Can we manage public rangelands for producers and the environment?: Using grazing-duration to balance livelihoods, clean water, sage-grouse habitat, and sustainable forage

Progress report for SW19-905

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2019: $349,979.32
Projected End Date: 06/30/2022
Host Institution Award ID: G248-19-W7500
Grant Recipient: Utah State University
Region: Western
State: Utah
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Kris Hulvey
Working Lands Conservation
Co-Investigators:
Taylor Payne
Utah Department of Agriculture's Grazing Improvement Program
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Project Information

Summary:

Public rangelands support producer livelihoods and ranching communities. Society also expects public rangelands to provide clean water for recreation and drinking, plus habitat for wildlife of special concern such as the Greater sage-grouse. Because grazing can reduce water quality and wildlife habitat, federal agencies face litigation curtailing grazing. A common way to address ecological concerns on public lands is to de-stock rangelands. While reducing grazing intensity, such as by de-stocking, can improve range condition, reducing cattle numbers negatively affects rancher incomes and communities.

To address this tricky management problem, thirty-six Rich County Utah producers engaged in an eleven-year collaborative process with federal and state agencies to develop an innovative grazing plan for their public lands. A key element is altering grazing-duration (defined as length of grazing-time) along streams. Understanding how grazing-duration affects key ecological goals and producer economic-vitality is critical to determining this project’s success.

Our study addresses this goal by examining how three grazing-durations in replicated riparian areas affect water quality, sage-grouse habitat, and forage recovery. We additionally assess producer cost for altering durations as required in the new Grazing Plan adopted by Rich County producers. Our objectives are to quantify benefits and costs of switching grazing-duration, and demonstrate for producers and policy-makers how altering duration across a working landscape improves ecological outcomes. To this end, our study examines not just how grazing-duration affects forage production, which has been studied, but also how duration impacts ecological benefits and producer economic-vitality - elements often overlooked.  

Our education and outreach plan includes local data-sharing via personal meetings and field days with producers and agency managers who will use this information to adaptively manage these public lands. We will share information nationally through extension fact sheets, a community newsletter, website postings, and scientific publications and presentations at national conferences.

Results will ensure the new Rich County Grazing Plan achieves state-mandated water standards and sage-grouse habitat goals, while supporting economically-viable livestock operations. These results are aimed to avert lawsuits targeting public-lands grazing, and provide a balanced public-lands grazing model that can be replicated in other areas. 

Project Objectives:

Objectives

(1)   Determine how grazing-duration affects: (a) stream-side vegetation recovery from grazing, (b) sage-grouse habitat quality, and (c) water quality (Yr 1&2).

(2)   Quantify improvements to environmental quality (i.e., recovery of stream-side vegetation sage-grouse habitat, and water quality) gained via shorter grazing-durations used with implementation of the Three Creeks Grazing Allotment Consolidation Plan (Yr 1-3; plus Yr 4-6 if we gain additional funding as a long-term project).

(3)   Quantify the economic costs incurred by producers of changing grazing-durations via implementation of the Three Creeks Grazing Allotment Consolidation Plan by comparing producer costs before implementation to after implementation (Yr 1-3; plus Yr 4-6 if we gain additional funding as a long-term project).

(4)   Compare implementation costs incurred by producers with improvements to environmental quality to determine pros and cons of altering grazing-durations on Rich County public lands (Yr 3; plus Yr 4-6 if we gain additional funding as a long-term project).

(5)   Evaluate the value to local producers of altering grazing management (including grazing-durations) via implementation of the Three Creeks Grazing Allotment Consolidation Plan by conducting producer surveys and interviews. These will gauge producer-perceived costs of changing grazing management (e.g., monetary, time) and benefits of doing so (e.g., improved environmental quality, reduced risk of litigation) (Yr 1: survey before the Plan implementation; Yr3: survey and interview after implementation).

(6)   Share project results, including any found benefits of using grazing-duration as a tool to balance public-lands grazing with provision of clean water, sage-grouse habitat, and resilient riparian areas to rangeland managers and federal agencies in charge of public-lands policy (Yr 2 & 3; plus Yr 4-6 if gain long-term funding).

Timeline:

Timeline

Proposed timeline. Activities can be postponed if funding begins after the 2019 field season

Year 1: 2019-20

Year 2: 2020-21 Year 3: 2021-22 Year 4-6: (if gain long-term funding)
Spr-Sum Fall-Win Spr-Sum Fall-Win Spr-Sum Fall-Win  
Objective 1
Set-up field-sites X            
Collect stubble height data (pre-Grazing Plan implementation) X X X X      
Collect sage-grouse habitat data (pre-Grazing Plan implementation) X X X X      
Collect water quality data (pre-Grazing Plan implementation) X X X X      
Analyze data       X X    
Write/submit academic manuscript; summarize findings in partner reports; create fact sheet; website posts       X X X  
Objective 2
Collect stubble height data (post-Grazing Plan implementation)         X X X
Collect sage-grouse habitat data (post-Grazing Plan implementation)         X X X
Collect water quality data (post-Grazing Plan implementation)         X X X
Analyze data           X X
Write/submit academic manuscript; summarize findings in partner reports; create fact sheet; website posts           X X
Apply for supplemental funding X X X X X X X
Objective 3
Work with Utah Grazing Improvement Program (UGIP) partners to gain producer economic data X X X X X X X
Analyze data   X X     X  
Summarize findings in partner reports           X  
Objective 4
Combine economic & ecological data           X  
Write academic manuscript; summarize findings in partner reports; create fact sheet; website posts         X X  
Objective 5
Pre-Grazing Plan implementation survey X X          
Post-implementation survey         X X  
Post-implementation interviews         X X  
Analyze data           X  
Begin writing academic manuscript; summarize findings in partner reports           X X
Objective 6
Field tour showcasing grazing-duration effect on environmental quality   X       X  
Rich County Coordinated  Resource Management (CRM) meeting and Three Creeks Grazing, LLC, presentations for ranchers & managers X X X X X X X
Personal meeting with managers & policymakers X X X X X X X
Conference talks   X   X   X  
Website posts of project updates X X X X X X X
Create outreach materials; fact sheets, newsletter articles, scholarly publications       X X X X

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Bart Argyle - Producer
  • Dale Lamborn - Producer (Educator)
  • Dale Lamborn - Producer (Educator)
  • Dr. Terry Messmer (Educator and Researcher)
  • Dr. Terry Messmer (Educator and Researcher)
  • Taylor Payne - Technical Advisor (Educator)
  • Taylor Payne - Technical Advisor (Educator)
  • Alvin Shaul - Producer

Research

Hypothesis:

Hypotheses per Objective

Obj 1: Determine how grazing-duration affects: (a) stream-side vegetation recovery from grazing, (b) sage-grouse habitat quality, and (c) water quality (Yr 1&2). Forage-recovery: We expect shorter grazing-durations to result in more forage recovery near streams due to less continuous disturbance by cattle during the grazing season. We expect that no-grazed controls will have taller forage than grazed treatments. Sage-grouse habitat quality: According to sage-grouse habitat guidelines, taller grass/perennial forbs and more grass/perennial forb cover correlate with better sage-grouse habitat (Stiver et al. 2015; Messmer & Dahlgren 2018). We expect no-grazing controls and 2-3 week grazing-durations will have taller vegetation than 1.5-month grazing-durations due to less grazing disturbance. It is possible, however, that no-grazing controls will have less perennial forb cover than grazed sites due to dominance of grasses. If so, sites with short grazing-durations could provide the habitat most favorable to sage-grouse – i.e., taller vegetation, more forbs. We will also cross-walk our collected sage-grouse habitat quality data under different grazing-durations with sage-grouse location data collected via Dr. Messmer’s work deploying GPS radio-transmitters on sage-grouse in the Three Creeks area – thus leveraging sage-grouse research efforts. Water quality: We expect water quality violations to occur when cattle are in-pasture, but not once cattle are removed. Thus, we expect shorter grazing-durations to result in fewer water quality violations.

Obj 2: Quantify improvements to environmental quality (i.e., recovery of stream-side vegetation sage-grouse habitat, and water quality) gained via shorter grazing-durations used with implementation of the Three Creeks Grazing Allotment Consolidation Plan (Yr 1-3; plus Yr 4-6 if we gain additional funding as a long-term project). Hypothesis: We expect shortening grazing-duration will improve environmental quality (forage recovery, sage-grouse habitat quality, water quality) on public rangelands. We expect these attributes will begin to resemble those within no-grazing exclosures and on private lands already employing 2-3 week rotations.  

