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Workshop Focuses on How Grazing Management Can Enhance Stream Health

story by Jaime Tankersley

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI) partnered with local sponsors in Decatur and San Angelo to bring two-day riparian management workshops to town.

In Decatur on April 9th and 10th, and in San Angelo on the 12th and 13th local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, producers, and Angelo State University students participated in the lecture/outdoor classroom event to learn more about management of water corridors.

The course had a panel of instructors with decades of combined experience in the field of riparian management. Steve Nelle, NRCS Wildlife Biologist (retired); Sandy Wyman, Bureau of Land Management Rangeland Management Specialist; and Steve Leonard, Riparian Ecologist and Grazing Management Specialist for Cowdance Consulting spent two days sharing their expertise on the subject. Leonard and Wyman both served on the National Riparian Service Team.

The course focused on proven grazing management strategies that enhance riparian structure and function. Topics included: the role of riparian vegetation, livestock behavior, forage selectivity, grazing management tools/techniques, grazing treatments/systems, and monitoring.

"We have found that many people have beliefs about creeks and rivers that they carry into their understanding (about the area) that are a misconception," Nelle said.

"One being that floods are bad, when in actuality they are part of a creek's intricate system. However when land is well vegetated it holds and stores water versus shedding it," he said.

The key element that was to be obtained by using both classroom and onsite training was to highlight the difference between proper management and the lack of management.

Ranchers attending the workshop found themselves learning about the vegetation that keeps a riparian area in healthy status, how to graze that area properly, and how to include that area into the overall operation's conservation plan.

Charley Christensen, Manager of Cargile Ranching Operations, was skeptical of the fairly new scientific riparian beliefs until he saw the benefit first hand. Christensen spoke to workshop attendees in San Angelo on Rocky Creek during the 2nd day field visit.

"When you get in a significant drought like that of 2011, having a riparian area gave us some flexibility that some (other landowners) did not have, especially with our wildlife," Christian said.

"Our wildlife had a reprieve and a home during the drought," he said. "This area is more sensitive -- livestock congregate to this location if you don't move them, and plant communities will be grazed off."

Christensen has been active in the NRCS-Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CCRP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and used technical assistance provided by the NRCS to maximize his operation goals. With workshops like these, he has an open-mind and gate to help non-believers see the results for themselves.

Participants of the GLCI grazing workshop were broken into teams and had to develop their own management plan during the two-day riparian workshop held on Rocky Creek. Steve Nelle (left), NRCS Wildlife Biologist (retired), explains the benefits of having a diverse vegetative community in a riparian buffer and the results of positive grazing habits.

Participants of the GLCI grazing workshop were broken into teams and had to develop their own management plan during the two-day riparian workshop held on Rocky Creek.

Steve Nelle (left), NRCS Wildlife Biologist (retired), explains the benefits of having a diverse vegetative community in a riparian buffer and the results of positive grazing habits.

Sandy Wyman, Bureau of Land Management Rangeland Management Specialist and Steve Leonard, Riparian Ecologist and Grazing Management Specialist for Cowdance Consulting (left) spent two days sharing their expertise on the subject of grazing riparian areas.

Sandy Wyman, Bureau of Land Management Rangeland Management Specialist and Steve Leonard, Riparian Ecologist and Grazing Management Specialist for Cowdance Consulting (left) spent two days sharing their expertise on the subject of grazing riparian areas.