‘Benefits beyond the ranch’

Townsend ranching family honored with 2018 Environmental Stewardship Award for influential results in caring for water, wildlife, soil and ranching business.

 

The Hahn Ranch was honored as the 2018 Environmental Stewardship Award winners Dec. 13 at the Montana Stockgrowers’ Annual Convention in Billings. The award recognizes cattle ranchers who are exemplary stewards of the land, livestock, wildlife and natural resources.

The family has been ranching in the Missouri River Valley near Townsend for more than 100 years, working to preserve and enhance their natural resources for generations to come. Chuck Hahn, Dusty Hahn and Cory and Jennilee Bird accepted the award on behalf of the family ranch.

The ranch was nominated for the award by collaborators with the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) for their partnership on projects that have benefited fisheries and water quality on the ranch and for downstream users. But their conservation practices expand far beyond the creek beds of their southwestern Montana ranch.

Ron Spoon, a FWP fish biologist, has worked with the Hahn family since 1990.

“I believe Chuck and his family provide a valuable example of how a long-term ranching operation can simultaneously create agricultural products and foster clean water,” Spoon says.  “Folks that collaborate with Chuck will know that he thoroughly protects the function of the ranching operation, but they know he genuinely pushes for solutions that benefit resources beyond the ranch.”

In addition to cattle, the diverse family ranch supports hay, small grains and forage crop farming, a trucking company and a pheasant hunting enterprise. The multi-generational ranch includes Chuck, his sons Dusty and Buck Hahn, his brother John Hahn, sister Bev Bird and her son Cory and wife Jennilee and matriarch Dorothy Hahn.

For nearly 30 years, the Hahn family has worked cooperatively with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), Broadwater Conservation District (BCD), the Broadwater-Missouri Water Users Association (BMWUA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Big Sky Watershed Corps (BSWC), Montana Ditch, and Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on restoration and conservation efforts on Deep Creek.

Between 1,000 and 3,000 Brown Trout annually migrate out of Deep Creek into the Missouri River. The Deep Creek waterway also provides irrigation and stock water on the Hahn Ranch. The family played a pivotal role in the installation of the Montana Ditch siphon, which ensured Deep Creek’s function as a free-flowing, connected nursery and cold water refuge in this blue ribbon fishery.

They’ve continued to work collectively with neighboring landowners and agencies to improve riparian health on the creek, conserve water use while protecting their agricultural production and show marked improvements in stream flow and water temperatures over the past two and a half decades.

“Water is one of the most precious resources, especially in the West,” Dusty Hahn says. “So anything that we can do to conserve and enhance that resource, we’re interested in. It helps everybody along the watershed of the Missouri and ultimately that drains into the Mississippi, and that’s important for us as agriculturalists.”

They’ve also prioritized preserving open spaces on their western landscape.

In 1998, the ranch enrolled in Broadwater County’s first conservation easement with the FWP to maintain 1,680 acres for agricultural purposes in perpetuity. The land sits next to the nationally unique Elkhorn Wildlife Management Unit and now provides a critical link between blocks of federal land to prevent further urban development.

“If we’re not able to have a viable land base for livestock grazing, we’re going to be seeing a lot more of these arid landscapes being put into development,” Chuck says. “So the easement keeps those areas open and it gives us a chance to continue grazing.”

The easement allowed the ranch to expand a more efficient rest-rotational grazing system between their private and publicly leased ground, while also providing financial flexibility for expansion to make room for more family members on the ranch.

Their grazing plans on public and private lands are designed to benefit wildlife habitat and sustain their livestock, which work symbiotically to improve the health of the rangeland.

“This wide diversity of wildlife indicates how well the land and vegetative communities occurring on the Hahn Ranch are being managed as a whole,” FWP Conservation Technician Fred Jakubowski said.

The family also manages their farmland to simultaneously benefit their business, the livestock and wildlife. Growing both cash crops and forage crops extends their grazing season, allows for longer rest periods on the rangeland and improves organic matter and biodiversity in farmed soil. Incorporating cattle into the cropping system is essential to its success.

“By using cover crops and the no-till to enhance the soil health, we’re able to keep the soil organisms alive as long as we can during the year,” Chuck Hahn says. “The livestock are there to help incorporate that plant mass back into the soil.”

