Community Agriculture Alliance: Maintaining healthy rangelands through prescribed grazing and other practices

Erin Gelling
Community Agriculture Alliance

Rangelands cover a large portion of the Yampa Valley and provide food and homes for livestock and wildlife, scenic beauty, and homes and livelihoods for people. Rangelands are grasslands, shrublands and woodlands grazed by domestic livestock or wildlife.

Healthy rangelands indicate a productive and sustainable agricultural operation, benefiting your bottom line and allowing your working lands to be productive into the future. Managing for healthy rangelands maintains and improves the quantity and quality of plants and water resources, as well as soil health.

Healthy rangelands have diverse plant communities that provide high quality forage for grazing and contribute to the overall health of the ecosystem. For example, sagebrush plants increase water retention by trapping and holding windblown snow, improve soil nutrient quality, extract nutrients and water from deep within the soil and bring them toward the surface, and reduce erosion.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS, can help landowners maintain and improve healthy rangelands through programs aimed at prescribed grazing, controlling invasive weeds, reducing fuel loads through brush management, increasing forage and maintaining adequate water supplies through livestock watering facilities. For instance, cross-fencing or virtual fencing systems allow for rotational grazing (using a prescribed grazing plan) and herbaceous weed control keeps weeds from outcompeting native vegetation. Both of these practices allow for a healthier, more diverse plant community for grazing.

NRCS can help create a prescribed grazing plan as part of our conservation planning process. Prescribed grazing can be a tool used to improve or maintain desired plant communities, quality forage for livestock, above and below ground water quality, riparian areas and soil health, as well as reduce soil erosion and manage fine fuel loads. A prescribed grazing plan can help to provide resilience to a grazing operation — especially during dry years — through planning and ensuring sustainable forage use.

In preparing a prescribed grazing plan, NRCS will work with the landowner to manage stocking rates and grazing periods by adjusting intensity, frequency, timing, duration, and distribution of livestock. Managing stocking rates and grazing periods will aid in meeting planned objectives for the landowner.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service is a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. One of its primary missions is to work with private landowners to develop conservation plans to address resource concerns. Conservation plans for rangelands can include prescribed grazing, weed management, watering facilities, fencing and many more. A conservation plan is a free and voluntary service that NRCS provides to landowners to help ensure the sustainability of agriculture and food production in the United States, and can help landowners acquire funding to assist with the implementation of the plan.

If you are interested in working with NRCS, please contact the NRCS office in Steamboat Springs at 1475 Pine Grove Road by calling 970-439-3261.

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