Range monitoring program wraps up initial projects, begins new endeavorsWritten by Natasha Wheeler
The initial Rangeland Health Assessment Program (RHAP) projects will mature within the next year, and University of Wyoming (UW) Extension Educator Barton Stam is optimistic about the success of the program.
“It’s a little bit premature to comment on the long-term success of RHAP, but I’m seeing good things so far,” he notes. “I hope that we continue for the next 10 years, monitoring keeps happening, and we get data in, managing the range to allow for grazing.”
Administered by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, RHAP brings together landowners, agencies and other entities to ensure adequate monitoring of rangelands throughout the state.
“RHAP tries to provide a jumpstart for getting data collected so we can actually have it,” he explains.
Without proper data, land managers don’t have the resources they need to stand up to anti-grazing or anti-ranching organizations that threaten their livelihoods.
When Stam talks to permittees, many are under the impression that the monitoring responsibility belongs to someone else, such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or Forest Service.
“We can sit here and argue about why it’s not being done until we are blue in the face, but it’s going to be the permittee who gets hurt if the data isn’t there,” he says.
The first RHAP projects began in 2011, after the Wyoming Legislature agreed to fund the program. At that point, project organizers applied for grants to fund rangeland-monitoring programs. Currently, 37 projects have been funded, covering over 4 million acres of land.
“To run these RHAPs successfully, we need to be organized,” remarks Stam. “I’ve found that this time of year, late winter, is the time to be pulling together and meeting. We need to get everyone together and talk about things like what we’re going to spend money on, where we’re going to monitor, who’s going to be doing the monitoring, if there’s going to be a contractor, what the contractor will do and when all of that is going to happen.”
He adds that the other key to success is communication. Working between government agencies, conservation districts, UW Extension, landowners and other parties requires everyone to work together as a team.
“The real magic with RHAP is all of the sudden we are all together, we are making a plan about what we are going to do and the monitoring is happening,” he states.
Stam is currently involved in a number of projects, including one of the original efforts involving producers in Big Horn and Washakie counties. Along with four permittees, the project also involves BLM, Forest Service and UW Extension.
“A colleague of mine and I have also just started one in Big Horn County that has one permittee and the Forest Service. I’ve got another in Hot Springs County with one ranch, BLM and the Office of State Lands involved. Then I have one I’m involved with in Fremont County that has at least half a dozen permittees, BLM and state folks as well,” he says.
Project funds are awarded through grants and managed through an agency or entity, such as UW Extension or a conservation district. Project managers must agree to a minimum of 30 percent cost share through time and salary.
“The Board of Agriculture approves these grants, and they are really looking for permittee involvement so we have long-term, sustainable, rangeland-monitoring programs that go on even after the grant money runs out,” explains Stam.
Stam spoke on Nov. 30 at the Progressive Rancher Forum in Casper.
H20 power aids plantingWritten by Echo Renner
The waterjet stinger is a six-foot long 1/2-inch steel pipe with handles. It attaches to a water hose connected to a pump mounted on an ATV. The pump draws water directly from a creek. Producing 110 pounds of pressure, when pushed into the ground for hydrodrilling the beveled stinger tip creates a mud slurry, increasing the survivability of tree cuttings planted in the opening.
The tool is used to plant dormant, unrooted poles of hardwoods that can easily sprout from cuttings, such as willows, cottonwoods and dogwoods. Dormant cutting are used because they are easy to harvest and plant, inexpensive and effective. The waterjet stinger can create holes up to six feet deep, allowing the cuttings to be planted into the water table, which is crucial for their establishment. The tool is easy and fast to use and the liquefied soil that settle around the trees eliminates air pockets in the root zone.
Marvin Andreen, Hot Springs County Weed & Pest Control District Supervisor, constructed the unit at a cost of $1,800. He says willows planted in openings created by the waterjet stinger are expected to have an 80 percent survival rate.
The Grass Creek WMA formed in 2005, the same year the Cottonwood/Grass Creek Coordinated Resource Management began. Since that time the group has removed Russian olives and tamarisk says Larry Bentley, Natural Resource and Policy Coordinator with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. Forming a Watershed Improvement District, they’ve since worked to remove other invasive species and replace them with native species.
Now in the rehabilitation phase, they’re planting about 1,000 trees — willow, cottonwood, red osier dogwood and river birch — in the drainages this year. A crew of 16 to 18 people worked together late May planting the trees using the waterjet stinger. Landowner John Leroux operated a tractor and post hole auger to plant larger cottonwood pole cuttings.
Cutting were made while the trees were dormant in the Cottonwood/Grass Creek drainages in February, and kept in dark, cool storage, until about two weeks prior to planting, when they were submerged in water. The WMA also purchased narrow leaf cottonwood trees from the Hot Springs County Conservation District.
Some landowners are fencing the riparian areas to allow the newly planted trees to become better established. Landowner and CRM partner Dee Hillberry explains, “Most ranchers have changed management practices, not letting their cows sit for six months in riparian areas. They’ve developed off-site water and put in miles of pipelines to get that water where it’s needed, which improves the range. Then they’ve fenced the riparian areas and maintained a protected corridor to allow the native trees to grow, and benefit the wildlife and promote rehabilitation of the riparian area. Funds are available to landowners from the NRCS and the Wyoming Water Development Commission to do just that.”