As recipient of this year’s award, the Hahn Ranch will be nominated for the regional ESAP award, which will be announced at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association summer conference in July 2018. The award is sponsored in a partnership between the Montana Stockgrowers’ Foundation, the Montana Beef Council and beef producers with Check-off dollars, and the World Wildlife Fund.

“Without conservation, we would not be here today,” Chuck says. “Our livelihood depends on the soil, it depends on the ranges, it depends on our livestock. It’s all a part of our life; it’s a part of what makes our living as well. And it’s what makes us happy.”

Since its inception in 1991, the Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP) has honored ranchers across the United States who implement practices the positively impact their land, livestock, wildlife, water and the ecological landscape as a whole.

 

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Editor’s note: Word count = 921. Photographs of Chuck Hahn, Dusty Hahn and the Hahn family are below. Additional images of the ranch and images of conservation practices are available on request.

Chuck Hahn

Dusty Hahn

Hahn Family

CONSERVATION ON THE HAHN RANCH // BY THE NUMBERS:

  • The Hahn Ranch has enrolled 1,685 acres in the Fish, Wildlife & Parks Block Management Program annually since 1996. Each year, roughly 900 hunter days are recorded on the Hahn Ranch.
  • The family enrolled 1,680 acres of their ranch in Broadwater County’s first conservation easement, providing a critical link between blocks of BLM and Forest Service lands to prevent urban development, establish a more efficient rest rotation grazing system and provide public/private land access.
  • Following the installation of the Broadwater-Missouri Canal siphon in 1991, Brown Trout spawning has increased significantly. In 1991, less than 10 Deep Creek brown trout spawning redds were located in certain locations along the creek. In 2016, one location on the Hahn Ranch noted as many as 75 redds.
  • Streamflow has tripled in a commonly dewatered reach of Deep Creek following 2012 irrigation projects that included the relocation of irrigation diversion and pumping system.
  • All streams naturally increase in water temperature as water travels downstream. While Deep Creek used to warm up by 8 degrees Fahrenheit in the lower 13 miles of stream, but now warms by 2.5 degrees as a result of changes with irrigation practices.
  • With the use of no-till farming methods and the incorporation of forage crop and livestock on their farm ground, organic matter in their farmed soil has moved from an average of three percent to closer to five percent. According to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, native grassland range in the state is typically comprised of about four percent organic matter.

 

 

 

 

Two Creek Monture Ranch honored with Environmental Stewardship Award

Ovando ranchers work to make ‘the best, better’ through collaborative conservation efforts

 

  The Two Creek Monture Ranch, from Ovando, Montana, has been recognized as the 2017 Montana Environmental Stewardship Award winners.

 Ranch managers Wayne and Karalee Slaght and family accepted the award Dec. 9 at the Montana Stockgrowers Association Annual Convention and trade show in Billings. The Two Creek Monture Ranch will now represent Montana at the Region IV Environmental Stewardship Award competition in Denver this spring.

Like the old 4-H motto, the ranch team is focused on “making the best better.”

“That, to me, is that it means to be a good steward,” Karalee said. “It’s keeping up with new ideas for improving all of these things.”

The Slaghts manage about 21,000 acres – half deeded and half leased – for owners Ralph and Toone Burchenal on the southern edge of the complex and greatly celebrated Crown of the Continent ecosystem in western Montana. It’s arguably one of the last “best” places in the lower 48, yet the Burchenal and Slaght continue to work to make it even better for future generations with decades of conservation and stewardship behind them and still ahead.

Greg Neudecker, with the Montana Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, has worked with the Slaght family for more than 25 years and recommended the ranch for the award.

“Right now, we have all the critters that were here 200 years ago when Merriweather Lewis came through here. So from a working lands perspective, we don’t have anything else like that in the lower 48 states and very few places in the world – so it’s a very, very special place,” Neudecker said. “It has old growth forests, incredible aspen stands, riparian areas, native bunch grass prairies, glaciated pothole wetlands – it’s got everything, and that’s due in large part to their stewardship.”

