Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service says the results of 17 years of monitoring the effects of grazing on Beaver Creek Park are clear: the ecological health of the park is good. “Beaver Creek is healthy,” said Deana Grabofsky, NRCS district conservationist from Havre. “The range has not been degraded,” said Conrad Nystrom, chair of the Hill County Conservation District. Local ranchers lease grazing rights on the park, which is open for grazing from the day after Labor Day to the end of December. Nystrom, a cattleman who ranches near Beaver Creek and grazes cattle on the park, said that because of concerns about the impact on grazing in the park the conservation district wanted those impacts studied and monitored. “We asked Natural Resources Conservation Service to help us,” Nystrom said. “They actually do all the work.” NRCS also encourages private landowners to do the same kind of monitoring, Grabofsky said. The department will show ranchers how to monitor their land, helping them make decisions on their range management. Nystrom said ranchers have become more aware Of taking care of their rangeland in the last 100 years, and more carefully monitor the condition of their land and when they need to move their livestock. The NRCS program helps with that, he said. “It’s just a management tool,” Nystrom said. Beaver Creek Park Superintendent Chad Edgar said the grazing is adjusted from year to year, depending on conditions. “The cattle number will vary, as in drought years,” he said. Nystrom said the park has a grazing committee that monitors conditions and factors like the hay production, which gives some idea of the condition of the grazing. “The number of cattle per acre varies from year to year,” he said. The grazing can actually help the quality of the plants, Grabofsky said. Part of that is because the grazing starts after the plants have gone to seed and are dormant, which doesn’t interrupt it’s life cycle. Nystrom said the grazing of cattle also can help the seeding, with the cattle knocking the seeds off the plants and helping set them into the ground. “It certainly reduces fire hazards,” he added, saying both haying and grazing reduce the amount of flammable plants on the park. Edgar said there are also other benefits, such as the cattle helping make trails through the brush near the creek. “We can’t forget the financial benefits of grazing,” he added. In the 2006-07 budget, grazing and haying fees provided nearly $50,000 for the park’s annual budget of about $218,000 plus a cash reserve. The haying and grazing and other permits, fees, and leases and rentals provide almost all of the money in the budget; in 2006-07 the county levied a tax of .65 mills, or $18,273, for the rest of the park’s budget. Nystrom said it also helps the economy by providing additional grazing for local ranchers. “If we couldn’t use the grazing, it would probably reduce my capacity by 50 percent,” he said. Grabofsky said NRCS has five plots where it monitors changes in the plants and the plants of the health in different topographical areas in Beaver Creek. She said the monitoring shows that not only is the health of the park where it is grazed and hayed good, in some instances it is better than in areas where grazing and haying doesn’t occur. She was looking at plants just west of Beaver Creek Reservoir where there is no haying and grazing, and the plants there were, in some instances, less healthy, Grabofsky said. She said she could find dead plants that easily could be pulled from the ground. “It’s dying off from non use,” Grabofsky said. The testing done by NRCS is on five different kinds of land in the park, including monitoring in the the upland, in the foothills, near streams and on flatlands. Grabofsky said the areas are marked so all testing, photography and written records are done in precisely the same location from the exact same direction on the same date every time. A 3-foot by 3-foot grate, divided into 1-foot sections with one section subdivided into a still smaller grate, is placed on the ground and photographed, with the plants in the grate cataloged. “We collect data, take pictures and catalog the composition of the species,” Grabofsky said. One thing the study has shown is that depending on the year and the weather, some plants do better than others. “It’s interesting, from my perspective, how different years will favor different species,” she said. She said that by the year 2000, the data showed that there was some decline of some species in some areas, while an improvement in other areas. “We’re looking at both the positive and the negative,” Grabofsky said, adding that the tests have shown that, on the average, the health of the park is good. She said that for the first five years, the recording was done every year, and has now been reduced in frequency to once every five years. The study will now monitor trends in the health of the vegetation on the park. “A trend is over 50 years,” Grabofsky added.