PASTURE MANAGEMENT

Hay Equipment, Herbicides, Pasture seed, Rotational Grazing and Irrigation Systems

What’s Neat About Wheat

Oh yeah, there’s some risk, too

Wheat grazing can result in daily average gains of 2 to 2.5 pounds on stockers, which makes it an excellent economic grazing resource

Wheat grazing can result in daily average gains of 2 to 2.5 pounds on stockers, which makes it an excellent economic grazing resource

By: Loretta Sorensen

Cattlemen who graze wheat will know the basics of their strategy remain the same from year to year. However, with all the variables involved, no two plans will be exactly the same. “Weather, grain prices, the amount of fall forage accumulated in a wheat field and many other aspects of the practice all affect the decision to graze, how many cattle to stock, when they go in and come out,” Ted McCollum, Beef Cattle Specialist at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, says. “There are benefits and disadvantages as well as risks for both wheat farmer and stockman.”

McCollum, who’s worked in research and extension at Oklahoma State University and now with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, also works with his family operation which grazes stockers on small grains pasture. In addition to acting as a consultant and educator for beef producers, McCollum has also participated in wheat grazing research. Selection of wheat variety is probably one of the first steps in developing a grazing strategy.

“There are what some refer to as dual purpose wheat varieties,” McCollum explains. “They produce ample forage and provide satisfactory grain yield. The grain farmer would need to determine whether or not they’re planting wheat just for grazing or if they plan to harvest a crop too, and what kind of grain yield they want to achieve.”

An additional wheat characteristic that may be desirable for grain farmers is how well wheat emerges in warmer temperatures in states like Texas. “That will ultimately affect fall forage production,” McCollum continues. “On the opposite end of that is the early or late maturing wheat. Depending on the grazing agreement, one or the other could benefit both grain farmer and beef producer.”

Dale Blasi, Kansas State University Professor and Extension Specialist in beef cattle nutrition and management, notes that grain farmers in his region may increase seed population and fertilization in order to produce highly grazeable wheat stands.

“Some grain farmers who also produce beef reserve ground for grazing wheat, rye or triticale,” Blasi shares. “If their small grain is planted under a center pivot, the producer may be able to put cattle on the grain earlier than grains planted on dryland.”

Because wheat is high in protein and moisture, it can serve as an economic resource for adding weight to calves. “On wheat, light cattle will probably perform just as well as heavier animals because it’s such nutritious forage,” McCollum says. “If I were putting calves on grass, I’d probably purchase heavier animals because lighter weights require more nutrition to add weight.”

Whenever wheat starts growing rapidly, for example in the early spring, there's going to be the risk of bloat. If you're running breeding females out there, tetany can also show up.

Whenever wheat starts growing rapidly, for example in the early spring, there’s going to be the risk of bloat. If you’re running breeding females out there, tetany can also show up.

PAY FOR THE WEIGHT GAINED
Oklahoma State University Extension Ag Educator, Greg Highfill, says wheat grazing can result in daily average gains of 2 to 2.5 pounds, which makes it an excellent economic grazing resource.

“Before it can be grazed, wheat has to have enough growth to have developed what we refer to as a secondary root system or tillers,” Highfill imparts.

“That causes wheat to be firmly anchored to the soil, reducing any damage due to grazing. Grazing start dates vary greatly from year to year and region to region, depending on weather conditions, moisture levels and the wheat’s growth stage.” McCollum explains that assessing the actual amount of grazeable forage prior to putting cattle on wheat fields in fall is an essential part of wheat grazing strategies in his region.

“Evaluating that forage and knowing how much of it is projected to be available before temperatures drop to a level where the forage is no longer growing is key to selecting a stocking rate,” McCollum says. “If cattle have to be removed from the wheat field before projected gains are met, or producers must provide an alternate feed source, then costs increase and/or performance suffers.”

It’s been quite some time since the majority of wheat farmers charged beef producers per-acre prices for grazing. The most common practice across the country is charging per pound of gain. “There may be a few farmers who still charge per head or per acre,” McCollum says. “But that’s the exception.

