Author Archives: SGI Editor

Sal Palazzolo, Idaho Fish & Game, Honored for Sage Grouse Initiative Work

Note from Sage Grouse Initiative:   We are thrilled to see the recognition of  Sal Palazzolo, Farm Bill Coordinator for Idaho Dept. of Fish & Game, at the prestigious North American Wildlife & Natural Resources Conference today. Thanks to our partner Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever for holding up Palazzolo’s leadership that guided landscape-level conservation for sage grouse in Idaho. In addition, our partner Initiative, the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative, also earned recognition. Congratulations to Ross Melinchuk, deputy executive director of Texas Parks and Wildlife.

(Photo from left to right: Ross Melinchuk, Jim Dougas, Howard Vincent, Sal Palazzolo, Mark Gudlin)

Read the full Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever Press Release:

 

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For Immediate Release: Jared Wiklund  (651) 209-4953
Pheasants Forever Honors Conservation Partners at the North American 100thAssemblyIndividuals throughout the nation awarded for their contributions to natural resources managementOmaha, Neb. – March 12, 2015 –Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever have honored five individuals for their distinguishing contributions to conservation during the 100th assembly of the North American Wildlife & Natural Resources Conference. Awards were presented to Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever partners who have made conservation advances for upland species including pheasant, quail, sage grouse, and the lesser prairie-chicken.“Our awards represent innovative partnerships for the management of upland bird species throughout North America,” said Howard Vincent, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s President and CEO. “In an era of restricted budgets for natural resources, working with partners for the common goal of wildlife habitat conservation has yielded some incredible results. These individuals are champions of conservation, and we’re very proud to work side-by-side in the field with all of them.”Pheasant Award – Jim Douglas, Director of Nebraska Game and Parks CommissionPartnering with Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever for more than 20 years, Jim Douglas, along with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC), has been crucial for conservation successes of the ring-necked pheasant in Nebraska. The leadership of Douglas at NGPC has produced 23 biologist positions in the state that are shared by Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever, and during his tenure, the organizations have produced 41 different partnership programs for the benefit of wildlife habitat and public hunting access. In addition, the long-standing partnership between NGPC and Pheasants Forever has produced over $6 million annually for the organization’s mission of habitat conservation and youth education in Nebraska.Quail Award – Mark Gudlin, Private Lands Liason for Tennessee Wildlife Resources Authority

Helping to secure matching funds for the addition of three Quail Forever Farm Bill biologist positions in Tennessee, Gudlin has been instrumental for the expansion of technical assistance for quail habitat throughout the state. One of Quail Forever’s most promising partnerships in the eastern United States, the biologist positions are helping to implement the Tennessee Northern Bobwhite Quail Restoration Plan. In its first two years the partnership has enrolled over 8,610 acres into various Farm Bill programs for the conservation and longevity of bobwhite quail in Tennessee.

Sage Grouse Award – Sal Palazzolo, Farm Bill Coordinator for Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game

Guiding the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) throughout Idaho for the Department of Fish and Game, Palazzolo has embraced habitat work in the heart of sage grouse country to produce incredible results for this iconic western species. Partnering with Pheasants Forever to help fund three SGI Farm Bill biologists, this collaborative effort has enrolled over 96,000 acres into various Farm Bill programs in the last two years. The Burley Landscape Juniper Project has removed 9,343 acres of invasive juniper and restored it to prime sage grouse habitat.  This project was recently awarded the BLM National Range Stewardship Award.

Lesser Prairie-Chicken Award – Ross Melinchuk, Deputy Exec. Dir. of Texas Parks and Wildlife

Elected chairman for the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) Lesser Prairie-Chicken Council, Melinchuk is considered a leading authority for restoration efforts of the lesser prairie-chicken. Critical to this conservation effort are the LPCI-funded field staff who work one-on-one with landowners to provide conservation planning and technical support for upland habitat in the lesser prairie chicken range. Melinchuk has garnered vital financial support for the program which will be expanding to 13 positions in five different states in the coming year.

Partner of the Year – Mike Pruss, Private Lands Section Chief for Pennsylvania Game Commission

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has partnered with Pheasants Forever to provide funding assistance for six Farm Bill biologist positions throughout the state. At the core of this partnership is Mike Pruss, an advocate for conservation programs which are delivered by Pheasants Forever biologists and Pennsylvania Game Commission staff. Working in tandem to protect the state’s vital natural resources, biologists are providing technical assistance for a variety of programs including the Voluntary Public Access & Habitat Incentive Program, Golden-winged Warbler Conservation Initiative, Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, and Wild Pheasant Recovery Program.

About the North American Wildlife & Natural Resources Conference

Presented by the Wildlife Management Institute, The North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference is an annual gathering of industry leaders dedicated to the conservation, enhancement and management of North America’s wildlife and other natural resources.

About Pheasants Forever

Pheasants Forever, including its quail conservation division, Quail Forever, is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to upland habitat conservation. Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever have more than 140,000 members and 700 local chapters across the United States and Canada. Chapters are empowered to determine how 100 percent of their locally raised conservation funds are spent.

Photo: Awards winners arranged from left to right include Ross Melinchuck, Jim Douglas, Sal Palazzolo, and Mark Gudlin. (Not pictured: Mike Pruss)

Pheasants Forever is dedicated to the conservation of pheasants, quail and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education and land management policies and programs.
Pheasants Forever Inc., 1783 Buerkle Circle, St. Paul, MN 55110

 

SGI outcomes in conservation for sage grouse initiative

SGI “Outcomes in Conservation” Report Demonstrates Positive Impact of $300 Million Investment in West

With 1,129 participating ranchers, the NRCS-led Sage Grouse Initiative and its partners have already invested  $424.5 million and conserved 4.4 million acres, an area that is twice the size of Yellowstone National Park.

Download ReportOutcomes in Conservation, Sage Grouse Initiative, 2015

Letter from NRCS Chief Jason Weller to USFWS Director Dan Ashe, Feb. 11, 2015

Sage Grouse Initiative 2015: The Untold Story FACT SHEET

Watch the webinar on outcomes by NRCS Chief Weller.

