SALT LAKE CITY — A group of 30 ranchers in northern Utah is working with federal, state and local agencies to embark on an extensive rotational grazing program intended to boost rangeland heath and the conditions of riparian waterways.
The Three Creeks grazing allotment consolidation received a stamp of approval in mid-December from the Bureau of Land Management in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.
"Ranchers are usually pretty independent-minded, but here we have 30-plus who have come together with an ecological goal to improve the landscape. They all bought off on it," said Troy Forrest, head of the grazing improvement program within the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. "This higher level of management will lead to improvements on the ground."
At issue are more than 135,000 acres chiefly owned and managed by federal agencies in Rich County, where grazing has been an economic mainstay since the 1800s.
Ranchers who graze their livestock on public lands, however, are increasingly in the crosshairs of environmental groups that seek an end to the practice by citing degraded landscapes.
This effort of rotational grazing at Three Creeks, accompanied by monitoring of rangeland health, is modeled after the success of the Deseret Land & Livestock Ranch 10 miles to the south in Woodruff.
The 200,000-acre ranch, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is not only home to 4,500 mother cows and 4,000 yearlings, but also includes a wildlife management unit for big game.
The ranch, the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and the state's grazing improvement program paid for the collection of baseline data that demonstrated the benefit of 30 years of "time-controlled" grazing at Deseret.
Aspects of rangeland heath, such as groundcover and the balance of grasses, forbs and shrubs, were compared at Deseret and the Three Creeks area, where 10 grazing allotments will be consolidated into one.
Federal land managers, in their analysis of the grazing consolidation, said they expect the implementation of rotational grazing at Three Creeks will produce similar results over time.
Rich County Commissioner Bill Cox said the grazing reforms should produce immediate benefits to stream healthy by improving riparian waterways.3 comments on this story
"The controlled grazing will improve wildlife habitat and the conditions for the livestock," he said.
The county's role in the grazing improvement effort included a broad coalition of ranchers, hunters, recreation enthusiasts and other residents.
Cox said the consolidation of those grazing allotments ultimately represents a new approach to land management that he is hopeful will endure for years to come.
"Federal land and grazing is really the mainstay of our agriculture economy," he said.