Charging per pound of gain benefits the cattle owner because they only pay for weight actually gained. Paying a flat per-acre or per-head fee and not realizing desired gain would be a disadvantage for stockmen. The farmer can also benefit from the gain-based lease because if calves perform, lease payments will generally be higher than those for a per head or per acre lease.” Another common practice in wheat grazing scenarios is the verbal contract, which could increase risk for both beef and grain producers.

“If the agreement is between a grain farmer and beef producer who have a longtime relationship, verbal agreements probably work,” McCollum suggests. “I would encourage putting some terms in writing. Not that it has to be a 15-page, attorney-authored document. But written terms in the event that someone’s memory fails and there’s a question about the original grazing terms.”

Graze-out wheat, a term meaning wheat that is grazed through maturity and not harvested, is common for Southern Plains grain farmers. “The decision to graze out or harvest wheat is based on many factors,” McCollum says. “Selecting the best possible wheat variety for that option could mean planting a late maturing wheat in order to get the most value out of the practice.” Pricing wheat grazing resources can be a complex process. McCollum doesn’t necessarily agree that feedlot cost-of-gain figures provide the best standard for calculating the cost of grazing wheat.

“In some of those comparisons, the figures used for feedlot gain are the figures related to bringing a 700-pound animal to a finish weight of 1,300 pounds,” McCollum says. “In wheat grazing, you’re probably bringing that 400 or 500-pound animal to about 700 or 800 pounds. Animals grazing wheat and those finishing in a feedlot aren’t on the same growth curve.” McCollum adds that animals in a feedlot are developing in a much more consistent environment. “Wheat grazing conditions may be much less predictable than having a feed truck come by twice a day,” McCollum adds. “Accurately assessing that difference is important to fixing a grazing price agreement.”

YEAH, GRAZING WHEAT IS RISKY

Beef producers should also consider the risk of death loss to bloat and carefully monitor animals, especially in the last weeks of the grazing plan. “Any time wheat starts growing rapidly, there’s risk of bloat,” Highfill says. “That’s typically found in spring, around the first of February when temperatures start moderating and wheat comes out of dormancy. Because potential for bloat is so unpredictable, the best precaution is careful monitoring and quick response if an animal does bloat.”

An important risk factor for grain farmers is yield loss. Research at Oklahoma State University has demonstrated that wheat yield can be reduced between 0% and 15%, with the average most years around 8% through wheat grazing. “Certainly some years it could be lower or perhaps higher, depending on weather conditions,” Highfill relates.

“Typically, early planted wheat reduces yield loss. In today’s beef market, the profit realized from the gain in pounds of beef may easily offset yield loss.” In the Southern and High Plains, wheat grazing practices are likely to remain popular regardless of related risks.

“In this area (Texas), there are no other fall grazing resources that provide the gain potential of small grains pasture,” McCollum says. “So it’s the best option for stocker producers here. The strategy also allows producers to accelerate fall calf weight gain to target spring feeder markets.” Blasi says that although the practice isn’t as common in Kansas as in southern states, it still gives beef producers and wheat growers an opportunity to add value to their operation. “With favorable growing conditions, cattle can achieve amazing gains on wheat,” Blasi concludes. “You can’t ignore wheat grazing opportunities when they’re available.

Keepers of the Grass

Your Future As A Rangeland Manager

Range management encompasses a great many elements, from riparian area strategies to outdoor recreation management.

Range management encompasses a great many elements, from riparian area strategies to outdoor recreation management.

By: Loretta Sorensen

Students who consider the great outdoors to be the perfect office location may want to contemplate pursuit of a Range Management degree. Susan Edinger Marshall, Rangeland Resources and Wildland Soils professor at Humboldt State’s Forestry and Wildland Resources Department in Arcata, CA, says working as a Range Manager is all about plants and animals.