Of course, the ranch team’s main focus is the cattle. About 900 make their home on the commercial cow-calf ranch, and they not only co-exist, but play an important part in improving the landscape. Wayne was raised on the neighboring Monture Ranch, where his father worked and managed for most of his ranching career, too. Wayne had been managing the Monture Ranch for more than 15 years when the Burchenals purchased and added it to the Two Creek Ranch, where Wayne, son Ben and brother-in-law Ken Kovatch now manage and work together on private, state and federal land.

“It’s so important to prove – especially to the Fish & Wildlife guys – that cattle are a useful tool for the land,” Wayne said. “They do co-exist with wildlife, which is quite proven on this ranch.”

They’ve been able to grow the cattle herd over the years by not only making their deeded land more productive, but by fostering relationships that have led to new and continued leased grazing opportunities on neighboring state and federal lands. They work to improve owned and leased land alike with strategic rotational grazing, water development and riparian restoration projects.

“We realized we needed to work with all these federal and state agencies – we have to be on the same page,” Wayne said. “We’re here to partner with those folks to help manage the entire landscape. It we weren’t here and they were subdividing us and turning this into houses, we’ve all realized we’d all be in trouble.”

Managing a landscape full of endangered or threatened species – including grizzly bears, wolves and bull trout – plus abundant elk, deer, Sandhill cranes, turkeys and trumpeter swans, requires planning, innovation and a lot of collaboration in order to stay in business and balance a healthy ecosystem.

“Those species are all indicators – grizzly bears are large landscape indicators, bull trout are clean water indicators, trumpeter swans are healthy wetland indicators. So those are all indicators of how well a landscape has been managed,” Neudecker said. “One of the things that wildlife is completely compatible with is ranching. If we don’t have ranching and livestock and private landowners to maintain these open landscapes, we don’t have places for these wild critters to roam, either.”

The ranch played a key role in the rehabilitation of bull trout redds (spawning sites) on Monture Creek over the past 30 years, and continue to seek new ways to develop water that will enhance their grazing rotation and conserve riparian areas and in-stream flow for fisheries.

“Obviously, balancing the needs of fish and wildlife with the agricultural operation has its challenges in the modern world,” Ron Pierce, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries biologist wrote in his letter of recommendation. “With these challenges in mind, the Two Creek Ranch has been a progressive leader with the ranching/conservation community of the Blackfoot Valley.”

That leadership extends beyond the ranching community, too. Wayne’s been a 4-H leader for nearly 40 years, served on local school boards, the volunteer fire department, coached grade school basketball and more, while frequently hosting local, state, national and international tour groups on the ranch to share conservation efforts and ideas.

“They’re not only a voice of reason, they’re a practice of reason that’s really, really good for our industry,” neighboring rancher David Mannix said. “Wayne’s an early adapter. He has the courage to implement some of these things, and then he also has courage to share failures or challenges so the next neighbor can do it a little better and the third guy can do it a little bit better still.”

Like his father and ranching mentors before him, Wayne’s focus on making the ‘best, better,’ is geared toward leaving the land and leadership of the industry in better shape with the next generation. Ben came back to the ranch full-time in 2008 after earning a business degree from the University of Montana Western.

“I’d love to stay here and keep working to improve the ranch every day,” Ben said. “We’ve just got to keep doing our homework and looking around us to see what’s changing, what’s next. We’re always learning. We’re constantly learning more about trees, about grass, about water – learning to increase what we can do with those resources. You’re constantly learning, constantly changing and keeping an open mind to the fact that we don’t know everything – you can always learn more from somebody else.”

2017_esap_twocreek-by-ln-34-1

SIDEBAR:

