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: 04/30/2022
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

Abstract:

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 (Yr 1&2). 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: We collected a second season of ecosystem data across all sites. We are finding the following:

Forage-recovery:

Stubble Height: 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, with stubble height in the short (2-3 week) duration grazing system reaching 30 cm by June and ~50cm by July. In contrast, stubble height at the longer (1.5 month) grazing duration 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 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, 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, 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.

Figure 1. Stubble height across areas grazed with different grazing durations, 2019 & 2020.

 

We also noted that 2019 and 2020 had different levels of precipitation, with 2020 being a drier year. 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 exclustion 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. In 2019, we found this to be the case, with 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, 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.

Fig 3: Bare ground across areas grazed with different grazing durations, 2019 & 2020.

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.

Overall, we are finding that short duration grazing systems are able to successfully balance livestock grazing with the forage-recovery in pastures. 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.

 

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. 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.

We found that sage-grouse habitat quality depended on grazing duration, as well as the guidelines used to assess habitat quality. Importantly, we also found our methodology for recording cover (i.e., foliar cover along point intercept transects) may have influenced our accounting of forb total cover.

Height

Grass+sedge: We found during early brood rearing (May & June), grazing treatments affected grass+sedge height along riparian areas (Fig 5a). Vegetation was generally shortest in longer duration grazing sites, was an intermediate height in short-duration grazing sites, and was tallest in non-grazed exclosures, but that there was overlap between short-duration and non-grazed sites.  

Perennial forb: We found forb height was similar across areas grazed using longer and shorter durations, and that these grazed areas had shorter forb height than non-grazed areas.  (Fig 5b).

Cover

Grass+sedge: Grazing treatments affected grass+sedge cover along riparian areas (Fig 6a). Generally, there was less cover in longer-duration grazing treatments than shorter-duration or no-grazing treatments. Cover in shorter-duration and no-grazing treatments was similar.

Perennial forb: Grazing treatments also affected perennial forb cover during early brood rearing, but the effect of grazing treatment varied by month (Fig 6b). Generally, forb cover was greater in longer-duration treatments than in non-grazed treatments. Short-duration treatments had more cover in May (~10%) than June (~2%), and thus shifted from high perennial forb cover to the lowest forb cover of any treatment. We do not know why forb cover changed so drastically from May to June in short-duration treatments.

Figure 5: Effect of grazing duration on sage-grouse habitat indicators: a) grass & sedge height, b) perennial forb height. Black lines denote minimum height requirements for vegetation height indicated by guidelines.
Figure 6: Effect of grazing duration on sage-grouse habitat indicators: a) sedge & grass cover, b) perennial forb cover. Black lines denote minimum cover requirements for vegetation height indicated by guidelines.

 

Overall, we are finding that grazing 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 grazing appearing to slightly disfavor sedge&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 strong 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.

 

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 water quality violations per grazing duration, 2016-2020.

E. coli: We have strong evidence that grazing duration affects E. coli levels. In 2019 streams sampled streams in longer-duration pastures were out of compliance an average of 27% of the recreation season, while those in short-duration pastures were out of compliance 0% of the grazing season (Table 1). In 2020 streams sampled streams in longer-duration pastures were out of compliance an average of 28% of the recreation season, while those in short-duration pastures were out of compliance 13% of the grazing season (Table 1).

 

Temperature: Our data suggest that grazing duration may affect water temperature. This may be driven by grazing altering stream bank morphology and stream bank vegetation. Less vegetation could result in higher water temperatures due to less shading of streams. We also believe stream discharge may be equally important for regulating stream temperature. This is supported by the following:

Table 2: Temperature water quality violations per grazing duration, 2016-2020.
  • Streams in pastures grazed for longer-durations had temperatures over 20˚C more often than those in pastures grazed for short durations (Table 2). Across sites, we found longer-duration cattle use (May-Sept) had a cumulative negative effect on stream bank morphology (% bare ground) and vegetation cover (% herbaceous cover) leading to less vegetation along stream banks.
  • All streams with high water temperatures are small, low-flow streams (average seasonal discharge range 0.13-0.49 ft3/s).