“Rangelands are part of a very fragile environment in the sense that they’re greatly influenced by events such as drought, fire, and major storms,” Marshall says. “Nature can wipe out with one event all the good management that land owners and range managers do to protect and support the land. That said, we still must do all we can to foster a healthy rangeland environment and learn as best we can how to prevent any further degradation of the rangeland ecosystem.”

Rangeland ecosystems throughout North America are comprised of vast grassland, shrubland, woodland and desert landscapes. Range managers typically work with both private landowners and public lands officials to integrate information about plant communities, soils, wildlife species, livestock use, watershed functions and land use policy to conserve and restore wildland ecosystems. Some career activities include invasive plant control, endangered species surveys or planning for a sustainable livestock operation.

Passion for working outdoors, desire to support healthy rangeland management activities and interest in interact ing with wildlife all fit well with rangeland management activities. In general, there is no “typical workday” in the industry. Managers work with hydrology, botany, ecology and wildlife.

Cambra Fields, from Pryor, OK, completed a Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Rangeland Ecology and Management degree. After graduation, she started working with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service as a Rangeland Management Specialist. She’s pleased that her job allows her to help educate landowners and promote conservation.

“Through my job, I’ve been able to see my dad’s wetlands restored from a cropped floodplain into an excellent wildlife habitat,” Fields says. “I highly recommend pursuing your passion.”

Rangeland management jobs are commonly offered through the Federal Government, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Natural Resources Conservation Service. Graduates may also work in an academic setting as a professor or for a research organization such as Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation. Graduates also find job opportunities at the state level, working with publicly owned lands such as state department of agriculture lands, wildlife, parks or recreation.

Private landowners, ranches, ecological consulting firms, landscaping companies and tribal agencies also need the skills of rangeland managers.

HALF THE TIME IN THE FIELD

Degrees are offered in 18 U.S. states, as well as Canada and Mexico. Montana State’s undergraduate program gives students the opportunity to complete either a Natural Resources and Rangeland Ecology or Animal Sciences degree. Equine Horsemanship, Equine Science, Natural Resource Science & Management and Fish & Wildlife Science & Management courses are also available.

Their major focuses on managing the rangeland soilplant-animal complex, giving students an understanding of grazing and other land uses within a framework of total resource management. “In most rangeland jobs, you should expect to be in the field half the time and in the office the rest of the time, depending on the season,” Marshall shares.

“It’s important to have fundamental knowledge of plants and soils. In past analysis of successful range management graduates, we’ve seen distinctive markers indicating that students with an athletic background, those highly involved in service clubs and church affiliation like youth groups are the kinds of students attracted to range management positions. Students involved in Future Farmers of America (FFA) also make a good fit. Having an agricultural background isn’t a requirement for the degree, but it’s a big advantage to those students with that experience.”

If a graduate doesn’t immediately secure a rangeland management position, most degrees will also prepare them to work in a conservation capacity. “Just about every county in the United States retains a soil conservationist,” Marshall says. “If students don’t land their ideal job at first, there are still job opportunities.”

There are state-level job opportunities such as state department of agriculture lands, wildlife, parks or recreation.

There are state-level job opportunities such as state department of agriculture lands, wildlife, parks or recreation.

The Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) assists students who seek a rangeland management degree outside their home state. Students residing in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming are eligible to request a reduced tuition rate of 150% of resident tuition at participating two-year and four-year college programs outside their home state. Most programs are structured around a fouryear degree.

Many institutions limit the number of new WUE awards each academic year so interested students should apply early. More information is available at www.wiche.edu. A typical four-year program will include at least 18 semester hours of course work in range management, including courses in range plants, range ecology, range inventories and studies, range improvements and ranch or rangeland planning.

Other courses focus on plant, animal and soil sciences. Plant taxonomy, plant physiology and ecology, animal nutrition, livestock production and soil morphology are among the topic focuses. Management studies will involve resource management sources, such as wildlife, watershed, natural resource or agricultural economics. Students also study forestry, agronomy, forages and outdoor recreation management.