Press Contacts:
Tim Griffiths, SGI National Coordinator, NRCS: Email:    Phone: (406) 600-3908

Dave Naugle, SGI National Science Advisor and Professor, Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana:  Email:
Phone: (406) 240-0113

Natural Resources Conservation Service Press Release:

USDA Report Demonstrates Positive Impact of $300 Million Investment in Sage-grouse Conservation on Working Lands in West

Four Year Commitment in Farm Bill Funding to Improve Additional Habitat

WASHINGTON, Feb.12, 2015 –The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) today issued a report showing that since 2010 USDA and its partners in the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) have worked with private landowners to restore 4.4 million acres of habitat for sage-grouse while maintaining working landscapes across the West. USDA also announced today that, through the provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill, it will invest in new sage-grouse conservation work over four years.

“We’re working with ranchers who are taking proactive steps to improve habitat for sage-grouse while improving the sustainability of their agricultural operations,” Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie said. “Thanks to the interest from ranchers and support of our conservation partners, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is working to secure this species’ future while maintaining our vibrant western economies. Since 2010, we’ve worked with ranchers to conserve, restore, or maintain more than 4 million acres of habitat on private lands – an area twice the size of Yellowstone National Park.”

In the past five years, NRCS has invested $296.5 million to restore and conserve sage-grouse habitat, and has pledged to extend these efforts by approximately $200 million over four years through the conservation programs funded by the 2014 Farm Bill.  Additionally, NRCS is piloting use of its Conservation Stewardship Program to broaden the impacts of SGI by targeting up to 275,000 acres to enhance sage-grouse habitat in 2015.

SGI is a diverse partnership led by NRCS that includes ranchers, state and federal agencies, universities, non-profit groups, and private business. SGI has leveraged the NRCS investment with an additional $128 million from partners and landowners, bringing the total SGI investment to $424.5 million.  SGI aids ranchers with NRCS technical and financial assistance and in getting NRCS conservation practices on the ground.

Efforts range from establishing conservation easements that prevent subdivision of large and intact working ranches to improving and restoring habitat through removal of invasive trees. Across the range, conservation easements have increased eighteen-fold through the SGI, protecting 451,884 acres.  NRCS efforts have been targeted towards the most important regions.  More than one-third of the easement acreage is located in Wyoming, which contains 40 percent of the sage-grouse population.  In Oregon, NRCS has invested $18.4 million through SGI in on-the-ground restoration, helping more than 100 ranchers remove conifers from 200,000 acres of key nesting, brood-rearing and wintering habitats, addressing 68 percent of the conifer threat to Oregon’s sage-grouse population on priority private land.  These efforts focused on eliminating the encroachment of conifer trees on grasslands not only benefit the sage-grouse, but also improve the forage available on grazing lands.

“American ranchers are working with us to help sage-grouse because they know they are helping an at-risk bird while also improving the food available for their livestock,” Bonnie said. “As the saying goes, ‘What’s good for the bird is good for the herd.’”

“We continue to work diligently to remove the conifer trees that put sage-grouse and their habitat at risk,” said Tim Griffiths, NRCS’ coordinator for SGI. “By removing trees and saving vulnerable grasslands, we’re expanding the footprint of prime sage-grouse habitat while supporting sustainable ranching and working lands.”

For more on technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or a local USDA service center.

Today’s announcement was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill. The 2014 Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life.

http://trib.com/lifestyles/recreation/feds-pledge-million-to-sage-grouse-conservation/article_42966794-231c-5d87-91a3-22f814718a34.html

 

Bi-State Sage Grouse Forum Attracts Full House in Nevada

Press contact: Dave Naugle, SGI national science advisor (406) 240-0113

 

Sage grouse experts representing many stakeholders and partners of the Sage Grouse Initiative converged in Minden, Nevada, yesterday for a high-profile forum aimed at solving a key conservation issue for bi-state sage grouse that straddle the Nevada-California border: the expansion of pinyon and juniper forests into historic sagebrush-steppe.

After a day of productive workshops, the group heads to the field to see the treatments that are assuring sage grouse have a home and the rangelands are as healthy as possible.

 

The Bi-State Local Area Working Group plays a pivotal role in a success story for proactive conservation that’s turning the tide for the bi-state sage grouse. On the Nevada-California state line, a geographically distinct population of sage grouse once faced a precarious future. Today, that’s changed. A forward-thinking group of people representing ranchers, agencies, conservation groups, private citizens, and universities came together in 2002 to form the Bi-State Local Area Working Group. They agreed to work across borders of land and values for the common good of sage grouse. In 2012, they released the Bi-State Action Plan: Past, Present and Future Actions for Conservation of the Greater Sage-Grouse Bi-State Distinct Population Segment. The plan steered Sage Grouse Initiative dollars to where they were needed most: funding and leveraging more dollars for voluntary conservation easements that keep private ranchlands intact. Easements and invasive conifer removal are the two top conservation actions identified in the Bi-State Action Plan.

In June of 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Land Management and other Bi-State partners announced a landmark agreement to accelerate and focus conservation efforts to fully carry out the Bi-State Action Plan. The sage grouse and the wildlife that share their range now face a bright future, potentially averting the need to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act. At the same time, ranchers with critical water resources bordering public lands can keep their lands intact and safe from subdivision. The $45 million commitment to restore this geographically distinct population of sage grouse gives plenty of hope for a win-win result.

This forum is a key step for the partners moving forward to carry out that historic commitment. By focusing on the removal of trees invading sage grouse range, managers are mimicking the role of nature in the past, when periodic fires swept through the area to clear the advance of native trees into the open sagebrush country.  While fire remains important, the dilemma today is that fires also set sagebrush back for many years. Without sagebrush, sage grouse cannot survive. In winter, close to 100 percent of their diet is sagebrush leaves. Strategic removal of advancing pinyon-junipers gives the birds the best chance to maintain important habitats.

USGS biologist Peter Coates gave a compelling talk yesterday on the results of a scientific study showing that  marked sage grouse avoided pinyon-junipers.  pj-Coates

 

 

E&E News: Major Juniper Removal in Idaho to Save Sage Grouse

 

SGI note:
E&E News today published the article below. Tim Griffiths, SGI national coordinator for NRCS, is quoted:

“We have a fighting chance to actually solve this thing,” said Tim Griffiths, national coordinator for the NRCS-led Sage Grouse Initiative, which includes ranchers, federal and state agencies, universities, nonprofit groups, and businesses and is funded largely by the farm bill. “We really need to be focusing on these early-phase trees where there are still birds on the landscape.”