“I feel good about this weed management area,” comments Andreen. “We’ve received about $70,000 in grants for this project alone, not counting $225,000 from the Wyoming Wildlife & Natural Resource Trust., and about 85 percent of landowners on Cottonwood and Grass Creek participate.”
Partners in WMA include private landowners, Marathon Oil, the state, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the NRCS, conservation districts, the Wyoming Game & Fish, the Hot Springs County Weed & Pest, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, the Wyoming Department of Transportation and county road and bridge. All partners sign a memorandum of understanding and work toward the goals of the CRM.
For more information, contact Marvin Andreen at 307-864-2278 or Amy Anderson at 307-347-2456. For more information about the waterjet stinger, log onto http://plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/pubs/idpmctn390201.pdf. Echo Renner is a field editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup.
Statewide CRM committee reorganizesWritten by Jennifer Womack
Casper – Coordinated Resource Management (CRM) program supporters are working to reorganize a committee from the early 1990s that helped numerous Wyoming ranchers work with their neighbors, community members and federal land management agencies.
“Over six million acres in Wyoming – state, federal and private lands – are managed under a CRM,” says Larry Bentley with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA). Bentley is one of two remaining Wyomingites who’ve helped facilitate the CRM process. “It can be as small as an individual ranch or as large as a county,” says Bentley, noting CRMs for prairie dog management in Natrona County and noxious weed control in Goshen County. Outside the natural resources arena, he says it’s an approach that can be used by local government and others.
“There was a statewide executive committee back in the 80s when everything was established,” says Bentley. “It later went away. WDA Director John Etchepare, with the support of Governor Freudenthal, has re-initiated the committee.” Bentley says the committee’s resurgence comes at a time when there’s a great deal of opportunity to utilize the CRM process and the need to remember creation of a CRM group must be landowner-driven.
In the late 1980s southwest Wyoming rancher Richard Hamilton helped launch a CRM along the Willow Creek watershed that passes through his ranch. “It’s mixed ownership between the state, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and private,” says Hamilton. Willow Creek was thought to be impaired and natural resource managers and interested parties pooled their resources for answers.
“It’s a bottom up process,” says Bentley. “It’s a landowner driven process and the landowners identify the problems and make a mission statement and set goals and objectives on how to go from where they are to where they want to be.”
“We’ve been into range improvement for a long time, long before it was popular,” says Hamilton, noting that participation in the CRM was “just an extension” of what they were already doing. While not all of his neighbors were as enthusiastic, many became stronger supporters when they saw the benefits of the water developments and the doubling of forage production in the wake of brush control.
“Once we got going the funding was extremely important,” recounts Hamilton of the CRM’s early efforts. “We put in six stock pits, developed a spring and built numerous miles of fence.” He also says they seeded areas where ground was disturbed and where timber was removed.
“One of the advantages to me was in dealing with the BLM,” says Hamilton, who earned leniency in his grazing management as a result of the CRM. “At the end of the year I give them my AUM numbers. Between May 15 and Oct. 15 it’s my choice when to go out and how long I go out for. At the end of the year they monitor me. If we have an early or late spring we’re not tied into a regimented program. I’ve got the latitude to read the grass and decide what and when.”
“I’ve also got the latitude to read the markets,” says Hamilton. “I can use cows and calves or yearlings and make those fit the cash market. If I want to buy more I can. I can lease private pasture and use the BLM ground for yearlings. It’s allowed me the latitude to manage and we’ve got a good relationship with the BLM.”
Rawlins area rancher Neils Hansen is part of the Muddy Creek CRM that was formed in the late 80s and early 90s. “The CRM looked at things on more of a watershed basis than on a ranch basis,” says Hansen. “Through the CRM we were able to get some funding and fast track some funds to work on projects. When working with the BLM, the CRMs float to the top a lot quicker for BLM funds than individual projects.”
As a result of the CRM, Hansen says, “We haven’t had the fluctuations in stocking rates and gains that we’ve seen some of our neighbors experience. We’ve got a lot of water developments and range improvements that could help us ride out the dry years a lot better.” As part of the effort he says, “We implemented a pasture management and monitoring program I tout everywhere I go.”
“What we’ve done is well documented,” says Hamilton. “You need good documentation of what you do and how you do it. I don’t think we can survive in ranching without that anymore.”
“It’s always looked at as a way to work in a contentious area or where you have problems, but it also creates a lot of opportunity,” says Hansen. “It doesn’t have to be an adversarial situation to bring in a CRM and have it be beneficial. It’s got to be rancher driven and rancher originated. It’s an opportunity to look at the landscape from a watershed scale and bring all the players together so you can access multiple benefits and better protect yourself from all of the challenges out there.”
“It’s a broad, diverse committee,” says Bentley of the reorganizing effort. “The goal is to rework the CRM process and identify, if anything, what might be wrong with the present planning process. We’ll also train other facilitators to help CRMs get started across the state.”