“Some graduates work with recreation restoration or control of ecological changes such as invasive weeds like knapweeds,” Marshall explains. “Some jobs will interface with several types of responsibilities such as use of public lands and permittee agreements.” The theme for the 2015 Society for Range Management annual conference is “Managing Diversity.” Among the conference topics are “Urban Open Space Grazing,” “Rangeland Analysis and Synthesis,” “Retaining Sage Grouse Habitat,” demonstration of new iPhone apps, and “Groundbreaking NonLethal Strategies for Minimizing Livestock Depredation,” illustrating the broad range of job activities encompassed in range management opportunities.

“Students don’t have to have an agricultural background to be a good fit in range management,” Marshall adds. “Some of my best students have come from urban areas but they have a strong interest in outdoor activities. The best way to decide if this is a good career fit is to review job abstracts. Current activities include working with sage grouse preservation, using social media to communicate to our audience and many other types of activities. It’s rewarding to work in this environment because soils support plants, plants support animals and animals support us. This is a highly relevant career choice.”

More information about Rangeland Management degrees and options is available at www.rangelandswest.org.

Getting Intense

soil

Moving cell-grazed cattle at just the right time to support plant recovery is a winning strategy for this Nebraska rancher

By: Loretta Sorensen

Long before he heard Allan Savory talk about holistic management, John Ravenscroft was interested in soil conservation. He was using a four-pasture grazing system on his 30,000 acres of western Nebraska grasslands. However, Ravenscroft decided to rethink his grazing strategy after hearing Savory’s comments regarding grazing a few acres with a large number of cattle to effectively harvest grass with no damage.

“That was in 1985,” Ravenscroft recalls. “At the time, my brother and I ranched together. We were looking for ways to improve our rangeland and expand our herd. We didn’t have access to more grassland but Savory said grazing forage properly allowed ranchers to double the stocking rate. That really got my attention.”

Rangeland researchers have learned that switching from continuous grazing to rotational/intensive grazing can extend the grazing season, boost for age quantity and reduce forage stress by providing significant rest periods. Healthy, unstressed plants have been shown to start spring growth earlier, produce higher yield in summer and continue growing longer in the fall.

“When you graze continuously, especially late in the summer, you graze pasture short and keep it short,” explains Dr. Dan Undersander, Department of Agronomy at the University of Wisconsin. “In that situation, plants don’t have enough leaf area to intercept sunlight and grow at a rapid rate. That slows down overall growth and production of tonnage per acre.”

Undersander notes that cattle in a continuous grazing system usually tend to graze down an area and then return to it often because they find new, succulent growth there. The result is an area where grass has no opportunity to fully recover from grazing.

“We have to remember that, when forage is harvested either by haying or grazing, a portion of the forage’s root system dies back,” Undersander adds. “If the plant is allowed to recover, it builds up photosynthate (sugar produced by photosynthesis) and rebuilds the root system. A healthy root system means the plant will better withstand water stress.”

Short grasses store energy in the base of the plant, which is above ground. If grass is grazed too short, energy the plant needed to prepare for regrowth is gone. That means regrowth is likely to be slower, decreasing overall forage production for the season.

“Key elements for maintaining quality pasture forage are allowing plants to store carbohydrates for regrowth and maintaining a healthy root system to help them survive a drought period,” Undersander says. “If grass is grazed too short, there aren’t enough leaves for the plant to maximize the interception of sunlight, which is necessary to regrowth.”

IN JUST ONE YEAR

As part of his initial transition, Ravenscroft gave serious consideration to Savory’s recommendation that ranchers work in harmony with nature, especially at calving time, so cows have access to the best quality grass when they need the most energy and nutrition.

“For years we calved in March,” Ravenscroft recalls. “One of our first changes was to move calving to May.”

Ravenscroft was so convinced that Savory’s grazing principles would be effective he reorganized his entire grazing strategy in just one year. That first year he established permanent cross fencing to create about 80 400- acre paddocks. He nearly doubled his stocking rate, running as many as 1,500 cattle in one herd.