Obj 3: Quantify the economic costs incurred by producers of changing grazing-durations via implementation of the Three Creeks Grazing Allotment Consolidation Plan by comparing producer costs before implementation to after implementation (Yr 1-3; plus Yr 4-6 if we gain additional funding as a long-term project). Hypothesis: We expect producers’ change-in-costs to be variable per producer, but that consolidating management will ultimately allow producers to realize economic benefits due to efficiency gained through streamlined management.

Obj 4: Compare implementation costs incurred by producers with improvements to environmental quality to determine pros and cons of altering grazing-durations on Rich County public lands (Yr 3; plus Yr 4-6 if we gain additional funding as a long-term project). Hypothesis: We expect the largest improvements in environmental quality will occur to operators who incur the largest cost to transition to the new grazing Plan.

Obj 5: Evaluate the value to local producers of altering grazing management (including grazing-durations) via implementation of the Three Creeks Grazing Allotment Consolidation Plan by conducting producer surveys and interviews. These will gauge producer-perceived costs of changing grazing management (e.g., monetary, time) and benefits of doing so (e.g., improved environmental quality, reduced risk of litigation) (Yr 1: survey before the Plan implementation; Yr3: survey and interview after implementation). Hypothesis: We expect producers’ perceived benefit of altering grazing will outweigh any increased management cost. We expect that producers’ views will be influenced by results of our economic and ecological study. If our study indicates producers are spending less and that environmental conditions are improving after implementation, we expect producers to feel more positive about the Plan’s implementation then they did before knowing outcomes. We expect producers will take ownership for ecological improvements and express a sense of stewardship of their public lands.

Materials and methods:

Methods objective 1: To accomplish Objective 1 we will collect information on forage recovery, sage-grouse habitat quality, and water quality across replicated riparian areas employing different grazing-durations. Data collection will take place in Rich County, UT on public lands and a private ranch (Deseret Land and Livestock). For forage recovery and sage-grouse habitat quality, we will establish sampling sites along perennial streams in areas employing the following durations: 1.5-months, 2-3 weeks, no-grazing. For the no-grazing treatment we will use existing exclosures that exclude cattle (but not deer, rabbits, or rodents) from riparian areas. Exclosures are large enough to minimize edge effects. We will not be able to use the exclosures to provide no-grazed controls for water quality because cattle can access areas upstream and wastes may flow into exclosed areas. We will thus examine the effects of grazing-duration on water quality by comparing water quality at 1.5-month and 2-3 week sites. There are at least three replicate sites in independent watersheds per grazing-duration. Sites are grazed with beef cow-calf pairs. Because we are working across a large landscape, we will also obtain a non-grazed baseline for vegetation at all sites to ensure similarity. We will install two-1m2 grazing-cages per site, and use vegetation in cages to determine if production and cover are similar among sites.

Forage recovery: Monthly throughout the public grazing season (May-Sept), we will measure change in: (a) stubble height, and (b) percent bare ground near streams as cattle move in and out of pastures. We will use point-intercept methods along three-75m transects per site, located within 1m of streambanks and running parallel to streams. Transects will ensure we capture each site’s spatial heterogeneity. 

Sage-grouse habitat quality: Steam-side areas are prime habitat for sage-grouse with broods early- to mid-summer (Stiver et al. 2015). Criteria for good habitat include: (a) total grass height/cover, which serve as cover for young sage-grouse, and (b) total perennial forb height/cover with forbs serving as cover, food, and also supporting insects that are food of young grouse (Stiver et al. 2015; Messmer & Dahlgren 2018). We will use the 75m transects established to assess forage recovery to also collect grass/perennial forb height, cover, and composition once per month (May–Sept). 

Water quality: We will measure Escherichia coli (E. coli), pH, temperature, and dissolved oxygen levels in streams twice per month, throughout the grazing season (May – Sept). These parameters are regulated by the Utah Department of Water Quality. Streams above regulated limits on public lands are included in the State’s Listing of Impaired Waters (303d) (Utah Department of Environmental Quality 2018). By monitoring streams twice per month, we will examine how quickly pollutants respond to cattle addition and removal and determine if grazing-duration can be used to maintain water quality. We will use a YSI probe® to measure pH, temperature and dissolved oxygen, and the Idexx System to determine E. coli levels in collected water samples.  

Methods objective 2: Implementation of the Three Creeks Grazing Allotment Consolidation Plan will entail reducing public-land grazing-duration from 1.5 months to ~2-3 weeks. We will accomplish Objective 2 by assessing environmental quality before and after the Plan’s implementation in areas where duration is shortened. We will also compare environmental quality in areas where duration is shortened to that in no-grazed controls and that in pastures on private lands where the duration will remain 2-3 weeks. This will allow us to determine whether environmental conditions in areas with shortened durations begin to resemble no-grazed areas and areas with existing shorter grazing-durations. 

Methods objective 3: We will accomplish objective 3 by compiling economic information from producers in the Three Creeks Grazing, LLC, plus from partners who provided cost-share funding. We will standardize producer costs (e.g.: moving cattle, building/repairing fencing, managing water sources) per AUM. This allows us to compare producer costs across different sized allotments. Pre- and post-consolidation information has already been collected by Taylor Payne (Extension/Outreach Representative). 

Methods objective 4: We will accomplish objective 4 by combining collected economic information (Objective 3) with post-implementation ecological data (Objective 2). By pairing producers’ implementation costs with changes in environmental quality, we will determine the cost for incremental increases in environmental quality that occur when grazing-duration is changed.  

Methods objective 5: We will accomplish objective 5 by conducting pre- (Yr1) and post- (Yr3) implementation surveys of producers involved in the Three Creeks Project, plus a post-implementation interview (Yr 3). Surveys will include a mix of multiple-choice and short answer questions, asking about producer motivation for participating in the Three Creeks Project, perceived barriers to participation, and expected outcomes for their operations and the environment. Interviews will include open-ended questions that expand on themes discovered in the surveys, plus those found in a study conducted by PI-K. Hulvey of producer motivations for public lands management. 

Research results and discussion:

Obj 1: The goal for this objective is to determine how grazing-duration (no grazing, 2-3 weeks, 1.5 months) affects: (a) stream-side vegetation recovery from grazing, (b) sage-grouse habitat quality, and (c) water quality. The data collected for this objective represent conditions in different grazing durations. 2019: During the spring & summer of 2019 we set-up field sites, and started collecting data on our three target ecosystem services. 2020 & 2021: We collected a second and third season of ecosystem data across all sites. Grazing practices were supposed to change in 2020, but the change didn't occur until 2022. Thus we have three years of analyzed data relating to Obj 1. We found the following:

Forage-recovery: Summary - We found that grazing duration can be used to manage forage height, bare ground and the recovery of both in riparian areas. Shorter grazing durations (2-3 weeks) led to significantly taller vegetation and less bare ground than areas grazed for 1.5 months. Notably, the height of the vegetation and amount of bare ground in areas grazed for shorter durations was similar to that found in grazing exclosures. This implies that pastures allowed significant rest can sustain some grazing each year with little loss of productive capability. The start and ceasation times of grazing each year affected the ability for vegetation and bare ground to recover post-grazing. When pressure was removed in both short- and longer-duration grazing systems, vegetation and bare ground recovered. When re-exposed to grazing, either via cattle being run back through a pasture to get to home ranches in the 1.5 month grazing durations (Sept) or via re-grazing later in the season, forage stubble height declined and bare ground increased. This highlights that along with duration, the timing of a disturbance is an important factor controlling rangeland recovery. Overall, this could also mean that once the Three Creeks Grazing LLC implements their new watershed scale time controlled grazing system that uses short durations, they may improve range conditions in their riparian areas and if mangers consider the timing of grazing may use this factor to manage recovery as well.

Stubble Height: We expected grazing duration to affect forage height throughout the grazing season. We expected shorter grazing-durations to result in more forage recovery than longer durations due to less continuous disturbance by cattle during the grazing season.

In 2019, we found this to be the case (Repeated measures ANOVA P<0.001 (within subjects)), with stubble height in the short-duration (2-3 week) grazing pastures reaching 30 cm by June and ~50 cm by July. In contrast, stubble height at the longer duration (1.5 month) grazing sites remained short (~10 cm) through the entire grazing season (Fig 1a). We also expected that no-grazing controls would have taller forage than either of the two grazed treatments. While this was true for the comparison between the longer (1.5 month) grazing duration compared with the no-grazing treatment for the entire grazing season, it was not true for the short-duration grazing system. Rather heights were only slightly shorter in the short-duration system than the no-grazed system throughout the year (Fig 1a). This result surprised us, because while grazing duration lasted only 2-3 weeks in these short-duration systems, these areas still were being grazed, creating a disturbance that we would expect to reduce vegetation height. We hypothesized that it was possible that the grazing rotation in the short-duration grazing systems in 2019 resulted in stubble height recovery, despite cattle disturbance, and were curious if we would find a similar pattern among grazing systems in 2020, or if perhaps this pattern might change due to ranchers imposing the short duration grazing at a different time in the season than was used in 2019. 