And more from Griffiths:
NRCS chipped in $1.8 million using the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which provides financial and technical assistance to livestock ranchers in Idaho, Griffiths said. Sage grouse have swiftly returned to areas that were once dotted by juniper, he said.

 
BLM embarks on major juniper removal in Idaho to save sage grouse

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter: @philipataylor
Published: Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Bureau of Land Management today announced plans to cut, chop and burn native juniper trees across 1.5 million acres of southwest Idaho in hopes of beating back a major threat to the greater sage grouse.

The project<http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2015-01-20/pdf/2015-00741.pdf>, whose cost was not disclosed, aims to attack juniper trees before they host sage grouse predators like hawks, ravens and crows, and before they overtake native bunch grasses and sagebrush that sage grouse need to survive.

Treatments would likely occur over several years and would focus on juniper trees within 6 miles of the roughly 70 occupied sage grouse breeding grounds, known as leks, in BLM’s Owyhee and Bruneau field offices, according to a BLM information package<https://www.blm.gov/epl-front-office/projects/nepa/42342/52326/57017/BOSH_FinalScopingDocument.pdf>on the project.

“A landscape level treatment is needed because loss of habitat to juniper encroachment is one of the major threats to sage-grouse in southwest Idaho,” BLM said. “While many acres have been treated across the west since 2004, treatments have not been at a landscape scale and are not likely keeping pace with the current rate of juniper encroachment.”

The project comes roughly a month after Congress passed a fiscal 2015 spending bill prohibiting the Fish and Wildlife Service from preparing a rule to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, a move that some feared would slow federal and state momentum to conserve the imperiled bird’s 165 million acres of habitat in 11 Western states.

But the bill also provided $15 million “to promote sustainable sage-grouse populations through conservation of sensitive habitat” and to avoid a listing. It was not immediately clear whether that funding could be used to implement the Owyhee-Bruneau project.

The charismatic ground-dwelling bird once numbered about 16 million but has declined to as few as 200,000 due to habitat threats including energy development, invasive species and wildfire.

BLM is taking public comments on the plan through mid-February and will be preparing an environmental impact statement.

The plan is one of BLM’s larger bids to control the spread of juniper, which, while a native species, is a key threat to sage grouse in the Great Basin states of Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and California. Other major threats include invasive species, namely cheatgrass, and wildfire. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell earlier this month established a rangeland fire task force to combat those threats (Greenwire<http://www.eenews.net/greenwire/stories/1060011186>, Jan. 6).

Conifer trees including junipers and pinyon began to expand in the Great Basin roughly 150 years ago when humans began suppressing wildfires. Since then, they have expanded their range more than sixfold, covering 14 million acres. The shrublike trees suck up scarce desert water, drying up springs and streams; altering soil acidity; and shading plants important to grouse, mule deer, jack rabbits and golden eagles.

One study<http://www.sagegrouseinitiative.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Baruch-Mordo.pdf> published in 2013 by scientists from the Nature Conservancy and the Natural Resources Conservation Service found that sage grouse in eastern Oregon disappeared from the landscape once conifer cover reached 4 percent.

Once juniper trees establish a woodland, they completely overtake native bunch grasses and sagebrush, eliminating native seed sources, NRCS has said.

BLM said that conversion “can alter community structure and ecosystem function to a point that returning to a sagebrush steppe community is highly improbable.”

The BLM project will remove early-stage western junipers that are yet to overtake the shrubs and herbs below them. While the project covers 1.5 million acres, the actual acres treated will be considerably smaller.

Most treatments would involve mulching the juniper trees on site or lopping and scattering them. Some would be burned to eliminate hazards near roads that pose a threat to the public and firefighters, BLM said. Handsaws may be used to cut trees in wilderness and wilderness study areas.

Others involved in the project include NRCS, Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game, and the University of Idaho.

BLM’s EIS will also assess potential environmental harm including the spread of invasive and noxious plants, harm to raptor nests, removal of old-growth juniper, temporary disturbance of sage grouse, and harm to wilderness values.

Treating the juniper trees while they’re young will be far less costly than removing them after they’re fully grown and have transformed the sagebrush steppe habitat, BLM said.

Since conifer expansion slowed in the early 1900s, about 20 percent of the invasive woodlands have grown into an older forest, NRCS said. But within 30 to 50 years, about 75 percent of the trees will have grown into large trees overtaking the ecosystem, it said.

“We have a fighting chance to actually solve this thing,” said Tim Griffiths, national coordinator for the NRCS-led Sage Grouse Initiative, which includes ranchers, federal and state agencies, universities, nonprofit groups, and businesses and is funded largely by the farm bill. “We really need to be focusing on these early-phase trees where there are still birds on the landscape.”

A major bottleneck has been making sure BLM has performed National Environmental Policy Act reviews on a large enough scale, Griffiths said. “I would really tip NRCS’s and the Sage Grouse Initiative’s hats off to BLM,” he said.

The Owyhee-Bruneau project aims to mimic the success of BLM’s Burley Landscape Sage-Grouse Habitat Restoration Project in south-central Idaho, where the agency has partnered with NRCS, Idaho, Pheasants Forever and more than three dozen public lands ranchers to clear juniper from nearly 15,000 acres of the Jim Sage Mountain area south of Albion. An additional 14,000 acres is scheduled for treatment in the next three to five years.

“This project has enjoyed significant success in large part due to the innovative partnerships and sources of funding including the [BLM’s] healthy lands initiative,” Dustin Smith, a Burley district fire ecologist, said in a statement this month. “Our lean budgets and scarce resources have encouraged the formation of some great partnerships, allowing us to accomplish far more than we ever could have had we attempted this on our own.”

NRCS chipped in $1.8 million using the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which provides financial and technical assistance to livestock ranchers in Idaho, Griffiths said. Sage grouse have swiftly returned to areas that were once dotted by juniper, he said.

Through NRCS’s sage grouse efforts, ranchers in Oregon have cut 200,000 acres of early successional conifer since 2010, Griffiths said.

