Riparian Grazing: Can We Just Do The Right Thing?

With growing concerns over riparian management and its effect on water quality, farmers and ranchers are facing tightening regulations and restrictions on grazing next to streams and water bodies. Here, Troy wonders if we, as graziers, are doing all we can to protect water quality and our grazing future. At this year’s Northeast Pasture Consortium meeting, Erik Hagen, USDA Agricultural Research Service Planning Project Coordinator, shared the results of a 4-year study of riparian grazing management. His conclusion was, “It’s fairly obvious that the field side of the buffer needs quality management of land cover for the whole ecosystem to function well. It’s been difficult to have a set program, given all the perspectives. Currently, regulations and policy are disengaged from reality.” I can see those “perspectives” and regulations at work. In the highly regulated Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) “pollution diet” areas of the Chesapeake Bay, and in the Northeast watersheds where I farm and work, farmers are under intense pressure to keep animals away from waterbodies, no matter what. Some states, like Vermont and Maryland, have actually mandated livestock stay out. The reason, according to many agency professionals, “We must put these practices in place for the mediocre manager.” Wow! We need to protect our precious resources from ourselves?  If that’s the case, we need to spend more time looking in the mirror at how we’re treating ou

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3 thoughts on “Riparian Grazing: Can We Just Do The Right Thing?

  1. Look upstream before downstream inre riparian areas. If the headlands, ridgetops, and upper slope aspects don’t have fibrous roots and sponge like soil structure which herbaceous ground cover provides, then the riparian area won’t become stable! Erosion potential in riparian areas here is just as high if not more pronounced when livestock are totally excluded as when they are allowed full encampment. Slow the velocity of runoff first then manage for repair second.

  2. Thanks, Troy. I also agree with John. Too many of us are poor stewards. But, even the regulators are poor stewards. I could ask, “Why buffer strips?” The entire landscape should be a buffer or filter. Rainfall should infiltrate where it lands. And, of some does run off, it should be clean leaving the soil in place. Buffers might be a stop gap. Livestock should only be in riparian areas for very short bursts of time and at a time that will most likely allow regrowth before livestock are there again or before a flood event. Having said that, I think, and perhaps agree with Troy, that education of the public and farmers and ranchers would be a far better way to spend money than regulation. We need people out there experimenting with hopefully better methods rather than regulators placing regulations that are only partially effective and almost unchangeable even when proven ineffictive.

  3. Thanks Troy.

    As usual, I find your writing inspirational. But then, reality sets in. The view from my windshield tells me that no, most ranchers do not recognize the negative impacts that their lack of management brings. Sure, I do see a minority of ranchers doing some really fine work, protecting land-water ecological systems. But for the majority: nope.

    Exacerbating the problem out here, (west of the Rocky Mountains) half of the land is owned by the federal government, which is evidently incapable of protecting riparian areas. Oh, and federal property is immune from local or State regulations, too. As someone who frequently visits our public lands, I am increasingly disappointed by the state of our riparian zones.

    I try to remain hopeful, but honestly, I it appears that proper management on private lands improves primarily as older ranchers retire, replaced by ecologically-minded young people. On our public lands I am even less optimistic, as a culture of abuse is deep-rooted.

    Sorry to be so glum.

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