In 2020, we again found grazing duration to affect stubble height and stubble height recovery throughout the grazing season (Repeated measures ANOVA P=0.001 (within subjects)). We found that the timing of the short duration grazing again had a signifianct affect on stubble height (Fig 1b). We found that early in the season (June), stubble height across all grazing duration systems differed, with stubble height tallest in no-grazing exclosures (~55 cm), followed by short-duration areas (20 cm), and then the longer duration areas (10 cm). Later in the season (July), after the cattle were moved from short-duration grazing areas the stubble height in these areas increased to match that found in the no-grazed exclosures, while the stubble height in the longer grazed durations showed little recovery, despite cattle being removed by those pastures. In 2020, some exclostures were breached by cattle, which is indicated by a decrease in stubble height in those areas in August and Septemeber.

2021 data continued to support our results from 2019-20, with grazing duration affecting stubble height throughout the grazing season, and the timing of  grazing affecting stubble height and potential for stubble recovery. Grazing duration controlled total height (Repeated measures ANOVA P=0.018 (within subjects)), with short-duration treatments (2-3 weeks) having taller forage than longer duration treatments (Repeated measures ANOVA post hoc P=0.046). As in other years, the stubble height in short duration pastures didn't differ from exclosures (Repeated measures ANOVA post hoc P=1). Stubble height in exclosures was taller than longer duration grazing (Repeated measures ANOVA post hoc P=0.028). As in 2020, in 2021 some exclostures were breached by cattle, which is indicated by a decrease in stubble height in those areas in August and Septemeber.stubble height

Figure 1. Stubble height across areas grazed with different grazing durations, 2019-2021.

2019 was a wetter year than both 2020 and 2021. This difference in precipitation did appear to reduce overall stubble height in no-grazed and short-duration areas (by ~5-10 cm), although it didn't appear to affect areas that were grazed for longer duration. As such, it that weather can affect the ability of grazed areas to recover after grazing when these areas are lightly grazed (ie shorter duration), but weather appears to have less of an effect in areas receiving more significant grazing presesure through longer duration grazing, as evidenced by stubble height remaining similarly short (~10 cm) in both wet and dry years in those areas.

We also examined stubble height across these sites in grazing exclustion cages, which we used to determine whether sites had similar growth potential. We found that in 2019 stubble in no-grazing exclustion areas and short-duration areas was similar, but that found in grazing exclusion cages in the longer duration areas was shorter (Fig 2a). If we had found this pattern in 2020 as well, we might have been concerned that the stubble height in the longer grazed areas might be being affected by conditions other than in-season grazing. However, in 2020 we found a different pattern, this time with stubble height in the longer duration grazed areas being similar to that in the no-grazng exclosures and the stubble in the shorter-duration systems being shorter (Fig 2b). We will continue to monitor this throughout our study, but believe that these data are indicating that background conditions across our study area are similar and that the main factor driving stubble height is cattle grazing.

Figure 2. Stubble height in exclusion cages across areas grazed with different grazing durations, 2019 & 2020.

 

Bare ground - We expected shorter grazing-durations to result in less bare ground due to shorter periods of disturbance. While we did find that this was true, we also learned that the timing of grazing can also play a role in recovery. Data from 2019 and 2020 highlight that areas grazed early in the season (e.g. May & June) can recover and reduce the amount of bare ground found at the end of the season (Sept) whether they are grazed using short- (3-4 weeks) or longer durations (1.5). In these years, areas with shorter-duration grazing ultimately had less bare ground than those with longer duration grazing. We also found that when grazing occurs late in the season (Aug and Sept), there is a possiblity that areas won't recover before the growing season ends (as seen in 2021), regardless of grazing duration. 

In 2019, we found that grazing duration had a significant affect on bare ground (Repeated measures ANOVA P<0.001 (within subjects)), with short-duration grazing resulting in less bare ground compared to areas grazed for longer-durations. Bare ground in the short (2-3 week) duration grazing system less than that found in the longer-duration grazing system starting in July and extending through Sept (Fig 3a). Bare ground in short-duration and no-grazing treatments was similar across the entire season.

In 2020, we found that grazing duration again had a signifianct affect on bare ground (Repeated measures ANOVA P=0.025 (within subjects)), but this was mainly in june, when the longer-duration treatment had more bare ground thanother treatments (Fig 3b). We are not sure why the longer-duration treatments appeared to recover in 2020, especially because this year was drier than 2019.

In 2021, we again found that grazing duration again had a signifianct affect on bare ground (Repeated measures ANOVA P<0.005 (within subjects)), again mainly in June (Fig 3c). We also found that short duration grazing at the end of the season (Aug & Sept) could result in more bare ground than was found in areas grazed earlier but for longer durations. This was different than 2019, when some short duration at the end of the season had litte effect on bare ground. Ultimately this highlights the importance of not only grazing duration, but also timing in the ability of bare ground to recover throught the grazing season. dirt

Fig 3: Bare ground across areas grazed with different grazing durations, 2019 - 2021.

We also examined the amount of bare ground found across these sites in grazing exclustion cages, which we used to determine whether sites had similar growth potential. We found that in 2019 and 2020 bare ground in the exclusion cages was similar across all grazing treatments after the initial vegetation growth in May (Fig 4) indicating that background conditions across our study area are similar and that the main factor driving stubble height is cattle grazing.

Figure 4: Bare ground in exclustion cages across areas grazed with different grazing durations, 2019 & 2020.

 

Sage-grouse habitat quality: Summary: Overall, we are finding that grazing duration has mixed effects on sage-grouse habitat parameters. It appears that shorter duration grazing favors height requirements. Grazing's effect on cover is less clear, with longer grazing durations appearing to slightly disfavor grass cover, while favoring forb cover. One reason for this result may be that by grazing and trampling riparian grasses and sedges, cattle disturbance opens space and frees resources for perennial forbs to establish and grow. Importantly, an alternative explanation could be that our team’s sampling methodology affected outcomes. We assessed cover using foliar cover of vegetation along point intercept transects. In sites with low grazing pressure, our team might not have seen and thus not recorded the presence of forbs that were shorter than the tall grasses often found in these areas. 

Based on these results, we found evidence that managers could use grazing duration as a tool to balance tradeoffs between sage-grouse habitat quality and grazing. This may be either by shortening the duration of disturbance, or by limiting disturbance to periods during the grazing season that reduce the impact of grazing on critical ecological processes.

According to sage-grouse habitat guidelines, taller grass/perennial forbs and more grass/perennial forb cover

sage grouse guidelines
Table 1: Stubble height and Sage-grouse habitat herbaceous vegetation guidelines. Values presented are from prior BLM guidelines on allotments on Three Creeks, the HAF (Connelly et al. 2000) and Dahlgren et al. 2019.

correlate with better sage-grouse habitat. We draw guidelines for sage-grouse habitat quality from the Sage-grouse Habitat Assessment Framework (HAF) (Stiver et al. 2015) and from Utah State University researchers whose work focuses more specifically on the regional habitat needs of sage-grouse in Rich County (Dahlgren et al. 2019) (Table 1). In both sets of guidelines, management targets are comprised of several metrics, such as perennial grass and forb height, perennial grass and forb cover, and shrub cover. Taller stubble can provide sage-grouse and chicks with cover for hiding from predators, while forbs serve both as food for chicks and are host plants to the insects chicks eat (Dahlgren et al. 2015). We examine all herbaceous metrics in our study.

 We expect no-grazing controls and 2-3 week grazing-durations will have taller vegetation than 1.5-month grazing-durations due to less grazing disturbance. It is possible, however, that no-grazing controls will have less perennial forb cover than grazed sites due to dominance of grasses. If so, sites with short grazing-durations could provide the habitat most favorable to sage-grouse – i.e., taller vegetation, more forbs. We have not analyzed the sage-grouse data collected from this past summer yet.

 

Vegetation Height

Combined Perennial grass & forb height is noted by both BLM and the HAF as a metric of Breeding and early brood rearing and Late brood rearing habitat quality (Table 1). In our analysis we include sedge height in this metric as well since sedge is common along streams. Grazing duration affected combined perennial grass & forb height (Fig 5).

