Targeted Grazing

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Managing medusahead using dormant season grazing in the northern Great Basin

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The invasive annual grass, medusahead, infests rangelands throughout the West, from the Columbia Plateau to the California Annual Grasslands and the Great Basin. Dominating secondary succession in the sagebrush steppe, medusahead can degrade the habitat of threatened species such as the greater sage-grouse. This research explores the potential of dormant season grazing as an applied management strategy to reduce the negative impacts of medusahead while promoting recovery of perennial vegetation at the landscape scale. In particular, it assessed grazing with four treatments from 2018 to 2020: traditional grazing (May–October), dormant season grazing (October–February), traditional + dormant season grazing (May–February), and no grazing. After 2 yr of grazing treatments, biomass, density, cover, and fuel continuity did not differ between treatments (P > 0.05). However, biomass measurements were significantly different between years, which is likely due to greater than normal precipitation in 2019 and 2020. Between 2018 and 2019, annual grass biomass increased by 81% (666–1 212 kg ha−1) and perennial grass biomass increased by 165% (118–313 kg ha−1). Litter biomass decreased by approximately 15% in every year since 2018 (2 374, 2 012, and 1 678 kg ha−1 in 2018–2020). There were not significant differences in cover or density of annual and perennial grasses between treatments and years. Our results indicate that 2 yr may not be adequate time for dormant season grazing treatments to be effective in reducing the abundance of medusahead and that after 2 yr of treatments, dormant season grazing does not have a detrimental effect on perennial vegetation.

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Ranch economics of using targeted grazing to create wildfire fuel breaks on public land

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Targeted grazing in the Great Basin has been used to reduce cheatgrass fuel loads and enhance wildfire control. In this project, we evaluate the economic impact of targeted grazing on cow-calf ranches across southeast Oregon, northeast Nevada, and southwest Idaho when practices such as fencing, water hauling, and herding are necessary for producers to accomplish desired grazing outcomes. Large and small representative ranch models were developed for major land resource areas 23, 24, and 25 where applicable. Typical targeted grazing costs and practices were obtained from producer and agency focus groups in each state and introduced into ranch economic models. Targeted grazing periods begin 1 mo before typical Bureau of Land Management turnout in the spring and again in the fall after typical public land grazing ends. In each year, targeted grazing would occur when the previous growing season (September to March and April to August) had more than 25% of median precipitation based on PRISM historical data. Hence, targeted grazing could occur in the spring, fall, or both depending on precipitation. In both seasons, targeted grazing continues until the desired animal unit months of forage are removed. One hundred precipitation data sets were randomly generated using Excel to mimic the actual number of drought years in the spring and fall. The model is a 40-yr recursive linear programming model using 100 cattle price sets and the 100 precipitation sets. Results are averaged over 10 000 model runs and compared with scenarios with no targeted grazing and targeted grazing based on the actual precipitation data set. Results show changes in cattle herd size, hay sales, and the economic impacts to the public land ranch operation for two ranch sizes in each of the three major land resource areas by state.

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Geo-Fencing Summit

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Day 2 Recording
Summit hosts: Matt Reeves – Rocky Mountain Research Station and  Dwayne Rice – Region 2 Rangeland Program Manager

Background: Geo-fencing provides some unique advantages over conventional fencing approaches. This is especially true when we consider the devastation to fencing, and other rangeland infrastructure, caused by wildfires. Geo-fencing is increasingly used with public land grazing leases, but the cost-effectiveness of geo-fencing and common challenges are not well understood. Issues such as cost-effectiveness, environmental concerns, animal welfare, and system efficacy remain unclear.

In this Summit, we provide a forum for producers, managers, and USDA Forest Service agency leadership to share their insights, successes, and failures while answering questions in the process. Geo-fencing may have a significant role to play in the future of public land management. In this Summit, we provide a backdrop against which we can come to some common understanding of what the technology affords including the considerations needed prior to implementation.

Summit Scope & Components: The objective is to enable Summit participants to learn from the real-world experience provided by managers, agency leaders, and producers. In this Summit, we discuss geo-fencing through a series of coupled 20-minute presentations followed by a 30-minute live question-and-answer session. In this manner, we aim to engage participants from a wide range of experiences and disciplines.

Deliverables & Benefits:

  • The meeting itself. It provides an important means of information exchange where we can all learn from each other.
  • Recorded 20-minute presentations that can be revisited remotely anytime.
  • Identification of new partnerships between producers, managers, and researchers to foster more effective land management strategies to be developed across more regions.
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Society for Range Management 2023 Meeting

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This year’s annual conference will be in Boise, ID.

