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Success Stories | Oregon

Taking Stewardship to the Next Level with CSP

The J.A. Cox Ranch is located in the Klamath Basin, an area plagued by water shortages that have threatened agriculture, fish and wildlife. Two years ago, Jim Popson stopped irrigating the pastures on his 2,000-acre ranch. Thanks to good management, he continues to operate a successful replacement heifer operation.

"The ranch looks great, and the cattle are doing fabulous as far as weight gain," says Popson.

Because of the water conservation effort and other treatments in place on his land, he was eligible to enroll in the USDA Conservation Security Program, or CSP. The program is designed to reward farmers and ranchers for land stewardship while encouraging them to further protect natural resources on their property. With CSP, he plans to add even more conservation measures to his operation.

"We're going to keep working on it and keep adding projects," he said.

Popson owns and operates the J.A. Cox Ranch near Fort Klamath, Oregon. The ranch is located in the Klamath Basin, an area affected by water shortages that have threatened agriculture, fish and wildlife. In the past, Popson would watch stream flows dry up each summer in Sevenmile Creek, a stream that he and others in the area relied on for irrigation water.

"We wanted to put water back in the creek," said Popson.

To do his part, Popson worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to develop a plan to stop the use of irrigation water on his operation. With NRCS assistance, he was able to convert to non-irrigated pasture with a 3-year grazing management and transition plan. In 2004, he reduced his herd of Holstein heifers to give the grass a chance to rest and reseed. Then, he installed fencing and watering facilities to better distribute livestock. He also put up extra fencing along Sevenmile Creek to keep cattle from damaging the vegetative stream buffers that protect water quality and fish habitat.

Close monitoring and detailed record keeping are key components of the management plan. This scrutiny of the operation has allowed him to be responsive to conditions, evaluate strategies, and make the plan work. Over time, he gradually increased the size of the herd to roughly 1,300. "For our operation," he said, "We felt that was about right."

Today, the J.A. Cox Ranch is showing a number of positive changes. "It's just done wonders,"says Popson. "It's been good for the fisheries and good for us. We can control the cattle better. We're getting more natural, and the land looks good, which adds value to our property."

The quality of the forage has improved through better management, and inputs associated with the irrigation system are eliminated, including energy costs and time. Most importantly, the ranch saves 8,000 acre-feet of water, or more than two and a half billion gallons, each year.

All of that water now remains in-stream to provide critical habitat for native aquatic species like the redband trout. In addition, improved water flows are providing downstream benefits to endangered shortnose and Lost River suckers in Upper Klamath Lake.

"We were excited to see the trees and shrubs coming back and water running in the creek year-round!" said Popson.

His proactive measures to protect the environment and the natural resources that support his business made Popson a good candidate for CSP. When sign-up opened in the Upper Klamath Lake Watershed 2006, he attended informational workshops and met with local NRCS representatives to submit an application. "It sounded like it would go hand in hand with what we were doing," he said.

Because he had previously addressed basic conservation needs on his land, he was accepted into CSP. With enrollment, he will receive stewardship payments as well as enhancement payments to add additional measures. He is working with NRCS to plan enhancements, including tree and shrub plantings, stock water, and fencing to better manage his pastures.

"SP," according to Popson, "Will help us make improvements that we otherwise would not be able to do."

He tells other farmers and ranchers that his efforts to closely monitor operations and keep good records, as well as his participation in conservation programs, made the difference.

"You need to look at your own situation and see what works for you," said Popson, "But it's working for us. We are learning to balance everything and incorporate conservation into a working cattle ranch."