  • During Breeding and early brood rearing (April-June) vegetation height surpassed the 10.2 cm BLM standard and the 18 cm HAF standard more often in short duration grazing pastures than longer duration pastures (2 of 3 years vs 0 of 3). Vegetation height in exclosures always met habitat criteria.
  • During Late brood rearing (July-Aug) vegetation height surpassed the 10.2 cm BLM standard (during grazing) in areas grazed with all durations, although vegetation was shorter in areas grazed using longer durations. In July, which is a critical time for brood-rearing, vegetation in short duration treatments was 4-5x taller than longer-duration treatments (ANOVA, post hoc P<0.001). Vegetation height in exclosures always met habitat criteria. The HAF notes that vegetation height is variable during this time, so we don't analyze it further.
herb height
Fig 5. Herbaceous vegetation height. According to the BLM (active grazing) vegetation should be at least 10.2 cm (Breeding and early brood rearing April – June & Late brood rearing July - Aug). According to the HAF vegetation should be at least 18 cm (Breeding and early brood rearing April – June & Late brood rearing July - Aug) and it is variable (Late brood rearing July - Aug) to support good sage-grouse habitat.

 

Perennial grass height is noted in Dahlgren et al. 2018 as a metric of Breeding and early brood rearing and Late brood rearing habitat quality (Table 1). In our analysis we include sedge height in this metric as well since sedge is common along streams. Grazing duration affected perennial grass height (Fig 6).

  • During Breeding and early brood rearing (April-June) grass height surpassed the 15 cm standard more often in short duration grazing pastures than longer duration pastures (2 of 3 years vs 0 of 3). As with forbs, active cattle grazing appeared to affect whether short-duration grazed pastures met the criteria. For exampe in 2019 and 2020, cattle grazed in May, reducing grass height. Grass height in exclosures always met habitat criteria.
  • During Late brood rearing (July-Aug) grass height surpassed the 20 cm standard in short duration but not longer duration areas. In July, which is a critical time for brood-rearing, grass in short duration treatments was 4-5x taller than longer-duration treatments (ANOVA, post hoc P<0.001). Grass height in exclosures always met habitat criteria.
grass height
Fig 6. Perennial grass and sedge height. According to Dahlgren et al. 2018 perennial grass should be at least 15 cm (Breeding and early brood rearing April - June) and 20 cm (Late brood rearing July - Aug) to support good sage-grouse habitat.

 

Perennial forb height is noted in Dahlgren et al. 2018 as a metric of Breeding and early brood rearing and Late brood rearing habitat quality (Table 1). Grazing duration affected perennial forb height across the grazing season. Grazing duration affected perennial forb height (Fig 7).

  • During Breeding and early brood rearing (April-June) forb height surpassed the 6cm standard more often in short duration grazing pastures than longer duration pastures (2 of 3 years vs 1 of 3). A factor that likely affected forb height in short duration pastures was whether cattle were actively grazing. For exampe in 2020, cattle grazed in May, reducing forb height. Forb height in exclosures always met habitat criteria.
  • During Late brood rearing (July-Aug) forb height surpassed the 8cm standard in areas grazed with all durations, although forbs were shorter in areas grazed using longer durations. In short duration pastures it again appeared that active cattle grazing reduced forb height. For exampe in 2021, cattle grazed in Aug, reducing forb height. In July, forbs in short-duration treatments were 3-5x taller than medium-duration treatments (ANOVA, post hoc: P=0.004). Forb height in exclosures always met habitat criteria. 
forb height
Fig 7. Perennial forb height. According to Dahlgren et al. 2018 perennial forbs should be at least 6 cm (Breeding and early brood rearing April - June) and 8 cm (Late brood rearing July - Aug) to support good sage-grouse habitat.

 

Vegetation Cover

Combined Perennial grass & forb cover is noted by the HAF as a metric of Breeding and early brood rearing and Late brood rearing habitat quality (Table 1). In our analysis we include sedge height in this metric as well since sedge is common along streams. Grazing duration affected combined perennial grass & forb height (Fig 8).

  • During Breeding and early brood rearing (April-June) vegetation cover surpassed the 25% standard in areas grazed with all durations. Cover was similar in both durations in 2019. Vegetation cover was greater in short duration than longer duration treatments in 2021 (ANOVA, P>0.05). Grass cover in exclosures always met habitat criteria.
  • During Late brood rearing (July-Aug) vegetation cover surpassed the 15% standard in areas grazed with all durations. While grass cover was greater in short duration than longer duration treatments in 2019 (ANOVA, P<0.05). Grass cover was similar across treatments in 2021. Grass cover in exclosures always met habitat criteria.
  •  
herba cover
Fig 8. Herbaceous vegetation cover. According to the HAF vegetation cover should be at least 25% (Breeding and early brood rearing April – June & Late brood rearing July - Aug) and 15% (Late brood rearing July - Aug) to support good sage-grouse habitat.

 

Perennial grass cover is noted in Dahlgren et al. 2018 as a metric of Breeding and early brood rearing and Late brood rearing habitat quality (Table 1). In our analysis we include sedge height in this metric as well since sedge is common along streams. Grazing duration did not affect perennial grass height (Fig 9).

  • During Breeding and early brood rearing (April-June) grass cover surpassed the 5% standard in areas grazed with all durations. Grass cover was greater in short duration than longer duration treatments (ANOVA, P>0.05). Grass cover in exclosures always met habitat criteria.
  • During Late brood rearing (July-Aug) grass cover surpassed the 5% standard in areas grazed with all durations. While grass cover was greater in short duration than longer duration treatments in 2019 (ANOVA, P<0.05). Grass cover was similar across treatments in 2021. Grass cover in exclosures always met habitat criteria.
grass cover
Fig 9. Perennial grass cover. According to Dahlgren et al. 2018 perennial forb cover should be at least 5% (Breeding and early brood rearing April – June & Late brood rearing July - Aug) to support good sage-grouse habitat.

 

Perennial forb cover is noted in Dahlgren et al. 2018 as a metric of Breeding and early brood rearing and Late brood rearing habitat quality (Table 1). Grazing duration affected perennial forb cover across the grazing season in 2019 (P<0.001) but not in 2021 (P>0.05)(Fig 10). Despite this, all grazing duration treatments met forb cover requirements in all years.

  • During Breeding and early brood rearing (April-June) forb cover surpassed the 2% standard in areas grazed with all durations, although forb cover was larger in areas grazed using longer durations in 2019. Cover was similar in both durations in 2021. We believe that we may have detected less forb cover in short duration treatments and exclosures due to the way we monitored. By using foliar cover, we were only viewing forbs that could be seen looking down on the vegetation. We are uncertain why we didn't see this similar effect in 2021, when cover seemed to be more similar across all treatments. Forb cover in exclosures always met habitat criteria.
  • During Late brood rearing (July-Aug) forb cover surpassed the 2% standard in areas grazed with all durations. Forb cover in exclosures always met habitat criteria.
forb cover
Fig 10. Perennial forb cover. According to Dahlgren et al. 2018 perennial forb cover should be at least 2% (Breeding and early brood rearing April – June & Late brood rearing July - Aug) to support good sage-grouse habitat.

 

Water quality: We expect water quality violations to occur when cattle are in-pasture, but not once cattle are removed. Thus, we expect shorter grazing-durations to result in fewer water quality violations. 

Table 1. E. coli
Table 2: Percent of streams per grazing duration that were above the Utah Department of Water Quality's E. coli threshold of 668 MPN per recreation season (May-Oct), 2016-2021.

E. coli: We have strong evidence that grazing duration affects E. coli levels. Across years, streams in areas grazed for short durations were out of compliance less frequently than streams in areas grazed for longer durations (p < 0.001, mixed model with grazing duration and stream as fixed effects and year as a random effect) (Table 2). This idea is also supported when we used 2016-2018 to predict E. coli levels throughout a grazing season in areas grazed using short or longer durations (Fig 11, Hulvey et al. 2021). Through this analysis we found that: 

  • Cattle presence directly affected coli levels in streams, with levels rising when cattle were present and declining when they were removed.
  • Duration: Streams located in pastures grazed for longer durations were more likely to be over Utah’s regulatory coli limits (668 Most Probable Number (MPN)) more often than streams in pastures grazed for shorter durations.
Jae
Figure 11. Predicted E. coli levels by day of year for representative grazing schedules in short- and longer-duration treatments. Solid colored lines show predicted mean E. coli concentrations with shaded areas showing one standard error around the mean. Gray regions in each plot shows the period during which cattle are present in each scenario. Solid, dashed, and dotted horizontal lines show regulatory limits for E. coli of 668 MPN (Utah limit), 410 cfu, and 320 cfu (EPA guidelines), respectively. Figure from Hulvey et al. 2021. Journal of Applied Ecology.