Major Working Ranch Conservation Easement Protects Vital Sage Grouse Habitat in NW Colorado

(Photo: Cross Mountain Ranch, @John Fielder)
PDF of Press Release
PR-Web Release

Press Contacts:

Chris West, Executive Director
Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust
303-225-8677
www.ccalt.org

Tim Griffiths, Sage Grouse Initiative National Coordinator
Natural Resources Conservation Service
(406) 600-3908

 

 

The Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT) recently completed a conservation easement on one of the largest working ranches in Northwest Colorado. Multiple partners contributed to the protection of 16,000 acres of key sage grouse habitat on the Cross Mountain Ranch in Moffat County, close to Dinosaur National Monument.

“This easement demonstrates the power and leverage the new conservation programs in the Farm Bill can have to benefit sage grouse; It’s the locally driven conservation efforts like these that can help prevent the need for an endangered species listing,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, who championed passage of the conservation title of the Farm Bill in 2014.

Chris West, Executive Director of CCALT, points out that the Cross Mountain conservation easement is a key piece to a broader conservation strategy in this landscape.

“The Cross Mountain Ranch easement connects three large private family-run ranching operations that have been secured via conservation easements in the past two years, assuring that these lands will continue to produce food and fiber for our growing population and permanently remain undeveloped,” West said.

Half of the funding for the conservation easement comes from the Sage Grouse Initiative, via Farm Bill dollars administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. This project represents the single largest easement purchased under the Initiative.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife, through funding provided by the lottery-supported Great Outdoors Colorado, is also a major funder of the easement. Governor John Hickenlooper has supported the project from its inception in 2011. The easement is part of a larger effort championed by the Governor, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, SGI, local conservation groups, and local landowners to conserve habitat for the grouse and preserve local economies.

“Thanks to the family of Cross Mountain Ranch and their neighboring ranch families, we’re seeing the power of voluntary conservation to keep the vast sagebrush lands intact where it matters most in our state and nationally,” Gov. Hickenlooper said.

This important conservation project would not have happened without the foresight and vision of Ron and Kitty Boeddeker, who installed a deep conservation ethic and love for America’s rich western heritage in their family. Kitty stressed that her husband, the late Ron Boeddeker, a deeply spiritual man, felt he was at home on the ranch and often reminded his friends and family that he was “simply a steward of the land and its legacy.”

Moffat County supports an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 sage grouse, the largest population remaining in Colorado. The largest elk populations in Colorado also rely on this breathtaking expanse of sagebrush and bunchgrasses, as do mule deer and pronghorn.

“When you put together private working ranch lands interspersed with the Bureau of Land Management and Dinosaur National Park public lands, we now have more than a quarter million acres  that are conserved forever in the heart of greater sage-grouse country.” CCALT’s West said. “That’s an area more than twice the size of the city and county of Denver.”

The number one threat to sage grouse is the fragmenting and degradation of its habitat. Sage grouse are birds of large landscapes, often called an umbrella species, because of the more than 350 kinds of wildlife that share its range.

Rex Tuttle, manager of Cross Mountain, and owner of a neighboring ranch that he has also protected with a conservation easement, is a strong supporter of both wildlife conservation and passing on a ranching legacy that’s integral to the culture of Colorado.

“For ranch families like mine and others out here, our future depends on keeping our lands together, something that’s harder and harder to do in today’s economy,” Tuttle said. “The Cross Mountain easement is more than important financially, it’s about keeping an irreplaceable landscape together for future generations.”

#

Sheep graze on the Cross Mountain Ranch, sharing the range with sage grouse, elk, and other wildlife. Photo@John Fielder

Sheep graze on the Cross Mountain Ranch, sharing the range with sage grouse, elk, and other wildlife. [email protected] Fielder

CrossMtn-wetlands-1934-Fielder

Wetlands on the Cross Mountain Ranch are a vital part of the sagebrush ecosystem for sage grouse and other wildlife. Photo @ John Fielder

Cross Mountain Ranch see-forever sage grouse habitat. @John Fielder

Cross Mountain Ranch see-forever sage grouse habitat. @John Fielder

Sage grouse male displays on lek (Rick McEwan photo)

Sage grouse male displays on lek (Rick McEwan photo)

 

 

Five Dot Ranch Sustains Sage Grouse & Produces Natural Beef in California

 Download the full-color PDF
High-Res Version of PDF

(Scroll down to see ranch photos at story’s end)

At right: Todd Swickard (center) and family enjoy horseback riding on the Five Dot Ranch, near Susanville, California. (NRCS photo)

 

By Steve Stuebner

The Swickard family takes pride in a pasture to plate operation. Their natural beef customers support a ranch dedicated to healthy cattle and plentiful wildlife, with a focus on sage grouse on property near Susanville, California.

 

Todd and Loretta Swickard run a large cattle ranch in the Willow Creek Valley near Susanville, California, where the Sierra-Nevada Mountains converge with the Cascade Range and the Great Basin. It’s a mile-high valley with heavy timber to the west, forests and open space to the north, and sagebrush for many miles to the east.

The family stays plenty busy operating the Five Dot Ranch, raising approximately 5,000 cattle in a natural quality beef program, while carefully managing their private lands and public grazing allotments.

The Swickards have three daughters; all of them work in the Napa Valley Oxbow Market, marketing the ranch’s natural beef program and running the associated restaurant. Their son helps in the cattle side of the business. The family operation has grown considerably from the days when Todd’s father, Jack, started the business in 1959 with 200 registered Hereford cattle. Historically, the ranch dates back to 1852.

Wildlife-friendly Grazing

The Swickards apply rest-rotation grazing systems that support a variety of imperiled fish and wildlife species, including sage grouse. Much of their work to improve sage grouse habitat is focused to the north and east of their home ranch near open sagebrush lands, and they co-exist with other species elsewhere in California.

“We’ve got lots of different issues and quite a few endangered species,” says Todd Swickard. “We try our best to take care of all of them. We share the land with lots of other people and animals. We try to work it so it benefits everybody.”

One numbering some 16 million before settlement, sage grouse have dwindled to as few as 200,000 birds. Their survival depends on conserving vast, intact sagebrush lands in the west.