“I believe there’s a rule that when you first implement intensive grazing there has to be drought,” Ravenscroft shares.

“That was our experience. We brought in yearlings to increase our stocking rate. We usually have about 15 inches of rain but had virtually no rain that summer. No matter how you graze, rain helps grazed grass recover faster. We adjusted grazing plans throughout that summer to make up for lack of rain. I’m not sorry we implemented our grazing strategy in one year. If I had it to do over, I’d increase stocking rate at a slower pace, in case I encountered something like drought.”

Ravenscroft brought his grasslands through the 1986 drought. His biggest issue that year was not having stockpiled grass for winter. Since then, he’s been able to retain ample grass in his paddock system. Now cows graze and receive a protein range cube but receive virtually no winter hay supplement.

“There’s been just one year when we had so much snow we had to feed hay,” Ravenscroft says. “Many times it seems what snow we have blows off from large enough areas so cows can get to the grass. Once they learn there’s no hay coming, cows are more aggressive about going out and finding the feed they need.”

Ravenscroft’s soils at Nenzel are sandy and sandy loam. Most paddocks are quite hilly. In the past, he hayed valley areas found between hills. In his new grazing system, he gets by with putting up about 25% of the hay he used to, harvesting some best hay-producing areas.

He finds native Nebraska cool and warm season grasses on his rangeland. Varieties include Western Wheatgrass, Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Sideoats Grama, Brome grass, Indian Grass and more. In summer, when cattle first enter a paddock, Ravenscroft flags a plant in order to measure the difference between it and plants grazed around it. He wants to see enough leaves on plants so they utilize photosynthesis, regrow and recover before the herd returns.

IS IT RECOVERED?

“There’s always the question, when is a plant recovered?” Ravenscroft says. “You have to ask yourself if you want to see a seedhead or just what you expect a recovered plant to look like. Early in the year grass growth is faster so you have to take that into account. Early in the season we may flash graze some paddocks to take advantage of high quality forage. In spring, we typically rotate through paddocks in 30 days. From there, rotation slows down.”

Plant quality is high when plants are small. As plants mature, they become stemmier and a greater percentage of nutrients are found in undigestible forms (such as lignins). The more undigestible fiber in a plant, the less total digestible nutrient (TDN) is available to cows. One discovery that surprised Ravenscroft as he moved into a more intense grazing plan was that too much rest was counter-productive for his grassland, too.

When grass isn’t grazed, older or dead leaves can shade young leaves, slowing new growth. Most pasture forages regrow from low-lying or underground stems, crowns or roots. Taller growing forages are likely to die out in a continuous grazing system because most of their leaves are grazed off in a continuous grazing system, preventing storage of carbohydrates.

If they’re allowed to recover, tall forage can help shade out shorter forages and weeds, improving forage quality and quantity. There was no time during his grazing transition when Ravenscroft saw cow nutrition issues. Since he didn’t observe body condition problems, he didn’t conduct fecal testing or take specific steps to verify cow health. It took between 4 and 5 years to see grass quality improvements as a result of intensive grazing.

Among the positive changes were more diverse grass varieties, reduced runoff, increased water infiltration and firmer soil. “Our grasses have better root systems,” Ravenscroft says. “That’s important in years when there isn’t much rain. That healthy root system helps grasses recover faster.

Because we move cattle often, flies stay behind with manure, which breaks down faster because there’s increased soil microbiology. If you return to a paddock three or four days after we move, you won’t find manure. It’s been broken down and taken into the soil. That’s especially true in our meadow areas.”

THREE HERDS NOW

Before reorganizing his grazing strategy, Ravenscroft had grazed cattle in herds of about 200 head. At the beginning of his intense grazing system, he consolidated cattle into one herd, with as many as 1,500 cattle in the same paddock.