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Three years of targeted grazing to reduce wildfire risk

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This presentation discusses a pilot project in partnership with the BC Cattlemen’s Association and the Province of British Columbia that uses cattle grazing to reduce wildfire risk in wildland-urban interface areas. Amanda Miller, of Palouse Rangeland Consulting is engaged as the liaison, coordinator, and researcher for the development, pilot, and testing of livestock use models for fine fuel management.

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Using virtual fencing to create fuel breaks in the sagebrush steppe

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Cows were fitted with VF collars (calves not collared) that use Global Positioning System positioning to contain cattle inside fuel break boundaries and record animal locations at 5-min intervals. End-of-trial forage utilization was 48.5% ± 3.7% and 5.5% ± 0.7% for areas inside and outside of the fuel break, respectively. Daily percentage of cattle locations inside the fuel break was initially > 94% but declined to approximately 75% by the end of the trial. Percentage daily locations of dry cows and cow/calf pairs inside the fuel break was 98.5% ± 0.5% and 80.6% ± 1.1%, respectively (P < 0.001). Our data suggest virtual fencing can be a highly effective method of concentrating grazing to reduce herbaceous fuel biomass within linear fuel breaks. Efficacy of this method could be substantially impacted by use of dry versus cow/calf pairs.

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Virtual fencing to create fuel breaks in the sagebrush steppe

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Cows were fitted with VF collars (calves not collared) that use Global Positioning System positioning to contain cattle inside fuel break boundaries and record animal locations at 5-min intervals. End-of-trial forage utilization was 48.5% ± 3.7% and 5.5% ± 0.7% for areas inside and outside of the fuel break, respectively. Daily percentage of cattle locations inside the fuel break was initially > 94% but declined to approximately 75% by the end of the trial. Percentage daily locations of dry cows and cow/calf pairs inside the fuel break was 98.5% ± 0.5% and 80.6% ± 1.1%, respectively (P < 0.001). Our data suggest virtual fencing can be a highly effective method of concentrating grazing to reduce herbaceous fuel biomass within linear fuel breaks. Efficacy of this method could be substantially impacted by use of dry versus cow/calf pairs.

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Grazing management to reduce wildfire risk in invasive annual grass prone sagebrush communities

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Moderate grazing decreases wildfire probability by decreasing fuel amount, continuity, and height and increasing fuel moisture content. Grazing, through its modification of fuels, can improve fire suppression efforts by decreasing flame lengths, rate of fire spread, and fire severity. Logistical, social, and administrative challenges exist to using grazing to decrease fire probability. Some of these challenges can be overcome by using off-season (i.e., fall-winter) grazing, but other challenges will require persistent efforts as well as science to support management changes.

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Virtual fencing effectively excludes cattle from burned sagebrush steppe

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We evaluated the use of a “virtual fence” (VF) for excluding cattle from burned areas within small pastures in the sagebrush steppe of southeast Oregon. VF technology (Vence Corporation, San Francisco, CA) uses satellite-controlled collars that direct animal movement within user-defined polygons using auditory and electrical cues. We fall-burned a 0.6-ha area in each of six adjacent 2.1-ha pastures in a Wyoming big sagebrush plant community in 2019. In June 2020, each pasture was stocked with 3 mature dry cows for 14 d. All cows were fitted with VF collars; collars were programed to create a virtual fence around the burned area within three of the pastures (VF treatment), and remaining pastures had electrical and auditory cues turned off (control treatment). Collars recorded animal location every 5 min. Cows in the control treatment initially spent up to 40% of their time within the burned area, and forage utilization of the burned area was nearly 70%. Cows in the VF treatment spent approximately 4% of their time in the burned area on day 1 and were recorded in the burn only incidentally thereafter; forage utilization in the burn was < 3%.

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Moderate grazing in fall-winter reduces exotic annual grasses in sagebrush-bunchgrass steppe

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We compared moderate grazing during the off season with not grazing in five Wyoming big sagebrush−bunchgrass communities in the northern Great Basin. Treatments were applied annually for 10 yr (2009−2010 through 2018−2019). Plant community characteristics were measured after treatments had been applied from 6 to 10 yr. Off-season grazing reduced exotic annual grass density and cover. After a decade, annual grass cover was twofold greater in ungrazed areas. Sandberg bluegrass density increased with off-season grazing, but large bunchgrass density was similar between off-season grazed and ungrazed areas. Perennial and annual forb density and cover were similar between off-season grazed and ungrazed treatments. Biological soil crust cover was also similar between off-season grazed and ungrazed areas.

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