Riparian Regulations Threaten Livestock

Tom Jefferson (who asked that we not use his real name) has been farming beef in Maryland for over 50 years.  But because of the State’s Revised Nutrient Management Law, he and his son may be forced to give up cattle and begin raising row crops.  At issue are changes to the state’s regulations tied to existing laws about nutrient management plans.  The new regulations respond in part to recent recommendations by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding Total Maximum Daily Loads of pollutant (TMDLs).  The end result of good water quality intentions may be declining stream health, increased soil erosion, and a decrease in farmers making a living raising beef. As Mr. Jefferson explains,  ”Maryland came up with this setback from all stream banks that you can have no organic fertilizer, a fancy name for cow shit, within ten feet of the stream banks.”  Making his point for him is a fact sheet on Maryland’s Revised Nutrient Management Regulations that explains that a 10 to 35 foot “no fertilizer zone” must be used along surface waters and streams.  Says Jefferson, “Under the present regulations, they do not say that they must be fenced out, but that is the only thing you can do.  So we’ll practically have to fence all of our streams and put in stream crossings to get our cattle across them anywhere. And in some cases we’ll end up with parcels that are fenced up and have no water in them and we’ll have to put in [water].  In some cases yo

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4 thoughts on “Riparian Regulations Threaten Livestock

  1. Sorry to hear about the new regulatory issues and their effect on livestock producers in Maryland. In Texas we do not have those kind of strict rules (yet) but times are changing. I clearly remember about 20 years ago at a water quality conference that the EPA and other regulatory agencies told landowners that if they did not voluntarily adopt good water quality practices that they would eventually be regulated. I think that was fair warning;

    Slowly but surely, ranchers here are paying more and more attention to the way they graze their riparian areas. We still have a long way to go, but many ranchers are now giving preferential treatment to their creek areas. Some have voluntarily chosen to withold grazing on their creeks for several years to jump start the growth of the necessary vegetation; others are using specialized rotations, flash grazing or whatever you want to call it to maintain good dense riparian vegetation.

    Good dense creek bottom vegetation is one of the very best water quality practices – it dissipates the energy of floodwater, reduces erosion, slows down the water, traps sediment and helps to recharge the shallow aquifers. Its the responsible thing to do and it can be a win win for ranchers and the public.

    Nothing can make livestock producers look worse than overgrazed creek bottom pastures and nothing can make them look better than maintaining well managed, dense riparian vegetation.

    I am retired NRCS (35 years) and worked a lot with riparian management in the last 10 years. I know things are different in other states, but I would suggest that instead of griping about over-regulation, instead try to do common sense things voluntarily to reduce the need for regulation.

    I noted that the Maryland Nutrient Management Regs had some common sense flexibility for grazing – they did not insist only on excluding animals from the creek. Hope that some reasonable solutions can be found by working together.

    1. Here’s an example of how proper grazing can enhance streams. It was posted a Linked-in discussion group by Dr. Roy Roath, Professor Emeritus at Colorado State Univiersity.
      David Jessup, Sylvan Dale Ranch.
      In a program implemented north of Fort Collins in a ‘short grass prairie” receiving an average of 10-12 inches of annual precipitation; we implemented a grazing program designed explicitly to greatly increase water capture and retention. This requires a designed rotational grazing program to allow use, foster tillering and plant recruitment and management for growth and regrowth to full recovery in every pasture every year. In doing this we were able to increase forage on offer, leave greater residual cover and increase the diversity of the stand including greatly increasing the forb component. What we found is that the “short grass prairie” was really a mixed grass prairie suppressed by years of inappropriate grazing. We soon had major increases in cool season grasses and forbs and many tall warm season grasses that were not evident and not even thought to be a part of this ecosystem when we started. After five years in this program we had two dry streambeds that became streams that flowed 365 days a year and began to grow riparian vegetation the full length of their corridor. A critical part of this management strategy is to regain and manage cover on the primary terraces bordering the streambed. These are water storage areas and must have structure and cover to maintain the integrity to the stored water in the system. I can’t say that this works everywhere but I have enough experience in a variety of environments to know that one can vastly improve water capture and in doing so has a great probability of good things happening.

      1. David,

        Very interesting; almost sounds like one of those “too good to be true” things. Can you provide more details on the grazing program that produced these results or a link to research or other info that has some specifics. In the midst of this drought, we all need some good and encouraging news. Thanks

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