Currently he runs approximately 1,200 head. “It took a lot of water for 1,500 cattle,” Ravenscroft states. “We used 30- foot water tanks and a pump jack on a windmill to pipe water to between 30 and 40 tanks. It didn’t take long to realize one well wasn’t adequate. We drilled a new well and went to a submersible pump with a diesel-powered generator to ensure we had enough water. Digging the second well was a feasible option for us because water is very accessible here.”

Although he’s experienced few problems with his grazing strategy, Ravenscroft has tweaked and refined the system throughout the years. Most recently he replaced some windmills with solar-powered pumps, which has proven satisfactory so far. They have a couple of carts that make it easy to move the electric fence equipment to a new paddock. He’s also split the cattle into three different herds for the 2015 grazing season.

“We have groups of mature cows, replacement heifers and first-calf heifers,” he describes. “That means we won’t move cows quite as often.” They pretty much move themselves anyway, Ravenscroft claims. “I was never intimidated by the larger herd. It seemed easier to monitor the cattle when they were all together. But we’ll see how it works with these three groups.”

The Sensitive Sage

pasture man. jan.

by Loretta Sorensen

Tough and hardy, this iconic western rangeplant plays an important sustainable role

Declining sage grouse populations have concerned sportsmen since the 1930s. In spite of management efforts, sage
grouse populations have continued to decline since that time. But that reality doesn’t lessen the importance of managing sage grouse and the sagebrush they’re so dependent on today. That’s why the Society for Range Management (SRM) spent much of this past year examining sage grouse and sagebrush issues. The SRM mission is to provide “leadership for the Stewardship of Rangelands based on sound ecological principles.”

“Because we serve as a primary training and education source for the grassland industry, we made these issues a major focus in 2014,” explains Jenny Pluhar, President, Society for Range Management. “We see potential for reducing the negative impact on rangeland and aiding ranchers in improving forage quality.” SRM’s efforts in 2014 have brought awareness to a number of sage grouse concerns, including the studies that indicate significant overlap between increasing free-roaming horse and burro populations and reduced sage grouse numbers in several western
states (i.e. Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon, and Utah). In addition to defining sage grouse problems over the past year, SRM has participated in discussions between managers and ranchers to identify potential solutions and direct
benefits related to sage grouse and habitat conservation.

Sagebrush dominates much of western North America, with approximately 165 million acres of potential habitat. In spite of its prevalence, sagebrush is considered a fragile ecosystem under siege from a combination of forces (i.e. invasive species, altered fire regimes, urbanization, etc.). Estimates of habitat loss vary widely depending on region, but since European settlement, at least half the area once covered by sagebrush has been eliminated.

Sagebrush grows where there is limited rain, harsh winters and trees that are restricted to streams or protected mountain slopes. Sagebrush provides important habitat for a diversity of wildlife species and domestic animals. It provides rangeland resources for cattle and sheep in areas where they coexist with other wildlife species including greater sage grouse, Brewer’s sparrow, sage thrasher, sage sparrow, common nighthawk, and pygmy rabbits. Large mammals such as mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk, moose, black bear, pronghorn, mountain lions, coyotes and gray wolves also share the broad expanse of sagebrush steppe with human inhabitants.

U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management studies have documented the dependence of sage grouse on sagebrush for nesting, brood-rearing and winter habitat. In “Guidelines to Manage Sage Grouse Populations and their Habitat,” a U.S. Geological Survey publication released in 2000, it was noted that declining sage grouse populations are correlated with a reduction in sagebrush quantity and quality over the past 50 years. Authors of the report noted that degradation of sagebrush has led to sage grouse population declines as low as 47% of historic sage grouse population counts.

It was in 1977 that Braun et al. published guidelines for sage grouse habitats that addressed topics such as seasonal
use of sagebrush habitats, effects of insecticides on sage grouse, importance of herbaceous cover in breeding habitat and the effects of fire on sagebrush habitat. As scientific knowledge of the birds has expanded over the years, that original document has been updated to reflect new findings about the birds and their habitat.

“The most recent advance in sage grouse protection has come in the form of the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI),” Pluhar continues. “Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) launched SGI in 2010, utilizing the Farm Bill as a vehicle to target lands where habitats are intact and sage grouse numbers are highest. This has brought focus to sage grouse populations on 78 million acres across 11 western states.”