In 2021, data presented in Table 2 appears to contridict our conclusions that shorter grazing duration results in fewer water quality violations. In 2021streams in areas grazed for short durations were out of compliance, on average, for more time than those grazed for longer durations. This result is due to one stream in the short duration system being grazed for multiple short periods of time throughout the grazing season. When cattle were in that pasture, stream E. coli levels spiked above regulatory thresholds. This was not the usual rotation for this pasture, and was a result of the extreame drough conditions across our sites. The drought led to less vegetation available for cattle per pasture than managers had planned. As a result, managers decided to move cattle back into a pasture that had been grazed earlier in the season. While this affected water quality in that pasture, it should also be noted that the short duration grazing allowed for enough recovery of plant biomass in pastures grazed early in the season, that they could be grazed a second time. This added flexibility in management decisions is a benefit of a short-duration system. Despite this, there are still tradeoffs -- in this case, while biomass production was high enough in previously grazed pastures to be grazed a second time during a drought, this lead to water quality that did not meet requlatory requirements during this drought year.

 

Temperature: We do not have strong evidence that grazing duration affects stream water temperature. We expected streams in pastures grazed for longer durations to have higher water temperatures, possibly due to more disturbance of streambank vegetation (which can shade streams) and/or less recovery of this vegetation when grazed for longer periods. For example, across our study sites, we found longer-duration cattle grazing had a cumulative negative effect on stream bank morphology (% bare ground) and vegetation cover (% herbaceous cover) leading to less vegetation along stream banks (See Figures 1 & 3). Less vegetation could result in higher water temperatures due to less shading of streams. However, we found streams in pastures grazed for short and longer-durations had temperatures that were similar across years (ptime = 0.32, ptime*duration = 0.79, pduration = 0.31; repeated measures ANOVA). 

We also learned, however, that all short-duration streams included in the study are small, low-flow streams (average seasonal discharge range: 0.06 - 0.81 ft3/s), while longer-duration streams are higher-flow streams (average seasonal discharge range: 2.54 - 4.49 ft3/s). Like grazing, stream discharge also has the potential to affect stream temperature. Smaller volumes of water in low discharge streams might potentially heat up more readily than the larger, deeper streams, and we would thus expect these lower discharge streams to have significantly higher temperatures than higher discharge streams. One possibility is that both the grazing and the stream discharge are affecting stream temperature, but since these factors are conflated in our design, we can't determine the effects.  While we do not have the data from this grant to test our hypothesis that grazing can affect water temperature, we will use data collected via a different grant to compare water temperatures from streams with similar discharge levels. By keeping that factor consistant across our study we can isolate for the role of grazing duration on stream water temperature.

Dissolved oxygen (DO): We do not have strong evidence that grazing duration affects DO. We found all but one longer-duration stream maintained DO levels above 4.0 mg/L (June-October). Violations of the 8.0 mg/L early life stage minimum DO guideline spanned all grazing durations throughout the years of our study, and thus our current data do not support a strong relationship between duration and DO. Future analyses considering seasonal discharge in addition to grazing duration  may more accurately explain differences in DO among streams.

pH: Duration does not appear to affect pH levels. All streams maintained pH levels within Utah’s allowed limits (i.e., pH = 6.5-9), and there was little difference in pH levels among grazing treatments.

 

Obj 2: The goal for this objective is to determine how changing historical grazing-duration (1.5 months) to a shorter duration of 2-3 weeks affects: (a) stream-side vegetation recovery from grazing, (b) sage-grouse habitat quality, and (c) water quality. Grazing practices planned to occur in 2020, but the change didn't occur until 2022 due to infrastructure delays. Thus we began collecting data for Obj 2 during the summer of 2022 and data collection is ongoing until Oct. We have not cleaned or analyzed these data yet to compare them to pre-implementation data collected from 2019-2021. We will achieve this objective during the WSARE renewal grant (2022-2025). 

 

Obj 3: Due to the way economic data is recorded with the rancher LLC, all members must give consent for analysis of the company's economic data. The research team planned to gain this permission while conducting the first round of surveys during the spring of 2020 (see Obj 5 below). However, due to the Covid outbreaks throughout 2020 and 2021, this process took longer than expected. The team was still conducting surveys during the spring of 2022. Gaining approval signatures also required the PI to build trust with the 38 ranchers involved. This process was slower because the PI had less of an opportuntity to interact in person with ranchers during the 2020-21 period. For example, starting in the spring of 2021, the ranchers begain inviting the PI to LLC meetings and asking for short research reports. This allowed the PI to meet ranchers and allowed for them to become more comfortable with the idea of the research team looking at the LLC economic records. Currently, we have been able to gain signatures on consent forms for 32 of 36 ranchers. We anticipate being able to obtain all outstanding signatures throughout the fall & winter of 2022-23. Because of the delay in gaining permission, the achievement of this objective has been delayed, and will occur during the WSARE renewal grant (2022-2025). 

 

Obj 4: To complete this objective, the project team first needs to complete the research for Obj 1-3. We will achieve this objective during the WSARE renewal grant (2022-2025). 

 

Obj 5: The research team conducted Survey #1 to Three Creeks Grazing LLC members from March 9, 2020 through April 11, 2022. Covid delayed the ability of our team to complete the first survey by reducing opportunites to meet with ranchers in person throughout our study, which among this group of ranchers is the only effective way to get responses. The goal for Survey #1 was for it to be completed before the implementation of the new grazing system. Despite the delays in survey completion due to Covid, we were able to have most ranchers in the LLC complete the survey before implementation because implementation was delayed until the spring of 2022. We collected 27 completed surveys, 5 ranchers turned in blank surveys, and 4 ranchers did not complete the survey. Completion rate is 27 out 36 total potential respondants or 75%. The reduced ability to interact with ranchers throughout the grant period caused achievement of this objective to occur later than initially anticipated in the grant activity timeline. Responses from these surveys are included in a  include an preliminary summary of responses below. We plan to write up these results in a peer reviewed paper this year that builds on Taylor Payne's 2018 publication (Payne 2018. The Three Creeks Allotment Consolidation: Changing Western Federal Grazing Paradigms. Human-Wildlife Interactions vol 12, Iss 2. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/hwi/vol12/iss2/12/). This initial publication explained the foundations of the Three Creeks Project. 

The goals of Survey #1 were to understand rancher expectations for the Three Creeks grazing project.

  • Why are ranchers involved in the Three Creeks Project?: Of the 27 ranchers that completed the survey most (66%) provided reasons for being involved that included some improvement to their operation (cattle health, regulatory benefits, reduction in litigation risk, improved relations with other stakeholders, ability to pass on thier operation to future generations, or benefits to the environment). A smaller, but not insignificant group of ranchers (33%) indicated that rather than being motivated by any of the above, they were involved in the project because they were part of the Three Creeks LLC and thus had no choice but to participate if they wanted to graze the area. Throughout the process of developing the Project, all members of the LLC participated in votes indicating their willingness to move ahead, so it was interesting to learn through the surveys that many members might not have participated in this type of project if it hadn't been for the ongoing structure of the project, and likely the group dynamics of meetings and votes. Our project team is looking forward to conducting Survey #2 after the new grazing system has been in place for several years to learn whether the ranchers who might not have particpated feel like they have benefited from involvement.
  • How do ranchers hope to benefit from the Project? Ranchers indicated a wide array of benefits they hope to gain from involvement in the Three Creeks project. These include:
    • Direct improvements to livestock production (44%) such as: larger calves (19%), improved pregancy rates (15%), overall healthier cows (15%), improved forage for grazing (15%), and better utilization of the range (4%);
    • Improvement of rangeland condition (44%) including: general range improvement (37%), and improvement of habitat for wildlife (7%);
    • Changes to regulatory agreements with the federal agencies (26%) such as: increased grazing time per season (11%), and increased number of cows (7%);
    • Maintaining ability to graze on public lands (19%);
    • Improved relationships with other stakeholders (19%) including with: federal agencies (7%), neighbors (7%), and the public (4%); and
    • The ability to pass ranch to future generations (7%).
    • A small number of ranchers did not know what types of benefits to expect from the project (15%).

Ranchers in our study indicated that the two most important types of benefits they would like to see from the implementation of the Three Creeks Grazing Project are those that directly improve livestock production on their operations and those that improved the ecological conditions of the rangelands. As a research team, we believe this begins to tell an important story about the value ranchers place on serving as good stewards of these landscapes in addition to earning a living from their operations.