Two Creek Monture Ranch // CONSERVATION BY THE NUMBERS

  • Improved management on more than 15 riparian miles on four different creeks on the ranch, each which support valuable fisheries and water sources for livestock and wildlife.
  • Entered more than 5,000 acres of valuable grasslands, wetlands, riparian and timberland in to conservation easements to permanently steward those lands through the generations.
  • Restored previously degraded instream habitat on more than 2 miles of streams on the ranch, while maintaining ranch water use and increasing production and irrigation efficiencies.
  • Restored six drained wetlands totaling more than 100 surface acres on the ranch.
  • Played a critical role in returning the final missing species Merriweather Lewis noted in the Blackfoot Valley 200 years ago. Ranch owners Ralph and Toone Burchenal made the initial financial donation to the Trumpeter Swan Restoration Project, and the ranch ushered the first breeding pair onto a restored wetland. Today, more than 10 pairs of Trumpeter Swans are established in the Blackfoot Valley.
  • Developed riparian grazing plans and cooperative agreements to bring Federally Threatened bull trout spawning sites on Monture Creek from a low of eight redds in 1989 to a high of 92 redds, averaging 50 redds annually over the course of the past 30 years.
  • Site of the first grizzly bear depredation on a calf documents in the Blackfoot Valley in more than 50 years. Installed the valley’s first grizzly bear resistant fencing, leading other ranchers to do the same.
  • Five years after their first calf was killed in 1998, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks documented 77 agriculturally-related grizzly bear/human conflicts in the valley. Over the past ten years, thanks to management efforts and best practices by ranches like the Two Creek Monture Ranch and collaboration with cooperating agencies, conflicts have averaged around 12 per year, while the grizzly population has been increasing by 3 percent each year.
  • Improved the forage capacity of one pasture by four times in one year with an aggressive noxious weed control program.

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The Montana Stockgrowers Association, a non-profit organization representing nearly 2,500 members, strives to serve, protect and advance the economic, political, environmental and cultural interests of cattle producers, the largest sector of Montana’s number one industry – agriculture.

Montana’s Cherry Creek Ranch Receives Regional Environmental Stewardship Award

Montana Stockgrowers Association members win Regional Environmental Stewardship Award

DENVER (July 15, 2016) – Cherry Creek Ranch, Terry, Mont., was honored this week as one of six regional Environmental Stewardship Award Program winners. The award, which is sponsored by Dow AgroSciences, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the National Cattlemen’s Foundation, is presented to farmers and ranchers who are working hard to protect America’s natural resources.

The commercial cow-calf operation, located in eastern Montana, is one of the few remaining original homesteads, a fact that instills pride in Lon and Vicki Reukauf, the third generation to operate the ranch. That legacy also drives the management philosophy for the Reukauf’s, who place a strong emphasis on rotational grazing as a way to manage pastures and maintain soil health.

“For three generations we wake up every morning with the intention to get out of bed and have great intentions to improving the land and the landscape for our cattle and always putting their needs ahead of our own,” said Vicki Reukauf, who explained that the region’s silt soils mean the family needs to pay special attention to building root mass to help improve the soil and improve the water-holding capacity of the ground.

With an annual average rainfall of about 12.5 inches, keeping water on the land is a priority. One way they do that is by employing a rotational grazing system to help improve water infiltration into the soil. In 1983, Lon instituted a rotational grazing system and today rotates herds through multiple pastures to ensure grazing pressure is optimally distributed while also allowing a stockpile of forage for dry years.

“We felt that by having cattle on land for less time and giving it longer rest periods, we accomplished an increase in both species diversity and grass production and especially root depth on the plants that existed,” said Lon Reukaf. “I think by increasing the organic root depth of the plants you increase the organic matter in the soil. And I think it increases your water holding capacity in your soil and also having significant litter and good root mass in the ground makes the plants more efficiently utilize the moisture that you’ve got and lose less of that moisture to evaporation.”

Water distribution across the ranch also contributes to the successful implementation of stewardship practices of the Reukaufs. In fact, the family has installed 15 wells in strategic locations to provide the cattle with clean, fresh, consistent water, and they are slowly converting the wells to run off solar energy. So far, they have four done and plan to complete two more each year until they are all solar-powered. These tanks also help to pull animals away from lower riparian areas,” Lon said. “Putting this water in less sensitive areas is one of the single best factors in having a lot of species biodiversity in our plant community.”

Regional award recipients will now compete for the national Environmental Stewardship Award. The winner of the national award will be announced during the 2017 Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville, Tenn., in February, 2017.

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The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) has represented America’s cattle producers since 1898, preserving the heritage and strength of the industry through education and public policy.  As the largest association of cattle producers, NCBA works to create new markets and increase demand for beef.  Efforts are made possible through membership contributions. To join, contact NCBA at 1-866-BEEF-USA or membership@beef.org.