SGI is a partnership of ranchers, agencies, universities, non-profit groups, and businesses working cooperatively to prevent the need for listing the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, which could potentially happen in 2015.

In studying the sage grouse issues, SGI has found that sage grouse, once numbering some 16 million prior to European settlement, have dwindled to as few as 200,000 birds.

“One of SGI’s primary activities has been promotion of removal of trees such as the Pinion Juniper (PJ) in areas where the trees have taken over rangeland,” Pluhar shares. “Many of those areas are places where sagebrush once thrived. The action was prompted by a study (Baruch-Mordo et al. 2013) that identified the influence of tree cover on lekking and brood-rearing habitat (lek – an area in which male animals congregate to engage in competitive displays in the hopes of gaining a female’s attention) . They found that PJ cover as low as 4% near a lek can cause birds to abandon the lekking area.

“SGI science has shown that, in Oregon alone, some 875,000 acres of trees are within three miles of leks,” Pluhar adds. “Removing trees in those lek areas greatly increases the possibility that sage grouse will return to breed and nest there.”

Over the past three years, in Oregon’s Warner Mountains, SGI and the BLM have partnered to remove nearly 50,000 acres of juniper. This tree removal has tripled the possibility for maintaining grouse populations in core habitats.

Because tree removal has additional benefits such as the return of natural springs and other wildlife species, Oregon ranchers and conservation groups have supported SGI activities.

“Tree removal is good for wildlife and productive rangeland,” Pluhar states. “Fires once kept these junipers from expanding into grasslands. However, over the past 150 years, the trees have taken over areas formerly dominated by sagebrush, grasses and forbs. Trees require a lot of water, resulting in decreased forage and loss of springs.”

SGI has also worked with ranchers to establish conservation easements, which provide sage grouse with wide open, undisturbed habitat. Strategic grazing plans are also proving to benefit the grouse. Rotating livestock to different
pastures while resting others, changing seasons of use within pastures to give plants opportunity to reproduce,
and managing frequency and intensity of grazing are all ways to support a healthy rangeland environment.

SGI researchers have also found that marking fences on rangeland to aid grouse in avoiding contact with them while in flight has significantly reduced bird loss numbers. In flat terrain, grouse are especially likely to fly into fences rather than over them. University of Idaho researcher, Bryan Stevens, developed white vinyl fence markers that snap onto the top strand of wire to make fences more visible.

Managing exotic weeds and grasses – especially cheatgrass – to help reduce fire hazards also aids grouse  populations. Maintaining and supporting healthy riparian areas gives sage grouse the summer resources needed to raise hatchlings.

WHAT ABOUT THE WILD ONES?

So how do wild horses and burros fit into the sage grouse preservation story? Recent scientific research supported  by the National Horse & Burro Rangeland Management Coalition has shown an overlap between areas where sage grouse are declining and wild horse and burro populations have exceeded the Appropriate Management Level (AML) set by the BLM.

Formed in 2012, the Coalition is a diverse partnership of 13 wildlife conservation and sportsmen organizations,
industry partners and professional natural-resource scientific societies. Their purpose is to identify solutions to management of free-roaming horse and burro populations.

According to 2014 Coalition documents, the number of animals in holding facilities grew from approximately
10,000 in 2001 to nearly 49,000 in 2014. Numbers on the range have increased to upwards of 40,000 in that same time period, surpassing the AML by about 13,000.

Pluhar has been actively engaged in discussions of the topic initiated by the National Horse & Burro Rangeland Management Coalition. Talks have involved SRM, the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, BLM, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and the Chief of the Forest Service. Pluhar says SRM hopes to “bring science and fact-based research to the forefront of the discussion… as a vehicle for substantial change.”

“The Society believes in the practice and enhancement of multiple use values of rangelands, while maintaining basic soil, water and vegetation resources,” Pluhar concludes.