Ranchers in our study also strongly indicated that they would like to see a potential for changing the regulations that currently guide their grazing. Over the past 30 years in Rich County (and across the country) intensity of use of public rangelands has been reduced via reduction in AUMs either through shortening of grazing seasons, reduction in cattle numbers, or suspended AUM use. The reduction of intensity of use was intended to manage rangeland condition. The ranchers involved in the Three Creeks Project are hoping that by using other tools to manage condition including grazing duration, that range conditions will improve, and they will be able to increase intensity of use, which would presumably increase their profits.

  • Will Implementation of the Three Creeks Project affect the risk of litigation from outside groups?  A main reason for the inception of the Three Creeks Project was to reduce the risk of litigation. Some partners such as Working Lands Conservation and at times Agency and State partners also believe risk may decrease. However, one reason that final approval of the NEPA allowing the changes in grazing practices took longer than expected was likely a hesitancy by agencies to commit to changing grazing practices because any change can attract the attention of groups that litigate grazing on public lands. Producers who responded to this survey also had a mixed response to the question of whether implemntation will reduce the risk of litigation from outside groups. 44% believe risk will be reduced, 15% did not think risk would change, 22% thought that risk of litigation would increase, and 19% were uncertain of the outcome. Through webinars and discussions with ranchers across the west, our research team knows that many groups are watching the outcome of this project to know if trying to conduct a similar grazing project in thier area might be worth undertaking. 
  • Will Implementation of the Three Creeks Project affect the overall expenses and time ranchers incur from managing their operation? While ranchers hope for many benefits to their livestock operations, our team wanted to also understand if ranchers felt that the project would increase operational costs including the time spent running their operation. The majority think that the project will increase expenses and increase the amount of time they spend managing their operation (81% and 70%, respectively). A minority think that expenses and the time they spend running their operations will decrease (7% and 0%, respectively). A few ranchers did not think expenses or the time spent managing their operation would change (4% and 19%, respectively).  7% were uncertain of the outcome.

Our research team believes that these results indicate that despite anticipated increases in operational costs, ranchers are still willing to participate in the Three Creeks project because of the benefits the project will bring. They may hope that some of the additional operating cost will be offset by increasing profits from larger calves, higher pregnancy rates, and increased forage production (leading to healthier cattle). Beyond this, it is also possible that ranchers are indicating they are willing to pay for the extra stability that reduced litigation, improved relationships with agency personnel, and secure grazing on public lands brings. It is also possible that ranchers are indicating they are willing to pay for better rangeland conditions, highlighting a stewardship ethic that is not always recognized by the broader public.

  • Do ranchers think that implementation of the Three Creeks Project will affect overall health of rangland streams, the amount of forage near streams, stream water quality, and sage-grouse habiat near streams? Do ranchers think that any improvements be worth the cost? Many of the stakeholder involved in the Three Creeks Project, such as the BLM, Utah Grazing Improvement Program, and Working Lands Conservation want the project to balance economic security for ranchers with improvments to rangeland health, including rangeland streams. Our research team wanted to understand how important improvements to rangeland health were to the ranchers involved in the project. To do so, we wanted to gauge if ranchers had considered whether implementation of new grazing systems across the area would affect overall rangeland stream health, and different components of stream health including: the amount of forage produced near streams, stream water quality, and sage-grouse habitat near streams. We also wanted to understand whether ranchers believed that any improvements they might see were worth any increases in their operational costs.

We learned that ranchers commonly believed that implementation of the Three Creeks Project would improve rangeland stream conditions, including:

    • Overall stream health - the majority believe stream health will increase (81%), while 15% are uncertain of the outcome;
    • The amount of forage near streams - the majority also thought forage would increase (67%), fewer believed it would stay the same or decline (4% for each), and 19% were uncertain of the outcome;
    • Stream water quality - the majority also thought water quality would increase (78%), fewer believed it would stay the same or decline (4% for each), and 11% were uncertain of the outcome;
    • Sage-grouse habitat near streams - the majority also thought sage-grouse habitat would increase (44%), fewer believed it would stay the same (22%), or decline (4%), and 22% were uncertain of the outcome.

We also learned that ranchers were not strongly convinced that the improved stream conditions justified increased management costs (see below). This conflicts with earlier questions in the survey that asked what benefits ranchers hoped the project would provide. Ranchers most strongly supported increased costs of management for improved stream water quality (59% thought costs were justified). Less than half supported increased costs of management for improvement of forage near streams or sage-grouse habitat near streams. In all cases there were a large proportion of ranchers who were uncertain of whether improved stream conditions justified management costs (41% - forage near streams, 26% - stream water quality, 26% - sage-grouse habitat near streams). We are looking forward to learning how results from our continuing study's ecological and economic analysis affect rancher opintions of this cost-benefit analysis. We expect that if ranchers notice large improvements to these rangeland conditions, they will be more likely to note on Survey #2 that they believe that such improvements justify any increased costs incurred. 

      • The amount of forage near streams - many ranchers thought improvements were worth costs (41%), fewer did not believe improvements would be worth the cost (11%), and many ranchers were uncertain if the cost would be justified (41%);
      • Stream water quality - many ranchers thought improvements were worth costs (59%), fewer did not believe improvements would be worth the cost (4%), a quarter of ranchers were uncertain if the cost would be justified (26%), and a few did not think the Three Creeks Project would affect water quality (4%);
      • Sage-grouse habitat near streams - many ranchers thought improvements were worth costs (44%), fewer did not believe improvements would be worth the cost (15%), a quarter of ranchers were uncertain if the cost would be justified (26%), and a few did not think the Three Creeks Project would affect water quality (4%);
Research conclusions:

How can grazing duration be used to reach multiple rangeland management objectives?

Forage-recovery: Results: We found grazing duration can be used to manage forage height, bare ground and the recovery of both in riparian areas. Shorter grazing durations (2-3 weeks) led to significantly taller vegetation and less bare ground than areas grazed for 1.5 months. Notably, the height of the vegetation and amount of bare ground in areas grazed for shorter durations was similar to that found in grazing exclosures. This implies that pastures allowed significant rest can sustain some grazing each year with little loss of productive capability. The start and ceasation times of grazing each year affected the ability for vegetation and bare ground to recover post-grazing. When pressure was removed in both short- and longer-duration grazing systems, vegetation and bare ground recovered. When re-exposed to grazing, either via cattle being run back through a pasture to get to home ranches in the 1.5 month grazing durations (Sept) or via re-grazing later in the season, forage stubble height declined and bare ground increased. Our results highlight that along with duration, the timing of a disturbance is an important factor controlling rangeland recovery (stubble height & bare ground). 

Sage-grouse habitat quality: Results: Overall, we are finding that grazing duration has mixed effects on sage-grouse habitat parameters. It appears that shorter duration grazing favors height requirements. Grazing's effect on cover is less clear, with longer grazing durations appearing to slightly disfavor grass cover, while favoring forb cover. One reason for this result may be that by grazing and trampling riparian grasses and sedges, cattle disturbance opens space and frees resources for perennial forbs to establish and grow. Importantly, an alternative explanation could be that our team’s sampling methodology affected outcomes. We assessed cover using foliar cover of vegetation along point intercept transects. In sites with low grazing pressure, our team might not have seen and thus not recorded the presence of forbs that were shorter than the tall grasses often found in these areas. 

Water quality:  Results: We found grazing duration can be used as a tool to manage E. coli concentration without fencing-off riparian areas or removing cattle from rangeland pastures with streams. Shorter grazing duration led to fewer E. coli regulatory violations. We did not find strong evidence that grazing duration affected stream water temperature, dissolved oxygen or pH. We were surprised that we found no connection between grazing duration and water temperature because we expected temperature to be influenced by grazing's disturbance of the streambank vegetation that shades streams. Additional research that further investigates how stream discharge, in addition to grazing duration, affects stream temperature will provide a better understanding of if grazing duration alone can affect water temperature. 

Recommendations/Impact on Ranching: These results are informing the implementation of the Three Creeks Grazing Project grazing plan. This grazing plan calls for cattle to be rotated more rapidly than in the past (2-3 weeks rather than 1.5-2 months).