The reputation of the Five Dot Ranch is important to the Swickards, because their natural beef customers care about how the animals are raised and how ranch operations and livestock impact the environment.
“We are committed to providing the best tasting beef California has to offer while working closely to promote stewardship of the land in a sustainable, environmentally conscious manner,” the Swickards say on their web site: fivedotranch.com.

The Swickards operate the Five Dot Ranch Cookhouse in the Oxbow Public Market, which includes a restaurant and retail store. They’ve been selling naturally raised beef raised on California rangelands for the last 8 years to grocery stores and restaurants. They also graze livestock on lands in the San Francisco Bay area, lands that recreationists and nature lovers enjoy.

Five Dot Ranch Enlists in Sage Grouse Initiative

When the Natural Resources Conservation Service started the Sage Grouse Initiative in 2010 to provide cost-share funding to ranchers who want to improve sage grouse habitat on private lands in 11 western states, the Swickards embraced the innovative program. They wanted to see what they could do to help sage grouse habitat on their ranch properties northeast of Susanville.

Since then, they have worked to restore the treeless sagebrush country that sage grouse depend upon by cutting invading junipers on 3,300 acres of private lands around Horse Lake and Hayden Hill. The Swickards have removed old fencing and replaced it with wildlife-friendly fence, installed special reflectors on the top wire of new fencing to reduce collisions with sage grouse, improved riparian areas with rest-rotation grazing systems, and keep cattle herds on the move with cowboys to ensure rangelands are not overused.

“The Swickards are good operators,” says Ceci Dale-Cesmat, NRCS state rangeland management specialist. “They do value-added grazing. They’re always thinking about the resource base and how they can make things better.”

Removing Junipers Restores Sage Grouse Habitat

The Swickards started with juniper control efforts about four years ago, working with Dale-Cesmat to develop a plan for removing the juniper trees that pose the highest risk to sage grouse and on lands where the benefits will be highest.

Juniper trees invading into lands where they historically would not have grown can be harmful to rangelands. The trees crowd out other plant species, consume large amounts of water (60 gallons per mature tree per day), and create a perching spot for species that prey on sage grouse, such as crows, ravens, magpies, owls and hawks. A recently published scientific study, with SGI funding contributing to the research, shows that with just four percent tree cover coming in near leks, the birds abandon their traditional courtship dancing grounds.

The Sage Grouse Initiative focuses on removing the advancing line of trees into important habitat without the historic forces of wildfire to keep them at bay. Where trees aren’t a thick forest, the bunchgrasses and sagebrush beneath them are still in good shape. Rather than simply cutting the trees and scattering them, Five Dot Ranch found a way to recycle the juniper wood. The contractor, Tubit Enterprises (Burney, California) used heavy equipment to grind up the junipers into chips.

Juniper Chips Power a Co-Generation Plant

The contractor sold the chips to a co-generation plant as an energy resource, reducing the overall cost of the treatments. Normally juniper removal costs $80-$250 per acre. The Honey Lake biomass/geothermal plant provides local power to the Susanville area, and in the summer of 2012, the plant played a big role when PG&E had numerous outages because of wildfires. The Honey Lake plant kept the lights on during the outages, producing 30 megawatt-hours of electricity, nearly half powered by the juniper wood chips harvested for SGI conservation projects.

In instances where junipers sparsely dotted the landscape on the Five Dot Ranch, posing a threat to sage grouse, ranch crews used chainsaws to cut and limb the trees, hauling out the main stems for firewood.

The Swickards treated a total of about 6,000 acres — doubling the treatments cost-shared by NRCS, and the results have made “a tremendous difference,” Swickard says. “The encroachment of junipers was one of the biggest issues on our lands. It’s opened up the range for the perennial plants and forbs to grow, and that has made things much better for our cattle, deer and antelope. Really all of the wildlife benefit from that.”

The juniper-treatment areas centered on the Horse Lake and Hayden Hill private land areas to the north of the Five Dot Ranch base property. Those lands are adjacent to Bureau of Land Management federal lands, where the agency is doing similar juniper-control work to benefit rangelands and sage grouse.

“We’re fortunate to have the biomass plant nearby,” Swickard says, noting that the plant’s proximity makes things more economical for grinding up junipers. “It’s a double benefit because you’re getting rid of the junipers and you’re creating green energy.”

Fencing with Wildlife in Mind

Five Dot Ranch also installed approximately four miles of new wildlife-friendly fence to replace old barbed-wire fence to benefit sage grouse and other critters. The fencing is part of Five Dot’s rest-rotation grazing management system, allowing the Angus cattle to move from one pasture to the next during the spring-summer-fall grazing season.

Wildlife-friendly fencing has a smooth wire and a large gap at the bottom to permit antelope, small mammals and sage grouse to pass under. It also has reflectors on the top wire to improve visibility for sage grouse and prevent the birds from striking the top wire.

As an example of rest-rotation grazing systems, Swickard talked about grazing a riparian area on private land in the spring, and then resting it until the fall, allowing the plants in the creek-side area to flourish during the summer growing season. That allows sage grouse and other wildlife to use the area without competing with cattle.

“The sage grouse like coming into those riparian areas,” he says. “At Horse Lake, a lot of them come into our meadows, and sometimes, their chicks are with them.”

Tracking Rangeland Health Key to Success

As part of the SGI improvements on Five Dot Ranch private lands, Swickard and his range crews keep close track of rangeland health via photo monitoring and more detailed plant monitoring, grass stubble heights, and more.

Under the Sage Grouse Initiative contract with the NRCS, Five Dot Ranch committed to range monitoring on nearly 5,000 acres of land in the Hayden Hill and Horse Lake areas. NRCS range specialists double-check the data that Five Dot Ranch provides to ensure accuracy. The information then helps managers adjust practices as needed to make them even better for wildlife.

In the same general area in Lassen County, Swickard works with the BLM to monitor lands around Eagle Lake to check on water quality.

“Sometimes we work with the agencies to monitor our grazing, sometimes we do it on our own,” Swickard says in an article for California Rangelands (carangelands.org). “We’re all starting to realize that managed grazing is critical to the long-term health of rangelands and that monitoring is the key to documenting our success.”