Dissolved oxygen (DO): We do not have strong evidence that grazing duration affect 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 in both 2019 & 2020, 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: No results yet for this objective. Data will begin to be collected for this objective after implementation of a new grazing system in 2021.

 

Obj 3: No results yet for this objective. I will need to gather permission from all ranchers to synthesize their economic data first. I was planning to gain this permission at the time I conducted the first surveys this spring (see Obj 5 below). However, due to the Covid outbreak, this has been a drawn out process. Currently, we have been able to contact and gain signatures on consent forms for 26 of 36 ranchers. I anticipate being able to obtain permission throughout the spring, now that the Covid vaccine is widely available in Utah. This delay in gaining permission has caused achievement of this objective to occur later than initially anticipated in my grant activity timeline. 

 

Obj 4: No results yet for this objective. I will need to complete the research for Obj 1-3 first.

 

Obj 5: PI K. Hulvey began conducting a first round of surveys March 9, 2020 to the Three Creeks Grazing LLC Board Members, and this has continued through April 14, 2021. To this point we have collected 25 surveys or the 36 total or 69%. A general meeting was scheduled for March 16th, but was cancelled due to the Covid outbreak.  In general, Covid has delayed the ability of our team to complete the first survey by reducing the opportunites to conduct the survey in person, which among this population of ranchers is the best, and only effective way to get responses. Overall, the reduced ability to interact with ranchers throughout 2020 and into early 2021 has caused achievement of this objective to occur later than initially anticipated in my grant activity timeline. We will continue to conduct this first round of surveys until the implementation of the new grazing system in 2021. While we are aiming for a response rate of 100%, we feel we currently have enough data to analyze data, and thus include an preliminary summary of responses below.

The goals of surveys were to understand rancher expectations for the Three Creeks grazing project and to determine if the project was meeting the rancher expectations. Thus far based on collected surveyes we have found that 60% of ranchers expect the project to procure an some economic benefit for their operation, 15% expect the project to reduce litigation threats, 15% expect the project to improve ecological conditions, and 10% do not have a good sense of benefits that the project might produce. Some of the ways that producers thought the project might benefit them economically include: increased calf weights, longer time allowed on public lands during the grazing season, increased cow health, and improved infrastructure across grazing allotments. Of the potential outcomes most ranchers are expecting economic stability to come from participation in this project. Some have also expressed the idea that they do expect their operations to incur some extra costs, but that any ecological benefits the project produces will justify these costs.

 

 

 

 

Participation Summary
25 Farmers participating in research

Education

Educational approach:

Producer & Ag Professional Educational Activities: Activities involving producers and ag professionals aim to combine experiential learning about project outcomes, with multiple types of data sharing.

Field Tours – We believe one of the best ways to share results is by showing people how grazing-duration can alter the landscape. We will thus conduct two field tours, one pre- and one post-project implementation. Tours will showcase outcomes to stakeholders, including: producers, BLM and UGIP managers from the Salt Lake Office, and staff at the Department of Water Quality, NRCS, Forest Service, and SITLA. During the first tour, we will visit sites employing the current 1.5-month grazing-duration to give participants an idea of current conditions on theses public allotments. We will also visit exclosures to highlight what conditions would look like without grazing. We will use these two endpoints to discuss how conditions might change once grazing-durations are shortened on these rangelands. We will demonstrate/explain our monitoring techniques for forage recovery, sage-grouse habitat, and water quality as a way to introduce these ecological management goals, and to ensure participants understand how we are generating data. The second tour will take place a year after implementation. We will discuss any initial improvements seen in environmental quality, plus show pictures of riparian conditions from the previous tour (via informational handouts) so participants can see before-after results. We will discuss barriers producers faced when implementing the new Grazing Plan and how they overcame these barriers. Tours will take place in September so we can see full-season effects of grazing.

