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

1997 Annual Report for SW97-010

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.

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



1. Integrate cattle grazing methods and physical factors of mountain riparian ecosystems in to 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.


The first two years of data collection for a two-year replicated study investigating the effects of cattle grazing in a mountain meadow on the riparian ecosystem were 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 Bureau of Land Management Resource Management Plan proposes a 35 percent reduction in animal unit months (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 bio-assessment, 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, late turnout = mid-August). Each treatment was replicated three times for a total of nine 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 bio- assessments 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 then the late turnout period. Again this is preliminary and all conclusions will be based on two years data and statistical analyses.

Dissemination of Findings

Four field days have occurred at the site, with approximately 300 ranchers, allied industry representatives, recreationalists, university faculty and agency personnel attending. The field days occurred as cattle were grazing and data was being collected. Comments from the participants were highly favorable in regard to the project. After the tour, requests for more detailed information from the study were requested. Results have been presented in state and local popular press, both in Associate Press releases and more in-depth articles requested by newspapers and magazines. Three sustainable grazing/range monitoring workshops were held to initiate rancher and agency personnel into a working coalition. Classroom presentations and field demonstrations were conducted on riparian management practices and setting up monitoring sites. Results from the study were used to conduct four winter beef schools in Idaho and for public land meetings. Research results will be presented at professional meetings in 1998 and 2000 (Society of Range Management), Animal Science Western Section in 2000 and at the Western SARE 2000 conference. An Idaho state congressional staff educational program was conducted to update U.S. Representatives and Senators on the project and explain its application to public policy decision making.

Positive Benefits or Impacts

The project has generated wide enthusiasm among numerous clientele groups that have concerns over cattle grazing in riparian areas. The money provided by Western SARE has led to other funding sources and a commitment by universities in Oregon and Idaho to continue this effort. A snowball effect has occurred, with commodity groups and individuals becoming involved after they recognized the benefits of this cooperative project. With new stakeholder groups participating, the pathways for disseminating information from this study have increased.

Farmer Adoption and Direct Impact

Requests for information indicate that ranchers as well as agency personnel are extremely interested in incorporating results from this study into their resource management plans. Producers have indicated that they will begin to incorporate information from this project into their grazing management practices. Other ranchers have stated they feel justification for practices that they have already implemented. Funding is available for watershed programs on private and public lands and this information creates the framework to model where improvements will be beneficial and cost effective. Those ranchers with water systems already in place are using this information to validate their investments.

Rancher/Farmer Comments

Ranchers have indicated that this is the type of project we should have been doing all along. They appreciate the group effort and rancher involvement. The combination of research and extension working together with various interest groups will avoid problems when it comes time to incorporate results into ranch management plans.

This summary was prepared by the project coordinator for the 2000 reporting cycle.


Neil R. Rimbey

Univ. of ID
ID 83607
Tim Delcurto

Oregon State Univ.
OR 97883
John Tanaka

Oregon State Univ.
OR 97331
Mike McInnis

Oregon State Univ.
OR 97850
Jim McIver

OR 97850