  • Our results highlight that along with duration, the timing of a disturbance is an important factor controlling rangeland recovery (stubble height & bare ground). Overall, this could also mean that once the Three Creeks Grazing LLC implements their new watershed scale time controlled grazing system that uses short durations, they may improve range conditions in their riparian areas even further if mangers consider the timing of grazing to manage recovery as well.
  • Our results highight that managers can use grazing duration as a tool to balance tradeoffs between sage-grouse habitat quality and grazing. This may be either by shortening the duration of disturbance, or by limiting disturbance to periods during the grazing season that reduce the impact of grazing on critical ecological processes.
  • Our results indicate that it is likely that when cattle are in a pasture, stream E. coli levels will rise above the Utah regulatory threshold of 668 MPN, but that levels will decrease quickly to below this limit once cattle are moved from the pasture. By ensuring that cattle are not near a stream for more than 10% of the recreation season (period from May-Oct) managers can likely meet UT state standards. Managers can draw on this information as they examine E. coli data and grazing rotation data from the 2022 grazing season. If 20222 E. coli levels exceeded UT state standards, managers can plan the 2023 seasson to shorten grazing durations in pastures where streams were out of compliance.

What are ranchers' motivations for becoming involved with multi-stakeholder projects that offers flexibility in grazing?

Results: We found ranchers had a number of motivations for becoming involved in a multi-stakeholder project that offers flexibility in grazing management. While the original impetus for the project was threat of litigation, only about a third of ranchers thought that involvement would reduce future risk of litigation. Two thirds of ranchers provided reasons for being involved that included some improvement to their operation (cattle health, regulatory benefits, improved relations with other stakeholders, or ability to pass on thier operation to future generations). A third indicated they were involved because their peers/agencies involved wanted to move forward and they felt they had no choice.

Ranchers in our study indicated that the two most important types of benefits they would like to see from the implementation of the Three Creeks Grazing Project are those that directly improve livestock production on their operations and those that improved the ecological conditions of the rangelands. As a research team, we believe this begins to tell an important story about the value ranchers place on serving as good stewards of these landscapes in addition to earning a living from their operations.

Recommendations/Impact on Ranching: These results are informing the implementation and success of the Three Creeks Grazing Project. In particular, the partners in the Three Creeks Project benefit from understanding the motivations of all groups involved with the project. A key to success will be whether the partners involved feel their expectations have been met, and that they ultimately receive benefits from the Project. Without knowing what rancher expectations are or the benefits they would like to receive from the project, it would be possible to miss communicating project outcomes in language that speaks to expectations. It would also be possible to miss quantifying the benefits that are most important to those involved. For example, from this survey our research team has learned that many ranchers would consider this project successful if the new grazing plan resulted in increased calf weights or increased pregnancy rates. Currently, we are not assessing these metrics, but will now begin to do so.

The results from this work also have the potential to inform other groups (federal & state managers, non profits) interested in working with ranchers to pursue innovative systems of increasing the flexibility in range management on public lands. While no two groups of ranchers are the same, the answers provided by this group of ranchers for why they have become involved in this collaborative rangeland project and what they expect (and don't expect) from the project can provide some ideas of how to structure future projects in ways that meet the needs of participating ranchers. This could make such projects more popular. 

Participation Summary
32 Producers participating in research

Research Outcomes

3 Grants received that built upon this project
16 New working collaborations

Education and Outreach

150 Consultations
10 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Journal articles
8 Tours
20 Webinars / talks / presentations
17 Workshop field days
14 Other educational activities: (1) PI organized and hosted a conference session at the 2020 Society for Range Management Annual Meeting in Denver focused on collaborative partnerships in rangelands; one of the projects highlighted during this session was the Three Creeks Project (where this WSARE work is taking place). Three speakers in the session (PI, Collaborator - Taylor Payne, and Mellissa Wood - BLM) spoke about the work taking place in the Three Creeks Project. Symposium title: Transforming Public Rangeland Management Through Collaborative Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships
(2) PI conducted 26 pre-implementation surveys to ranchers involved with the Three Creeks Project. These surveys are the first of a series of two surveys aimed to highlight how rancher perspectives of the grazing project change before vs. after implementation of the new grazing system.
(3) PI & research team regularly post updates from the WSARE project on the Working Lands Conservation social media sites including: website, facebook, instagram, and twitter. To date the website (workinglandsconservation.org) has had over 12,000 pageviews (+56% yr/yr), 4200 unique visitors (+69% yr/yr), 5100 site visits (+64% yr/yr). Visitor are from 62 countries, and from 49 US states. Our social media is also reaching more and more people including: 107 facebook posts (page reach: 2354 users), 121 Instagram posts (301 followers), 83 tweets (142 followers).
(4) Working with a Utah State University Masters student to conduct research across the Three Creeks Project area
(5) Working with a Utah State University PhD student to conduct research across the Three Creeks Project area
(6) Hired, trained and mentored a 4-person crew for the 2019 field season. This crew consisted of female undergraduate students from Utah State University.
(7) Hired and mentored one Utah State University female undergraduate student from Sept 2019-May 2019 to help organize data from the 2019 field season.
(8) Hired and mentored one full time female employee who is a recent graduate of Utah State University to be the Project Leader for the WSARE funded research (May 2020).
(9) Hired, trained and mentored a 3-person crew for the 2020 field season. This crew consisted of female undergraduates and recent grads from Utah State University.
(10) Hired, trained and mentored a 5-person crew for the 2021 field season. This crew consisted of female, underserved, and more traditional range and watershed science students and recent grads from Utah State University.
(11) Worked with recent USU grads, Rich County High School professor, Utah Grazing Improvement Program Specialist, and Working Lands Conservation researchers to conduct a field day for the local Rich County High School animal science class. This consisted of an afternoon field trip to our research site (down the road from the high school). We divided into smaller groups and talked about range management, ecosystem services. We then did demonstrations of data collection and had students collect data on water quality, stubble height, and plant composition.
(12) Hired and mentored one full time female employee who is a post doc researcher on this WSARE funded research (May 2021 - April 2022). Moved this position to a full time Researcher position May 2022.
(13) Hired, trained and mentored a 6-person crew for the 2022 field season. This crew consisted of female and more traditional range, watershed science, and wildlife management students and recent grads from Utah State University.
(14) Invited member of a working group focused on stream restoration in the US South West and restoration of stream resiliance, ecosystem service provision, and carbon sequestration (2 in person meetings & ~ 10 virtual meetings; Oct 2021-Aug 2022)

Participation Summary:

165 Farmers participated
305 Ag professionals participated
Education and outreach methods and analyses:

Consultations

  • Invited to two day meeting in NV where the Three Creeks team (including BLM Field Office Manager, Riparian Specialist, Utah Grazing Improvement Specialist, and PI) shared information about the development and research at Three Creeks with over 30 stakeholders including ranchers, agency scientists and administrators, and nonprofit employees (members of the ROGER group)(Oct 2019)
  • 2 meetings with Utah Grazing Improvement Program (Utah Department of Ag and Food) managers and staff to discuss ongoing research funded by WSARE (Nov 2019, Sept 2021)
  • 3 Meetings with a USU professor to plan a collaboration on this Three Creeks work for him and one of his Master's students (Winter 2020) 
  • >20  meetings with BLM employees at the Field Office and State Office about ongoing research funded by WSARE (Sept 2019 - Aug 2022). BLM personel include: Riparian Specialists, Wildlife Specialists, Range Specialists, Sage-grouse Specialists, Field Office Managers, and Deputy State Directors (Natural Resources) (Sept 2019-Aug 2022).
  • >50 meetings with Utah Grazing Improvement Program (Utah Dept of Ag and Food) Manager & WSARE collaborator Taylor Payne to discuss project logistics, potential future developments, applying for further project support, initial research results (Sept 2019 - Aug 2022)
  • >20 meetings with scientists from the NRCS about ongoing work funded by WSARE and potential collaboration (April 2020- Feb 2022)
  • 4 meetings with scientists from the Utah Geological Service about ongoing work funded by WSARE and potential collaboration (April 2020 - Oct 2021, March 2022))
  • >50 meetings with Western Landowners Alliance Stewardship Director, Bre Owens about WSARE work & future collaborations (Jan-Aug 2022)
  • Advisory Board for NIFA/AFRI Sustainable Agricultural Systems (SAS) grant: Villabla et al. - Using smart foodscapes to transform cowherd nutrition on western rangelands (2021-2023)

Factsheets/educational tools

  • 2019 -One short report to private ranch operating within our study area summing research results for vegetation montioring and water quality monitoring
  • 2020 -Two short reports to private ranches operating within our study area summing research results for vegetation montioring and water quality monitoring
  • 2020 - Two short reports to the Salt Lake city field office summing research results for vegetation montioring and water quality monitoring
  • 2020 - Two short reports to the Utah Grazing Improvement Program summing research results for vegetation montioring and water quality monitoring
  • 2021 - Short report to the Salt Lake city field office summing research results for vegetation montioring and water quality monitoring
  • 2021 - Short report to the Utah Grazing Improvement Program summing research results for water quality monitoring
  • 2022 - Fact sheet summing research results to participants in a sage-grouse field tour (Aug 2022)

Journal Articles

One journal article accepted and published at Journal of Applied Ecology: Hulvey, KB, CD Mellon, AR Kleinhesselink. 2021. Rotational grazing can mitigate ecosystem service trade-offs between livestock production and water quality in semi-arid rangelands. Journal of Applied Ecology. 58: 2113-2123

Two journal articles in prep: (1) Results of first three years of WSARE funding examining how grazing duration affects multiple ecosystem services in riparian areas (services to include water quality, forage recovery, sage grouse habitat, erosion potential and forage produciton), and (2) A paper undating readers of the progress of the Three Creeks Grazing Project. This paper will build on a past publication by collaborator Taylor Payne, which described the formation of the Three Creeks Grazing Project and was based on his thesis work as a Master's student. The new paper will include results from the first round of surveys conducted via this WSARE grant.

