This 8:27 video takes us on a cattle drive with Miles Anderson, a rancher south of Fir Mountain, Saskatchewan, Canada. On this day, he’s gathering and moving about 100 cow calf pairs onto the neighboring Grasslands National Park so they can graze and create habitat for the endangered sage grouse.
As we follow Miles across the prairie, he talks about the difficulty of raising cattle in a place where you need a lot of land – like the 20,000 acres that make up the ranch his family homesteaded in 1911. The challenges, like hail storms, grasshoppers, fire and drought can be heartbreaking but he’s learned to deal with them. He’s also learned to deal with the challenge of a park with a conservation mission that once believed cows were the reason that sage grouse populations had dropped 98% since 1998.
Miles explains that cattle graze down the tall grass between the sagebrush, making space for forbs to grow in the summer so that the sage grouse chicks have the food and habitat they need to survive. The fact that chick survival was a lot better on his side of the fence than it was in the park helped them change their minds about grazing’s place on the prairie. Miles says, “By working together it can be better for both of us, both for the sage grouse and the people that care for them, and for me and my family as far as raising livestock.”
Whether or not the sage grouse will survive is yet to be seen. But Miles Anderson is doing his best to make a difference.
What Can You Do With This?
It’s good to keep in mind that the way you manage grazing livestock can benefit or impact wildlife. Sage grouse are an example of a species that needs a mosaic of tall and short grasses and brush as its chicks move through different stages of life.
While we’ve learned that letting grass get too mature, or grazing down to the ground can harm forage production for livestock, it’s not a bad idea to consider our furred and feathered neighbors who may not prosper on pastures that look like manicured lawns.
Figuring out what to do can be hard. If you’d like help, here in the U.S. you can check in with your local Natural Resources Conservation Service. The NRCS is working with farmers and ranchers on conservation strategies that benefit both producers and wildlife. They can also tell you if there is funding available to cover all or part of improved conservation practices.