Rangeland health pilot project begins
The Rangeland Health Assessment Program is initiating a pilot project that will start monitoring rangelands on about 50,000 acres split into six allotments on rancher Rob Hendry’s Clear Creek Cattle Company allotments..
Monitoring will begin with the 2011 growing season, with the final design of the monitoring system to be completed this fall and winter.
Wyoming Stock Growers Executive Vice President Jim Magagna says the goal of the pilot project is to test the waters, build relationships between involved organizations and individuals and to develop a more concrete concept moving forward.
“Talk on the subject of conducting rangeland health monitoring to proactively deal with the amount of litigation we’re seeing began a long time ago. We have to provide defensible documents to sustain ag production and grazing permits on public lands, and we hope that a state-wide program will do that. Last spring we decided to test some things to provide support for the program, regardless of it not being fully funded in the last biennium. That led to the idea of conducting a pilot project to learn what does and does not work, where the concerns are, and what to do in the future as the program moves forward.
“The short term goal is to help support defensible documents in grazing permits. Long term goals include creating a sustainable monitoring program that will provide data on conditions on rangelands for many years to come,” explains Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) Natural Resources and Policy Division Manager Leanne Stevenson of the rangeland health program and its pilot project.
“The WDA approached us in June, indicating they had some resources available to undertake a pilot project,” says Magagna. “Stock Growers agreed to partner on the pilot project to demonstrate the fine potential for this program.
“We wanted a scenario that would provide a combination of our short term goals, which are to meet the data needs for permit renewals by federal agencies, and our long term goals, which include promoting rancher involvement in monitoring and to develop a better long term picture of all rangelands in Wyoming,” explains Magagna.
When selecting a location for the pilot project, Magagna focused efforts on finding a ranch family not already involved in monitoring, but was enthusiastic and committed to long term monitoring on their private lands and public leases. He also avoided addressing anything that might be controversial, focusing on finding a stable situation so efforts could focus on monitoring.
“It wasn’t a competitive process, and as word got out the Hendrys expressed a strong interest and said they had discussed the need to start rangeland monitoring as a family. Their location provides a good diversity of resources to monitor, and it has turned out to be an excellent fit,” notes Magagna.
“We didn’t get started until later in the growing season, and right now we’re setting up plots and locating points we will use to monitor each pasture. Then next spring we can hit the ground running and begin actual monitoring,” says Hendry. “Charley Orchard with Land EKG held a meeting with us and is showing us how to do this.”
“Charley actually grew up on a ranch that neighbors Hendrys to the north, so he is familiar with the area. He is a professional range consultant and we brought him in for our first organizational meeting,” adds Magagna.
The UW Cooperative Extension Service is also involved, and Magagna has also been in contact with UW’s Department of Renewable Resources. The University is currently in a support role since its summer was already fully scheduled when the pilot project was planned.
The project is also coordinated with the BLM to ensure it meets their needs for rangeland health information.
“What I like about it is we’ll be able to prove what we’ve been doing, which is taking care of the range. We know you can’t starve a profit out of a cow, and we know how to take care of the land, and now we have to prove it. By doing this we will be able to prove it in a scientific manner and in a way the agencies will be comfortable with,” says Hendry. “It’s a neat program and we really needed this catalyst to get going. I really appreciate the WDA and Stock Growers for facilitating this and making it happen.”
“We look at this pilot project as a starting point from which we can refine the program. “This will be a benefit to our state, to the permittees on public lands and for anyone who chooses to use it on their private lands,” notes Stevenson.