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Sagebrush Steppe Restoration at Deseret Land & Livestock: Maintaining Sagebrush Steppe
While Watching the Bottom Line
Rick Danvir, Deseret Land & Livestock, Woodruff, UT
For twenty years Deseret Land & Livestock ranch (DLL) has remained profitable while maintaining diverse, abundant wildlife populations in Northern Utah sagebrush steppe. Wildlife and livestock are viewed as codependent – the economic and ecologic health of the ranch requires that both prosper. A holistic, adaptive strategy evolved to manage for multiple, complex and interspersed age classes of sagebrush habitat using two intensities of disturbance: 1) time-controlled grazing (alternating ≤1 month of herbivory with 12 or more months of rest) and 2) periodic range treatments. Treatments included burning, planting, mechanical and chemical brush-thinning techniques implemented to increase herbaceous species richness and cover, reduce brush cover, or both. Approximately 1-2% of DLL’s shrub-steppe rangelands have been treated annually since 1993 (generally 200-800 ha annually). Some mechanical treatments included planting functionally desirable species of grasses, forbs and shrubs. Monitoring indices of wildlife abundance, species richness, habitat use and condition, cattle production and ranch profitability helps measure program effectiveness and guide subsequent management efforts. Time-controlled grazing and range treatments have increased landscape complexity and herbaceous plant cover on both upland and riparian habitats. Wildlife abundance and species richness have remained high as the cattle stocking rate increased. The ranch supports over 275 avian species and was designated an Audubon Utah Important Bird Area in 2003. Density of both pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana) and greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) have increased under this management strategy. DLL range-restoration and management expenses are being recovered through increased livestock production and recreation revenues. We suggest time-controlled grazing is functionally and esthetically preferable to either season-long grazing or livestock removal. Further, managing for a productive system and diverse landscape can be economically self-sufficient and ecologically sound - simultaneously enhancing at-risk wildlife populations and ranching.