The top 5 woody invasive plant species in the Great Plains Grasslands include; Eastern redcedar, Honey mesquite, Chinese tallow, Ashe juniper, and Redberry juniper. Past brush management efforts have been unable to stop or reverse the loss of grasslands at county, state, or regional scales. Traditional management efforts have assumed that there are tolerable levels of the top five woody pests in grasslands before encroachment becomes a resource concern and mechanical or chemical removal of woody plants will restore a site back to a grassland. Scientists are now recommending more integrated approaches for dealing with woody species and ending the reinvasion cycle in grasslands.
Have you seen the latest Pocket Guide from the Great Plains Grasslands Extension Partnership? This Pocket Guide integrates new guidelines for reducing woody encroachment with a planning process. It is also an important resource that further incorporates the latest, science-based approaches for reducing woody encroachment.
Soil Health…kind of catchy, right?! I agree. And, so do thousands of other range managers and landowners. It’s the buzz word of the century and it’s here to stay. So what do we know about soil health and how the heck can our ranchers use it?
Today, we will be looking at 2 relatively recent articles on soil health. First, “Usable Science: Soil Health” written by Justin Derner, Chuck Stanley, and Chad Ellis. Secondly, we will look at “Soil Health as a Transformational Change Agent for US Grazing Lands Management” written by Justin Derner, Alexander Smart, Theodore Toombs, Dana Larsen, Rebecca McCulley, Jeff Goodwin, Scott Sims, and Leslie Roche.
Why is soil health on the minds of every range manager these days? Easy. Dust Bowl of the 1930s was a benchmark event that changed every single range, crop, and land-man’s way of thinking. Total game changer. As Derner and others stated, “The 1930s Dust Bowl remains entrenched in the memories of land managers for how drought can lead to widespread wind erosion.” I couldn’t agree more. As range managers, we seek to learn from our mistakes – not repeat them. So now we have the most talented scientists working out the details of a very complex, obscure, and complicated science of the physical, chemical, and biological components of soil and how applicable conservation practices increase production, capacity, and ecosystem services through enhanced soil water holding capacity, appropriate nutrient cycling, and greater resiliency to weather variability and predicted climate changes. For example, utilizing novel experiments with adaptive grazing management wherein short “pulses” of grazing with a large herd followed by rest periods of more than 1 year provides experimental platforms to evaluate the efficacy of soil health monitoring efforts. Can I get an amen from the range gospel choir?! Wahoo!!! It’s about dang time!
To summarize what the Rangelands article is talking about, here we go:
#1. What are the effects of conservation practices (e.g., prescribed grazing, prescribed fire, and brush management) on the chemical, physical, and biological components of soil health?
#2. Can the chemical, physical, and biological components of soil health be used as “early indicators” of phase, transition, and/or threshold shifts in plant communities for state-and-transition models to enhance ecological site descriptions?
#3. How can the chemical, physical, and biological components of soil health be enhanced through adaptive management to increase the resilience of soils to weather variability and changing climate?
#4. How can the soil health tool kit to provide more robust and broad assessments of soil health and/or monitoring of the chemical, physical, and biological components for land managers in a timely and responsive manner to facilitate adaptive management be expanded?
Fast forward to our next article, Soil Health as a Transformational Change Agent for US Grazing Lands Management and now is where we get to the cool nerd stuff. Current soil health is an opportunity not to focus on improvement of soil health on lands where potential is limited but rather to forward science-based management on grazing lands via
#2. Emphasizing goal-based management with adaptive decision making informed by specific objectives incorporating maintenance of soil health at a minimum and directly relevant monitoring attributes
#3. Advancing holistic and integrated approaches for soil health that highlight social-ecological-economic inter-dependencies of these systems, with particular emphasis on human dimensions
#4. Building cross-institutional partnerships on grazing lands’soil health to enhance technical capacities of students,land managers, and natural resource professionals
#5. Creating across-region, living laboratory network of case studies involving producers using soil health as part of their grazing land management. Explicitly incorporating soil health into grazing management and the matrix of ecosystems services provided by grazing lands provides transformational opportunities by building tangible links between natural resources stewardship and sustainable grazing management, as well as providing paths to reach broader audiences and enhance communications among producers,customers, and the general public.
Now, we can really jump up and say “hallelujah!!!!”
This is what their vision looks like:
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Dr. Butch Taylor loves the Sonora Experiment Station dearly, and another person who loves it just as much is Dr. Doug Tolleson. It seems only appropriate that we follow Dr. Taylor’s words of wisdom with Dr. Tolleson’s.
How did you get introduced to fire? Early in life, we would burn pastures periodically to “clean them up” and at scout camp we would help dig line to contain small forest fires.
Professionally, I would help Keith Owens and his crew at the Uvalde Experiment Station and then Jim Ansley at the Vernon Experiment Station with their prescribed fire research.
How early do you start planning for a prescribed burn? As early as possible, but let’s say about a year ahead on average if you count grazing deferment, etc…
What’s most unique about a post-fire environment? When it rains we look like geniuses… seriously, I think it is the way rangelands respond to fire given the pre-fire conditions and post-fire precipitation, etc…
In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? Proper planning beforehand and a good rain after (see question 3)
Who or what would you never burn without? An experienced burn boss and an up to date weather report
This October we are featuring Mr. James K. Rooter Brite, Jr. from Bowie, Texas. Rooter is a father, rancher, conservationist, and my friend. The Brite Ranch has been a member of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) for Rooter’s entire life. He has been a director of the TSCRA since 1999, and has served on their Agriculture and Research and Natural Resources and Environmental committees since 1994. He has served as a director of the Upper-Elm Red Soil and Water Conservation District since 1979. He has served on the Association of Texas Soil and Water Conservation Districts board and on the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board. He represents the National Association of Conservation Districts on the National Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative steering committee. Additionally, he serves on the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Natural Resource and Environment Committee.
How did you get your start in ranching? I am a third
generation on this ranch. I was born and raised on the ranch where my grandfather J.A. Brite purchased in 1929. I took over my dad’s cow herd in the mid-1960s and purchased the ranch from dad in 1974, when I began full-time management of the ranch with my wife, Lynda, and eventually my son, J.K.
How important is agriculture to your family? Agriculture is about one third of my income. You have to look at the cumulative value of everything you do on the land. Management decisions you make now will make a difference 30 years from now. It all adds up, whichever direction you go. At an early age I learned the cause and effect of different land management practices. These first-hand lessons I learned from the land stimulated my desire to learn more and be diversified in my management. I apply land management practices that are practical, using common sense. I don’t do things because they are what somebody else thinks might be good. I do things because they work on this land, and that’s what makes the difference.
What makes ranching in West Texas so unique? The only constant is inconsistency with the weather and markets.
Do you feel like there is enough emphasis on agriculture in K-12 education? There needs to be a much greater attention on ag, but it must be taught by qualified and experienced teachers.
Who did you learn the most from along the way? By college age, I was intrigued by the land so I enrolled in Texas Christian University’s two-year Ranch Management program. TCU Professor Chip Merrill inspired me to try new things and not be afraid to try something different. I approached the resource management of the ranch using a short-term reactionary response to changing forage, production, and anticipated market condition. My long-term management is of a continuing upward trend in success of native forage. I feel like we can utilize our current management methods and maintain, or in areas of need, improve the productivity of this ranch in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner.