today, Montana and many western (range) states were not always as “fenced in” as they are presently. Bands of sheep were “herded” by sheepherders in various rotational patterns over large ranges based on a known water supply. In addition to guiding the sheep, herders kept a wary eye for predators including coyotes, feral dogs, mountain lions, bears and raptors that would kill newborn lambs.

In 1942, a rodenticide named sodium fluoroacetate became available. It is commonly referred to as 1080 today. It is an extremely potent chemical that will kill any mammal or bird that ingests it – even in minute quantities. When injected into a dead or dying ewe’s veins, it permeates the entire carcass. Now sheep ranchers had a new tool to combat predators, while their traditional herder was gone to war.

Because of its indiscriminate toxicity, all the normal predators were reduced in number. Predators that harassed the sheep rancher where not the only victims. Skunks, raccoons, foxes, magpies and raptors including bald and golden eagles all experienced population declines. With minimal predator depredations, other non-carnivorous species multiplied. “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Sharptail grouse, Hungarian partridge, wild turkeys, ringneck pheasants and the sage grouse itself were able to multiply under an ideal environment.

Case in point: Jack rabbits really multiplied in the absence of the normal predator numbers. (How many of you can remember spotlighting jack rabbits at night in the 1950s and coming home with 50 or 75 head in one evening? One dollar per head, and it made good walking-around money).

By 1972, the predator imbalance was so great and national concern so high that an executive order was issued banning 1080.

In 1932, wheat was 25 cents per bushel. By 1974, it was $5, and in 2008 hit $10.20 per bushel. With bigger tractors, larger plows and better cropping methods, lots of grazing land including sagebrush areas got turned “wrong side up.”

When oil in January of 2008 hit $100 per barrel, well, rigs started to sprout up, sometimes in sagebrush areas.

Now the factors that led to the increase in sage grouse numbers beyond their historical (100-year inventory) work against them.

A slow-moving, not-too-smart, completely inedible bird is confronted with trying to exist in a fast-moving, energy- and food-reliant economy.

It is entirely possible that our 2014-2015 sage grouse numbers are exactly equal to 1914-1915 numbers. Records are not available, and not too many living souls can reliably remember what the population numbers could have been in the 1930s.

A comparable situation in this avian dilemma is the Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis). Lots of time, energy, money, fears, legal confrontations and federal intervention have not necessarily increased the spotted owl numbers. In the interim, the Northwest lumbering industry has been decimated. Although not entirely clear at this time, the Barred Owl (Strix varia) seems more likely to be the culprit in spotted owl number reductions.

An old business maxim: “In order to solve a problem, one must define the problem accurately.” Spotted owl aficionados did not accurately assess their problem, and subsequently the logging industry took an enormous economic hit.

An economic hit of the same magnitude could occur if listing the Greater Sage Grouse as endangered is allowed.

Plowed farm land is not going to be reseeded to sagebrush. The demand for natural resource recovery is relentless. Who, where and when can accurately, objectively present the sage grouse inventory numbers for 1915, 1935, 1975 and 2014?

How can any plan for restoration and preservation of the sage grouse be implemented without base line data?

Grazing, farming and other development strategies throughout the West are at risk here, all based on conjecture and imperfect data.

Editor’s Note: William (Bill) E. Almy, Jr. of Miles City is a 67-year resident of Montana. He and his wife own Keystone Ranches of Ismay and were the recipient of the Montana Stockgrowers Association’s Montana Environmental Stewardship Award for 2011. Almy has been a bird watcher cum amateur ornithologist for 80 years. This column was originally published in the Miles City Star.

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.