Conservation for the Future: LO Cattle Company, Sand Springs, Montana

my name is Travis Brown and we’re
located on LO Cattle Company which is a family cattle ranch here about 10
miles west of Sand Springs Montana we’ve been here for 59 years trying to raise
feeder calves on these hard short grass prairies in Montana my name is Sue
Fitzgerald I’m the district conservationist with the NRCS Natural
Resources Conservation Service in Jordan and I’ve been here for over 30 years so
on a day to day basis I work with farmers and ranchers to help them
improve the conservation on the land and also keep them on the land so 2017 was
the Lodgepole Complex fire that occurred here in Sand Springs and the and the
western part of Garfield County so the 20th of July of 2017 we’re having
just a terrible dry spring and there was 11 lightning strikes and and those 11
lightning strikes turned into a wildfire that burned 270,000 acres of this county
most of our ranch burned in one day and and so to see better than half the ranch
go up in flames in one essentially afternoon we didn’t know what to do or
where to turn to and so we sure thank all of our neighbors and our friends
that showed up to help fight fire I mean we were able to save our houses we were
able to save a lot of the infrastructure but we burnt miles and miles of fence
and now had a range management problem that we’d never dealt with in the 59
years that we’ve been here we were prepared to provide assistance once the
fire was out and as soon as the fire was out we came in with producer meetings
and presented what we could do to help them get back on track one of the most
important things that I felt like NRCS brought right after the fire was some
stability they’re a nationwide resource base that was able
to come in and say you know we’ve dealt with disasters before we’ve seen this
before and we have a structure that we we can help these lands recover and make
it long-term a good thing for this ranch one of the first things we did was we
looked at the crowns of the grass plants to figure out are is the grass
still alive or are we gonna have to make a different plan and so we got down on
our hands and knees with our pocket knife and dug a few of them up and the
crowns of the grass were still alive and so we thought you know if we handle
this recovery correctly we can have a chance to really make a dramatic
difference on this ranch the conservation district kind of led
the charge with getting different agencies together and nonprofits that
could help we each stood up and we presented what
we could do to help and the NRCS the role we played was to help rebuild the
fences that had burned because without the fences they couldn’t do their
prescribed grazing they couldn’t implement their grazing plan they
couldn’t even keep their cattle on their own ranch the cows were immediately
affected by the fact that they’re of course scattered all over our cows were in with the
neighbors’ cows and there was no fences and I mean when you drove through Mosby there
was a highway sign that said cattle at large the next 50 miles and I if it
there was more space on the bottom of the sign it could have said in any direction
because right here on this ranch there was about 60 miles of fence that was put
in by the homesteaders who did a great job and probably stood there and said I
bet this fence will last 100 years and it almost did and in 2017 every bit of it
burnt and so we had to decide where we’re gonna put the fences how we’re
gonna replace them and how we’re gonna rebuild the infrastructure a lot of the
old fences had wood posts and so if those were just left to lay they would
cause a real hazard for a wildlife so we were able to come in and put the wire
spacings at a level that’ll keep the cows where they’re supposed to be but
will also limit the amount of wildlife collisions that happen with the 2017
fire recovery EQIP program we ended up with 11 EQIP contracts on 87,000
acres and we obligated 1.52 million dollars
through that program just here in Garfield County and we placed a hundred
and twenty miles of fence eight of those miles of fence had fence markings for
the sage-grouse so we had a couple of big decisions to make probably the
biggest one was whether or not we were gonna defer the grazing on the ranch
because the effects of that decision cascaded through our whole operation and in
visiting with the NRCS staff it was the safest option that we could choose to
help the native plants and the soils recover in a way that we had the least
risk going forward we provided an incentive to defer that grazing and it
really helped bring back the vegetation the plants just needed some cool
temperatures some rain and a rest this pasture just this very corner here
is all that burnt so we grazed this portion of the pasture and it’s
interesting to see the fence line comparison between the two management
methods I’m very pleased with the recovery and we ended up doing prescribed grazing
on 53,000 acres of rangeland that were burned and that deferred grazing on the
rangeland acres those were in the areas that were burned the worst and needed it
the most it was a great effort and it was a
partnership not only from Garfield County but we brought in employees from
Miles City and Lewistown Glasgow another part of the recovery effort was the
emergency conservation program which was funded through the Farm Services Agency
and that NRCS provided the technical assistance so we assisted with
drilling a well designing a stock water pipeline and tank system so that during the
drought they could get into pastures that didn’t burn and that had the
vegetation to graze that had the grass to graze Travis Brown did some seeding
with a drill in some areas and then in amongst the trees there was a pretty
heavy layer of pine needles and no vegetation and those pine needles burned
really hot and the trees burned really hot so Travis broadcast seeded some native
grass species in amongst the trees and he got a great stand and just to get out
and see how our rangelands behave after a fire with rest without rest it’s
been really encouraging

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