Tours

  • Presented information about the Three Creeks Grazing Project and WSARE research to over 150 local, regional, and nation-wide participants in the 2019 Private Lands Partners Day during field trip to research areas in Rich County (Sept 2019) 
  • Field tour with NV ranch manager who was interested to learn more about Three Creeks (Sept 2019)
  • Participation & presentations in Utah Grazing Improvement Program field tour on Three Creeks. This highlighted some of our WSARE research  This tour was co-sponsored with the Rich CRM and included local ranchers and agency managers working on the Three Creeks project. (Summer 2019).
  • Participated & presented in the Rich County Coordinated Resource Management Group & Utah Section of the Society for Range Management Summer Field Tour. Discussed the Three Creeks Grazing Project and WSARE research with about 30 participants (June 2021)
  • Participation & presentations in Utah Grazing Improvement Program field tour on Three Creeks. This highlighted some of our WSARE research. It was attended by UGIP employees and the Utah State Ag Commisioner (June 2021)
  • Field tour with WSARE Deputy Regional Coordinator (Irene Grimberg) (April 2022)
  • Participated & presented in a 2-day field tour organized by the BLM for Utah State University researchers. Discussed the Three Creeks Grazing Project and WSARE research to about 8 participants (Aug 2022)
  • Participated & presented in a Sage-grouse Workshop Field Tour organized by the Utah Department of Wildlife. Discussed the Three Creeks Grazing Project and WSARE research with about 140 participants (Aug 2022)

Webinars/presentations/talks

  • (Dec 2019) Two day meeting in NV where BLM, myself, and Utah Grazing Improvement managers presented our efforts with the Three Creeks Project to over 30 stakeholders including ranchers, agency scientists and administrators, and nonprofit employees. 
  • (Feb 2020) Organized and Facilitated a panel presentation at the Annual Society for Rangeland Management Meeting in Denver titled: Transforming Public Rangeland Management through Collaborative Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships. The panel featured two BLM managers, one Utah Grazing Improvement Program manager, one Nature Conservancy Scientist, and two ranch managers. Over 60 ppl attended, including a mix of ranchers, agency personnel, non-profit employees, and academic scientists and students. 
  • (March 2020) Meeting and presentation to the Board of the rancher-owned Three Creeks Grazing LLC about ongoing WSARE funded research. The LLC and its members are vital stakeholders in the ongoing grazing project my research centers upon (7 attendees)
  • (April 2020) Virtual presentation at the University of Arizona School of Natural Resources and the Environment's seminar series (over 50 attendees)
  • (Oct 2020, virtual), (March 2021, in-person), (June 2022, in-person) Presented research update presentation to the Rich County Coordinated Resource Management meeting in Randolph, UT. This is a quarterly meeting where stakeholder engaged in projects in the area where I do my research to discuss research and proposed projects (~25 attendees). This is where local work on resource management is shared among partners, and the meeting is attended by ranchers, state and federal managers, non-profit partners, and academic partners. From 2019-2022, I attended other quarterly meetings each year, but did not present.
  • (Nov 2020) Virtual research update presentation to Salt Lake City BLM field office (~15 attendees)
  • (Nov 2020), (April 2021) Meeting and presentation with the rancher-owned Three Creeks Grazing LLC about ongoing WSARE funded research. The LLC and its members are vital stakeholders in the ongoing grazing project my research centers upon (~35 attendees). This meeting is organized by the 38 permittees that graze across the public rangelands where this project is taking place. At each of these meetings I was asked to summarize recent findings and answered questions about ongoing research. 
  • (Nov 2020) Southwest Society for Ecological Restoration. Hulvey, KB. Can innovative grazing partnerships restore ecosystem services on arid Western workinglands. Virtual.
  • (Feb 2021) Presented at the virtual at the Annual Society for Range Management Meeting: Using grazing timing and duration to manage water quality in rangeland streams. Over 50 people attended the virtual session.
  • (Feb 2021) Presented virtually to NRCS collaborators about ongoing WSARE sponsored research across Three Creeks (4 attendees)
  • (Feb 2021) Presented virtually to the Utah Division of Water Quality about ongoing WSARE sponsored research across Three Creeks (8 attendees).
  • (Aug 2021). Webinar organized by Western Landowners Alliance. 'People, Place, Process, Paradigms - The Three Creeks Project'. Kris Hulvey of Working Lands Conservation and Taylor Payne of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food join WLA's stewardship coordinator Bre Owens to discuss the impressive collaborative conservation project taking place between 38 ranches and the BLM in northeastern Utah.
  • (Feb 2022) Presented at the Annual Society for Range Management Meeting: Managing cattle grazing timing and duration to support multiple ecosystem services in semi-arid rangelands. Over 30 people attended the session.
  • (Feb 2022) WLC Project Manager (Jessie Danninger) presented at the Annual Society for Range Management Meeting (poster): Balancing livestock grazing, plant diversity, and Greater sage-grouse habitat on semiarid rangelands of northeastern UT. 
  • (Feb 2022) Research update presentation to private ranch partners in Rich County, UT. This meeting consists of all research partners conducting research on this private ranch (~12 attendees) 
  • (March 2022). Webinar organized by Western Landowners Alliance. 'Putting People and Data to Work: Collaborative Monitoring Successes'. Three examples of community-based and regional cooperative monitoring approaches. Moderated by Lawrence Gallegos.
  • (July 2022) Research introduction presentation to the La Sals Sustainability Coalition in Moab, UT. I joined the groups quarterly meeting to discuss possible collaboration that stems from the Three Creeks work and research with the WSARE (~25 attendees) 
  • (Oct 2022) Invited presentation on Three Creeks Grazing Project Research at the Idaho Rangeland Fall Forum at the University of Idaho.
  • (Dec 2022) Accepted presentation on Three Creeks Grazing Project Research at the ACES conference in DC.
  • (Feb 2023) Submitted 3-session symposium focused on managing US Western rangelands for carbon sequestration and multiple ecosystem services. This symposium will highlight some of the WSARE-Three Creeks work.

Field days

  • Field day with BLM managers to discuss ongoing work (2020)
  • 6 field days with scientists from the NRCS building on work funded by WSARE (April 2020 - Oct 2021)
  • 3 field days with scientists from the Utah Geological Service about ongoing work funded by WSARE and potential collaboration (April - June 2020, April 2022)
  • Field day with Utah State University professor and grad student to develop collaboration options (May 2021)
  • Worked with recent USU grads, Rich County High School professor, Utah Grazing Improvement Program Specialist, and Working Lands Conservation researchers to conduct a field day for the local Rich County High School animal science class. This consisted of an afternoon field trip to our research site (down the road from the high school). We divided the ~40 students into smaller groups and talked about range management, ecosystem services. We then did demonstrations of data collection and had students collect data on water quality, stubble height, and plant composition (May 2021).
  • Conducted a Working Lands Conservation plant ID session/field tour for BLM field scientists (7 attendees) (July 2021).
  • Organized 17 indicator training with NRCS State Range Specialist for WLC researchers & local Rich County NRCS employee (Sept 2021)
  • Organized 2 MIM trainings with BLM Riparian Specialist and Utah State University students (and field crew members), and WLC researchers (May 2021, May 2022)
  • Organized riparian ESD training with NRCS specialist for WLC researchers, regional NRCS employees, and local BLM riparian specialists (April 2022)
36 Farmers intend/plan to change their practice(s)
36 Farmers changed or adopted a practice

Education and Outreach Outcomes

Key areas taught:
  • role of grazing duration on water quality
  • role of grazing duration on forage production
  • role of grazing duration on vegetation and bare ground recovery in riparian areas

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.