Management, Impact and Economics of Beef Cattle Grazing in Mountain Riparian Ecosystems

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1997: $105,400.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $134,065.00
Region: Western
State: Idaho
Principal Investigator:
Patrick A. Momont
Univ. of ID, Dept. of Animal & Vet. Sci.

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: preventive practices, range improvement, grazing - rotational, watering systems
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension
  • Farm Business Management: feasibility study, agricultural finance
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, indicators, riverbank protection, wildlife
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships, sustainability measures


    [Note to online version: The report for this project includes tables and figures that could not be included here. The regional SARE office will mail a hard copy of the entire report at your request. Just contact Western SARE at 435-797-2257 or]

    The first year of a two-year replicated study investigating the effects of cattle grazing in a mountain meadow on the riparian ecosystem was completed. Cattle grazing and “riparian health” issues are currently at the forefront of public and rancher concerns in the Northwest. A ballot initiative in Oregon proposed that cattle be fenced out of all riparian areas located in critical habitat stream segments. In southwest Idaho, the current BLM Resource Management Plan proposes a 35 percent reduction in AUMs that would eliminate cattle grazing in those allotments after July 15 to reduce the impacts of cattle grazing on riparian areas. Research findings and the demonstrative value of this study are timely and extremely important to ranchers, as well as recreationalists, environmentalists and agency personnel. The critical need for this type of project is evidenced by the number of stakeholders that have become cooperators.

    Site construction, forage evaluation, riparian, transitional zone and upland bioassessment, water quality analysis, cattle performance and behavior, site mapping, economic analyses, and field days have been completed. The treatments consisted of grazing with turnout of cattle into the riparian pastures occurring on two separate dates (early turnout early July and mid-August in 1998 and 1999). Each year treatments were replicated 3 times for a total of 9 pastures that provided visual across-fence comparisons (three pastures each of early turnout, late turnout, and no cattle grazing control). The project was designed to evaluate the economic impacts of cattle grazing management on ranches in the Pacific Northwest.

    Cattle behavior and distribution, cow/calf performance, forage utilization, riparian bioassessments, and greenline data were recorded and are in the processing phase. Initial observations indicate that cattle grazing occurring at the separate turnout dates effected the riparian ecosystems differently. Wet and soft riparian soil structures appeared more susceptible to cattle grazing during the early turnout period, however cattle appeared to spend less time in the actual riparian area than the late turnout period. Implementation of early summer grazing of riparian areas into a grazing management system has proved to be very effective in altering the distribution and vegetation utilization patterns of cattle grazing a riparian area and its adjacent uplands along the foothills of the Wallowa Mountains. During early summer, when forage quantity and composition are not limiting and ambient air temperatures are low, livestock distribution patterns are more evenly distributed and vegetation utilization patterns are more uniform. During late summer, ambient air temperatures increase, forage DM increases, livestock distance from the stream decreases, and fecal deposits within 1 m of the stream increase. These factors, in turn, may lead to increased riparian area vegetation utilization and woody browse, and increased bank trampling. As long as early use does not cause problems due to wet saturated soils, early summer grazing of riparian areas may be less detrimental to riparian areas due to improved livestock distribution and more uniform vegetation use.

    Dissemination of information through field days, popular press articles, and stakeholder meetings has been ongoing and requests for summary information are numerous. This project has provided an excellent basis for creating an expanding level of public interest, educational platforms, and producer involvement.

    Project objectives:

    1. Integrate cattle grazing methods and physical factors of mountain riparian ecosystems into a ranching model that demonstrates sustainable natural resource use.

    2. Conduct range and riparian monitoring and bioassessments of mountain riparian ecosystems to determine the impacts of livestock grazing.

    3. Determine economic implications of alternative grazing management to improve the ecological condition of riparian areas.

    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.