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Improving rangeland health: Juniper control strategies highlighted in Badlands tour

Field Tour

North Dakota NRCS and partners recently sponsored a tour in the North Dakota Badlands, focusing on innovative strategies to control juniper encroachment and improve rangeland health. The tour, which spanned Medora and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, showcased various juniper control methods.

MEDORA, N.D. — The North Dakota Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and partners recently sponsored a tour in the North Dakota Badlands, focusing on innovative strategies to control juniper encroachment and improve rangeland health. The tour, which spanned Medora and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, showcased various juniper control methods, including mastication, fire, and manual removal.

"We're here to address a significant issue affecting our rangelands," said Cara Greger, Western North Dakota Conservation Coordinator for the North Dakota Wildlife Federation, as she welcomed participants. "Juniper encroachment is a pressing challenge, and today we will explore effective management practices."

Dr. Carissa Wonkka from the University of Florida's West Florida Research and Education Center, who is conducting research on the juniper removal areas, emphasized the impact of juniper on rangelands. "One quarter of all U.S. rangelands are affected by juniper encroachment, costing producers $5 billion in lost revenues over the last 30 years," Wonkka stated. "Junipers displace biomass, which is your forage. Fire has been assessed as one of the most cost-effective, scale-appropriate means of reducing woody plant encroachment, especially for non-resprouting plants like juniper."

The tour's first stop was the site of the 2021 Medora Wildfire. Forest Service staff and Medora Grazing Association member Ted Tescher spoke about the fire's impact. "The Medora fire of 2021, when it hit those cedar trees, they just exploded like a bomb," Tescher said. "It helped this county quite a bit, and you couldn’t have convinced me of that 10 years ago. I think there is a place for it [fire], I sure do."

As the tour continued through Theodore Roosevelt National Park, park service staff discussed the "Donut Hole" prescribed burn in the park's south unit. They shared insights on the goals and outcomes of the burn, noting that fire is a valuable tool in juniper management.

Mike Gerbig, NRCS Conservation Delivery Unit Supervisor at the Dickinson Field Office, highlighted NRCS's role and goals in juniper removal projects. "Out here in the Badlands, there are a lot of junipers that spread out with the branches. You might be 10-12 feet out from the main tree, and if you don’t cut them, they will come back," Gerbig explained. "In 2019, NRCS started doing some of this juniper removal. When we first started this project, I was a little skeptical, but I can't say I am skeptical anymore."

Eric Rosenquist from the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust also spoke about the Juniper Removal Cost-Share Program and the Outdoor Heritage Funds for projects, emphasizing the financial support available for these crucial conservation efforts.

The tour concluded with a visit to Mike’s Creek, where Forest Service representatives discussed ongoing juniper removal projects. The collaborative effort among various agencies and organizations, including the National Wild Turkey Federation, Mule Deer Foundation, U.S. Forest Service, and Northern Great Plains Joint Venture, underscores the importance of juniper control in maintaining healthy rangelands.

As Gerbig noted, "Juniper removal is not cheap, but ranchers are interested in forage production. We have had the most success here in the Medora area, with about a dozen contracts through Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). Every year, we have new ranchers coming to talk about juniper control."

The tour provided valuable insights into the challenges and successes of juniper control, highlighting the collective efforts to improve rangeland health in the North Dakota Badlands.

Creeping Juniper
The tour's first stop was the site of the 2021 Medora Wildfire. Forest Service staff and Medora Grazing Association member Ted Tescher spoke about the fire's impact. "The Medora fire of 2021, when it hit those cedar trees, they just exploded like a bomb," Tescher said. "It helped this county quite a bit, and you couldn’t have convinced me of that 10 years ago. I think there is a place for it [fire], I sure do." Photo by NRCS State Public Affairs Specialist Chris Maestas)

 

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