Participatory surveys and interviews – The surveys and interviews outlined in Objective 5 will allow partners (including producers) to learn rancher perceptions of the costs and benefits of the Grazing Plan’s implementation. By participating in and gaining results from pre- and post-implementation surveys, producers can see how their opinions of the project have evolved over the project’s lifetime. This kind of meta-knowledge can help producers synthesize improvements to environmental quality, and changes to their economic security. Interviews will serve a similar purpose, and will allow producers to discuss reservations, frustrations, and ideas of achievement about the grazing switch. Summing such views will ensure there is a shared knowledge of these by all partners. Additionally, this information can help others planning similar projects gain an understanding of key factors leading to project success.

Rich County Coordinated Resource Management (CRM) meetings – We will share ongoing results via short presentations at semi-annual meetings. The CRM group was created to provide economic stability and sustainable natural resources to Rich County stakeholders. This will be a key venue to share information with the community.

Personal meetings with partners and policymakers –Kris Hulvey, Taylor Payne, and Terry Messmer have worked extensively to build relationships with partners participating in the Three Creeks Grazing Project and policymakers interested in the work. Kris and Taylor will continue building these relationships by personally sharing project updates and research results to groups including: the Three Creeks LLC Board, BLM, UGIP, Utah Department of Environmental Quality, NRCS, the Forest Service, and SITLA. These meetings will allow Kris to share research results of interest to individual partners, and allow partners to ask detailed questions focused on their management needs. The meetings will allow Taylor to share implementation progress, highlight barriers faced and solutions found. This personal dispersion of information will also ensure information being collected is used to inform adaptive management of Rich County allotments

National conferences – To share progress and results to a broader audience (US-wide), Kris Hulvey and Taylor Payne will attend the Annual Meeting of the Society for Range Management to present results formally in talks, and informally in discussions with peers. This conference is a central place for information exchange in the rangeland management community. Taylor has presented talks focused on the Three Creeks Grazing Project in the past, and has found attendees of this conference to be very interested in ongoing progress. We plan to provide at least one presentation (sometimes two) at this conference each year.

Websites – We will share project updates via a page on Kris Hulvey’s lab website (https://qcnr.usu.edu/labs/hulvey_lab/), and via materials posted on the USU extension website that lists information about the Rich County CRM (https://utahcbcp.org/localworkinggroups/RichCounty/richcounty).

Scholarly Publications & Educational Materials: Scholarly publications and educational materials will combine peer reviewed publications in scientific journals, fact sheets published and posted on extension websites, and direct reports given to partners.

Refereed scientific journal publications: We will publish two scientific journal publications based on work that will be complete at the end of the three-year period: One will be targeted to Rangelands (results from Obj #1), and one will be targeted to Rangeland Ecology and Management (results from Obj #2). Both of these journals are read widely by rangeland managers. We also will publish an additional two journal articles based on results from Obj #4 and #5, but will not have the full manuscripts complete by the end of year 3, since some of these results will be collected in Yr 3.  Results from Obj #4 will be targeted to Rangeland Ecology and Management, and results from Obj #5 to Environment and Society.

Direct written reports to collaborators: Because not all agency managers or producers have access to scientific journals, results from Obj #1-5 will also be shared in written reports distributed to collaborators in the Three Creeks Grazing Project. Reports will limit scientific jargon, and make results directly applicable to producers and managers.

Extension factsheets and newsletters: Results from Obj #1, 2, and 4 will be presented in factsheets published through the Utah State University Extension and articles published in the Utah Community-Based Conservation Program’s newsletter -  The Communicator. These fact sheets and articles will aim to share results with managers and producers beyond Rich County, and who may not typically read scientific journals. These will be available on the Extension’s website, plus Kris Hulvey’s website.