Conservation Easement Protects Wetlands

Five Dot Ranch also has a conservation easement under NRCS’s Wetland Reserve Program on 740 acres in the Horse Lake area to preserve a wetland for sage grouse, waterfowl and other wildlife species. The easement requires deferring livestock grazing in the meadow area until July 15 to manage the land for sage grouse nesting and brood-rearing, and to allow for the nesting of wetland wildlife, such as sandhill cranes. Specific grass stubble height and grazing use standards are stipulated in the agreement to ensure there is enough nesting cover under the sagebrush for sage grouse. Regular monitoring is conducted.

“The intent is to allow for nesting cover for sage grouse and minimize disturbance during the nesting season,” says Nate Key, Wetland Reserve Program team leader for the NRCS in Yuba City. The meadows also attract and support sandhill cranes, migratory waterfowl and shorebirds.

2012 Wildfire Took Its Toll on Sagebrush

Local sage grouse populations should benefit from the habitat improvements made by Five Dot Ranch in Lassen County, according to biologists with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. But much of the birds’ range in Northeast California was dramatically affected by the 315,500-acre Rush wildfire in August 2012.

The fire burned more than 270,000 acres in California and the rest in Nevada, consuming mostly sagebrush habitat. It was the second-largest wildfire in California since the early 1930s. Wildfire is one of the largest threats to sage grouse in the Great Basin.

The wildfire destroyed the core of the remaining habitat for sage grouse in Northeast California, says Brian Ehler, environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Overall, sage grouse populations have declined 60 percent since the fire, Ehler said.

“The fire took out everything the sage grouse need. It was devastating,” he says. “This area was the best habitat in the state before the fire.”

Five Dot Ranch Habitat Spared from Fire

Even so, the areas that the Swickards have improved for sage grouse did not burn. “The local improvements will help once the sage grouse find them,” Ehler says, emphasizing that sage grouse are still on the Swickard property that connects to a couple of leks in the area.

In addition to managing their private lands, the Swickards are largest public lands grazing permittee in the state. For the family, the concept of managing for particular fish or wildlife species on private and public lands is something they’ve been doing for a long time. They manage for Carson Wandering Skipper Butterflies, bald eagles, California tiger salamanders, California red-legged frogs and more. According to scientists, the butterfly subspecies is found only in Lassen County, Calif., and Washoe County, Nevada.

“We’re OK with that. It’s just the way we do things,” Swickard says. “It’s important to us that our operations are sustainable in the long term.”

The Swickards know that they have to back up the messages conveyed in their marketing materials, such as sustainably raised natural beef.

“In the Bay area, people are very cognizant of where their food comes from,” says Loretta “Lori” Swickard. “We track all of our animals for three years, from conception to plate.”

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Click here for more information on conifer removal for sage grouse.

For more about the Five Dot Ranch

About the Author: Steve Stuebner (@SteveStuebner) is a longtime journalist based in Boise, Idaho. He is also the author/producer of stories for Life on the Range.

PHOTOS:

The lush Horse Lake Meadow is ideal for sage grouse broods seeking insects and forbs. The Swickards delay grazing here until late in summer to give the birds time to nest and raise their young.

The lush Horse Lake Meadow is ideal for sage grouse broods seeking insects and forbs. The Swickards delay grazing here until late in summer to give the birds time to nest and raise their young.

Five Dot Ranch markets its antibiotic-free and sustainably raised beef at the Oxbow Market in Napa Valley, and sell their meat in several Bay area locations. See www.fivedotranch.com

Five Dot Ranch markets its antibiotic-free and sustainably raised beef at the Oxbow Market in Napa Valley, and sell their meat in several Bay area locations. See www.fivedotranch.com

The Willow Creek Valley remains a beautiful, undeveloped valley today, thanks to the continuing ranching heritage on private and public lands. The Five Dot Ranch was spared from the 2012 Rush Fire and offers refuge to sage grouse as they rebuild their numbers after habitat loss.

The Willow Creek Valley remains a beautiful, undeveloped valley today, thanks to the continuing ranching heritage on private and public lands. The Five Dot Ranch was spared from the 2012 Rush Fire and offers refuge to sage grouse as they rebuild their numbers after habitat loss.

Intermountain West Joint Venture Announces ConocoPhillips Project Funding for Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation

January 12 update: Related Press:
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service National Blog: Partnership to help Sage Grouse Continues to Grow

PR-Web Release

NEWS RELEASE 
Reno, Nevada – January 10, 2015 – Virgil Moore, Director of Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Noreen Walsh, Mountain-Prairie Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and Management Board Members of the Intermountain West Joint Venture (IWJV), today announced that ConocoPhillips Company is providing $1 million to support implementation of the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) and benefit sage grouse conservation projects in the West through 2019.

“Conservation of the sage-steppe ecosystem is a critical goal in the western states,” said Michael Hatfield, vice president, ConocoPhillips Rockies Business Unit. “ConocoPhillips believes that the IWJV, in collaboration with USFWS and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) effectively accomplish this conservation objective through science-based, voluntary partnerships with states, landowners and NGOs. We are excited to be a part of the partnership of dedicated conservation professionals who are implementing SGI.”

ConocoPhillips will provide $200,000 a year for the next five years to the IWJV to support implementation of science-based sage grouse habitat conservation through SGI. The funds will foster continued science-based, proactive and collaborative habitat work among private landowners, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations to address threats affecting sage grouse.

Director Moore, who was joined other IWJV Board Members and staff at the Winter Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) Meeting, stated, “ConocoPhillips has been a tremendous partner in our sage grouse habitat conservation work through SGI. This proactive investment demonstrates the commitment of the company and our partnership to accelerating sagebrush habitat conservation.” Director Moore chairs the WAFWA Sage Grouse Executive Oversight Committee.

Established in 2010 by the NRCS, SGI has become one of the largest and most effective proactive sagebrush conservation efforts in history. To date, NRCS and its partners have committed $354 million to sage grouse habitat conservation on over 3.5 million acres through SGI. The IWJV has collaborated with NRCS to build the science, field delivery, and communications capacity for SGI through partnerships, including applied science, decision support tools, partner biologist positions, and outreach. The investment by ConocoPhillips will provide critical non-federal leveraging to strengthen and sustain SGI.