Educational & Outreach Activities

54 Consultations
7 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Journal articles
2 Tours
13 Webinars / talks / presentations
7 Workshop field days
11 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 is conducting 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 regularly posts updates from the WSARE project on the Working Lands Conservation social media sites including: website, facebook page, and via Instagram. To date the website (workinglandsconservation.org) has had over 6092 pageviews, 2000 unique visitors, 2500 site visits. Visitor are from 37 countries, and from 47 US states.), 63 facebook posts (80 followers), and 68 Instagram posts (122 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 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 -April 2021)
(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, 5-person crew for the 2021 field season.
(11) Hired one full time female employee who is a post doc researcher on this WSARE funded research (May 2021 -April 2022)

Participation Summary:

165 Farmers
260 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Consultations

  • Two day meeting in NV where interacted with over 30 stakeholders including ranchers, agency scientists and administrators, and nonprofit employees. (Oct 2019);
  • Meeting with Utah Grazing Improvement Program (Utah Department of Ag and Food) managers and staff to discuss ongoing research funded by WSARE (Nov 2019)
  • 12  meetings with BLM managers about ongoing research funded by WSARE (Sept 2019 - April 2021)
  • 3 meetings with scientists from the Utah Geological Service about ongoing work funded by WSARE and potential collaboration (April 2020 - Oct 2021)
  • 14 meetings with scientists from the NRCS about ongoing work funded by WSARE and potential collaboration (April 2020- April 2021)
  • 20 meetings with Utah Grazing Improvement Program manager (Sept 2019 - April 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) 

Factsheets/educational tools

  • 2019 -One short report to  private ranche 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

Journal Articles

One journal article is in final review at Journal of Applied Ecology:

Hulvey, KB, CD Mellon, AR Kleinhesselink. In Review. Mitigating ecosystem service tradeoffs in rangelands using grazing duration and timing to manage water quality. Journal of Applied Ecology.

Tours

  • Presented 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)

Webinars/presentations/talks

  • 2019 (dec) 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. 
  • 2019 (dec) Attended 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
  • 2020 (feb) 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. 
  • 2020 (march) 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)
  • 2020 (april) Virtual presentation at the University of Arizona School of Natural Resources and the Environment's seminar series (over 50 attendees)
  • 2020 (Oct) Virtual 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) 
  • 2020 (Nov) Virtual research update presentation to Salt Lake City BLM field office (~15 attendees)
  • 2020 (Nov) 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)
  • 2020 (Nov) Southwest Society for Ecological Restoration. Hulvey, KB. Can innovative grazing partnerships restore ecosystem services on arid Western workinglands. Virtual.
  • 2021 (Feb) Presented at the virtual at the Annual Society for Rangeland Management Meeting: Using grazing timing and duration to manage water quality in rangeland streams. Over 50 people attended the virtual session.
  • 2021 (Feb) Presented virtually to NRCS collaborators about ongoing WSARE sponsored research across Three Creeks (4 attendees)
  • 2021 (Feb) Presented virtually to the Utah Division of Water Quality about ongoing WSARE sponsored research across Three Creeks (8 attendees).
  • 2021 (April) 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).

Field days

  • Participation in 1 Utah Grazing Improvement Program field tour highlighting our WSARE research (Summer 2019)
  • Field tour with BLM managers to discusson ongoing work (2020)
  • 2 field tours with scientists from the Utah Geological Service about ongoing work funded by WSARE and potential collaboration (April - June 2020)
  • 3 Field tours with scientists from the NRCS about ongoing work funded by WSARE and potential collaboration (April - Aug)

Learning Outcomes

Key areas taught:

    Project Outcomes

    36 Farmers intend/plan to change their practice(s)
    1 Grant received that built upon this project
    11 New working collaborations
    Project outcomes:

    Our project is in early days so has not yet affected agricultural sustainability. However, we expect this work to benefit both the ranchers we directly work with via this project, as well ranchers more broadly. We expect our focus on grazing-duration’s effects on key ecological goals will allow stakeholders to assess whether the grazing-durations included in the new Grazing Plan are allowing them to achieve state-mandated water quality standards and sage-grouse habitat goals. This approach may avert future lawsuits aimed at reducing grazing on these public lands. In addition, because we consider the costs to producers of changing their operations, our study will allow ranchers to assess economic tradeoffs of altering duration to increase ecological health. More broadly, if this grazing-duration proves to balance livestock grazing with environmental outcomes, it could serve as a model of balanced public-lands management that can be replicated across other US public rangelands.

    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.