“SGI has been successful because our partners have bought into this model of voluntary, proactive conservation and stepped up with significant investments,” said Chief Jason Weller of the NRCS. “This growing partnership shows what private landowners, NRCS and partners have accomplished together over the last five years, and it will play a key role in transforming the initiative into a durable conservation effort.”

The NRCS is joined by other critical stakeholders including:

11 state fish and wildlife agencies that have collectively contributed $200 million since 2000 to support sage conservation and are working to develop state conservation plans that address critical threats; Private landowners who have actively engaged in sagebrush conservation and made substantial contributions of financial resources and services to benefit sage grouse; The USFWS, which has made significant commitments to sagebrush habitat conservation through voluntary incentive-based programs and other mechanisms; and An array of other federal and state agencies, nongovernmental conservation organizations, foundations, and corporations.

“ConocoPhillips has been a longstanding supporter in the cooperative and voluntary habitat conservation approach of the IWJV,” Walsh said. “This generous support of science-based, sage grouse habitat conservation work will help immensely to continue the all-hands-on-deck effort to conserve not only sage grouse, but also other wildlife that rely on sagebrush. With this support from ConocoPhillips, this epic collaboration effort just got even stronger.”

The IWJV is a self-directed partnership working across all or parts of eleven western states to conserve habitats in the Intermountain West that are capable of sustaining bird populations at desired levels.

The funds are administered for the IWJV by Pheasants Forever, a valued partner in SGI implementation. Pheasants Forever is dedicated to the conservation of pheasants, quail and other wildlife habitat through habitat improvements, public awareness, education and land management policies and programs.

For more information contact:
Dave Smith, Intermountain West Joint Venture Coordinator – 406.370.7729

SGI Featured Friend: Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust

The Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust has worked with 57 families to complete 77 conservation easements totaling more than 204,000 acres of productive ranch land.  Almost half of these acres are within sage grouse core areas.

Wyoming has more sage grouse than any other state. Executive Director Pam Dewell stresses that “stakes are high” when it comes to securing the private lands they depend on in a timely manner. Many elk, mule deer and other wildlife also rely on sagebrush private and public lands together to meet their needs.

Read more about the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust here.

FF-WSGLT

 

Ranching for Sage Grouse: February Workshops in Colorado

 

The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and Colorado Parks and Wildlife are co-sponsoring workshops in February:  Ranching for Greater Sage-Grouse and Ranching for Gunnison Sage-Grouse.

The greater sage-grouse workshops will be held in Steamboat Springs, Feb. 9, from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm and in Craig, Feb. 11, from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm.Please see the agenda.

The Gunnison sage-grouse workshops will be held in Montrose on Feb. 17, from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm and in Gunnison on Feb. 19, from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. Please see the agenda.

 

Delaney 44 Ranch Helps Preserve Essential Sage Grouse Habitat in Montana

Big Sky Journal’s Winter Edition- 2014, features a Sage Grouse Initiative Rancher Success Story. Meet Deb and Mike Delaney.  (a version of this article first appeared in Beef Magazine):

Delaney 44 Ranch helps preserve essential habitat where cows and wildlife thrive

Deborah Richie
November 2014


Rancher Mike Delaney climbs into his jeep with Nikki Rife, district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) out of the sleepy Montana town of Winnett, an hour east of Lewistown. They lead the way on a faint two-track road threading through grasslands laced with Wyoming big sagebrush. This is country so immense that far off horizons merge with a great overturned bowl of sky. After leaving the spacious ranch house and barns, there’s little sign of human presence within a 360-degree view — no power lines, no house or even a shed as far as the eye wanders. We’ve entered some of the best sage grouse range in Montana with 10 identified leks (breeding areas) on the Delaney 44 Ranch, and flocks of hundreds of birds.

The ranch and adjacent neighboring places, along with intermixed Bureau of Land Management areas, form a significant haven of more than 80,000 acres, safe, so far, from sodbusting threats that have devastated other nearby sage grouse range, despite the arid conditions for farming. Just south of Winnett, some 30,000 acres were recently plowed. Not far from the Delaneys’, a ranch in the sage grouse stronghold recently went up for sale and farther east another ranch was subdivided for recreational property lots.

Mike and his wife Deb Delaney have run a Black Angus cow-calf operation since the early 1980s. They select the smaller breeds that eat less grass and overall fare better on rangeland plants in a challenging climate of winter blizzards, 20-below-zero temperatures and winds that gather steam across miles of prairies. Mike grew up here and learned a strong stewardship ethic from his father, Douglas-Michael who in turn learned from his father, the first Michael Delaney to settle in this remote country.

Mike and Deb put in long days to pass down a profitable and sustainable ranch to their daughter and son. Their daughter, Anne Bergum, is actively involved with the ranch and helps keep track of the finances. Their son, Michael Delaney, has worked side-by-side with them since 2006, after graduating from Montana State University with an animal science degree. Michael brings new technology to the ranch, including remote cameras that alert the rancher to any problems at watering tanks or during calving season. Profitability and passing on their legacy are two key reasons that the Delaneys have plenty of praise for the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI). They signed up when the NRCS first launched the partnership in 2010.

“All the credit for us getting involved goes to Nikki,” said Mike, who regularly attends her workshops. The SGI creates partnerships between private and public landholders to conserve wildlife through sustainable agriculture.

When she explained the benefits of the Sage Grouse Initiative, the Delaneys decided to approach the bank for a loan and were immediately successful. SGI-prescribed grazing programs are typically matched 75:25 with the federal government paying the lion’s share; the landowner must make initial investments and be paid back for some of the expenses they front beyond the 25 percent.

After initial inventory and planning performed by Heather Richter, a former rangeland management specialist in Winnett, the Delaneys have two years under their belts with the new fencing and water pipelines connecting stock tanks that allow lands a mile square in size (one section) to be rested from grazing for 15 months. As part of the plan, 20 percent of the ranch is rested at a time. They’re already seeing results they hadn’t counted on across their sizeable ranch, despite the aridity of this country; the region averages 11 inches of precipitation a year and soils can be tough clay hardpan in places.

Adding that new grazing regime with more pastures and rotation has also made it easier to round up cows each spring. The cattle don’t have to range as far to find excellent forage and water, and are in better shape for calving season. They now graze about 75 fewer head of cattle, but with higher profitability. Calf weights have gone up from about 500 to 600 pounds.

The Delaneys and Nikki Rife led our small group into the heart of a rested 2,200-acre “pasture.” To put the size of the rested area in perspective, a land section is 640 acres or a mile square. The group included Pete Husby, state biologist for the Montana NRCS. He’s known for outstanding range botany skills, perhaps rivaled only by Jon Siddoway, state rangeland conservationist for NRCS, also with the group. Husby and Siddoway were there to see what two seasons of rest-rotation grazing looked like, since change usually takes a long time to be clearly noticeable.

Also on the tour was Scott Anderson, the rangeland conservationist for the Sage Grouse Initiative based out of Forsyth, 120 miles to the southeast. He’s served in a partner position with Montana Association of Conservation Districts and the NRCS since 2011, and planned to share what he learned from this field tour with the ranchers enrolled in the initiative in his area.

“I’ve found that SGI has a snowball effect,” Anderson said. “A few ranchers get involved and then more want to be part of it and it keeps growing.”

The bruised clouds loomed low, signaling rain that would be welcome after a worrying spring drought. Weather is more than weather when it comes to grass growth, range health and sage grouse chick survival too. Weather can make the difference between profit and loss.

Mike, wearing a Delaney 44 Ranch ball cap and sporting a neatly trimmed beard and mustache, gave a slight grin when the first drops of rain fell. The group walked among sagebrush, bunchgrasses, blooming wild roses that hugged the ground, a clue to the intensity of winds that shape all who live here. A cool breeze blew as the scientists pointed out new green growth mixed with the tall “residual” cover of last year’s grasses that together give sage grouse hens what they need for nesting. A sage grouse hen looks not just for sagebrush under which to hide her nest, but the additional screen of tall grasses and forbs, the wildflowers that will produce tender leaves and attract bugs. Chicks thrive on a diet of nutritious caterpillars, spiders, ants and beetles that flourish in rested pastures.

Nikki explained that when cattle do return to a rested pasture, they benefit from the combination of green grass for protein and the older growth residual grasses for energy. If cattle eat too much green grass alone, the high-moisture content washes through the system with protein benefits but not complete nutrition. The drier brown grass from prior seasons offers important carbohydrates.

She ran her fingers through the tall mix of green and golden grass and nearby sagebrush as she explained the value of resting pastures for the health of the range. When rain falls on the taller grasses and shrubs, the drops run down leaves and stems and some drip off the edge and infiltrate the soil well, compared to bare ground where rain splashes and runs off. Nikki explained it’s the same principle as watering backyard trees around the drip line from the branches for the most effective way to reach the roots.

With too much rest, she pointed out that the bunchgrasses die back in the middle from lack of grazing in a system that long-evolved with bison grazing big areas and coming back to other places later. Their hooves actually play a role “mashing” the old grasses and manure into the ground to help fertilize the soil. The fences and planning are an attempt to mimic some of that age-old natural system of the Montana plains.

“With cattle, we can’t control what they eat and where they step, but with fences we can control their time, duration and the areas they graze,” Nikki said.

She bent low to marvel at a Gardner’s salt bush that spread to more than a foot or two wide, unusual to find in actively grazed pastures, since cattle selectively choose this plant like a favorite ice cream that also has superior nutritional value.

The group continued on to check out a new stock tank across the fence line from the rested pasture. SGI helped pay for the addition of 19 water developments for a total of 50 on the ranch. That’s made the rest-rotation possible. Every tank comes equipped with an escape ramp in case sage grouse or other birds fall in or need to get a foothold to climb out of an otherwise slick-sided vertical tank.

One of the challenges of the plan was to work with the Bureau of Land Management on the intermixed lands for pipelines to pass through the allotments from public to private land, and to coordinate grazing schedules so that the ranch plan became seamless across boundaries. The Delaneys had nothing but praise for Katie Decker, the BLM rangeland specialist out of Lewistown. She and BLM biologist Matt Comer have helped them succeed in improving their range and the BLM lease land, too, as part of the SGI program.

“It was exciting to us to have Mike Delaney come to us with a proposal to improve the range,” Katie said. “We’re very pleased to have this opportunity to work together to manage lands well, especially for a species like sage grouse that doesn’t know boundaries of private or BLM land.”

Katie said she was impressed by the proactive plan — presented to the BLM, by the Delaneys and Nikki Rife — that identified areas for pipelines, fences and water tanks with mitigation already in place, such as marking fences to prevent collisions and careful siting of the tanks. The BLM then conducted an Environmental Assessment and followed federal NEPA guidelines to approve the project.

On our way to see the watering tank, we’d passed a small fenced pond where slender and petite Wilson’s phalaropes spun circles in the water, a clever feeding technique for creating upwelling in the water to bring aquatic insects to the surface. Mike explains that they fenced the pond to benefit wildlife and to keep cattle out that might otherwise wallow in deadly bogs.

Prairie wildlife abounds on the ranch. That day we saw short-eared owls, golden eagles, upland sandpipers, marbled godwits, long-billed curlews, meadowlarks and a few pronghorn. The Delaneys worry about the pronghorn that once numbered in the thousands and have dwindled in the past few years across the region, mostly from a disease called bluetongue. While the couple and their son spend most of their time looking out for cattle, they appreciate all the wildlife, from a den of rattlesnakes and bull snakes they discovered not far from their residence, to the coyotes that feed on the afterbirth during calving season but generally leave the calves alone.

“We’ve always wanted to be good stewards of the land,” Deb said. “We’ve never thought of owning the land but of taking care of it and growing grass, not cows.”

 

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Big Sky Journal is a high-end, general interest magazine that captures the full range of culture and lifestyle in the Northern Rockies. Like the region the magazine showcases, Big Sky Journal is a publication of juxtaposition: small towns with big ideas; changing communities with old-fashioned values; low-key lives with high-speed Internet.

Covering stories throughout Montana, Idaho and Wyoming for more than 20 years, Big Sky Journal is a collectible resource that publishes six editions each year: a Fly Fishing issue on February 5, 2015; a HOME architectural issue on April 16; a Summer issue on June 4; anArts issue on July 30; a Fall issue on October 1; and aWinter issue on November 27.