STREETER, N.D. — Cattle and conservation haven’t always been natural companions when it comes to how to manage grasslands. Many conservation programs have sought to keep cattle off the land, the thought being that cattle would damage the ecosystem of pollinators and birds and other species that rely on the grasslands. But the philosophy of how to best care for grasslands and the flora and fauna that call them home is changing.
“Cattle have historically gotten a bad rap on being bad for the environment, bad for our grasslands. And in the end, they were so wrong,” said Kevin Sedivec, director of the Central Grasslands Research Extension Center in Streeter. “We finally understand the value of cattle in terms of conservation and keeping grass where grass should be at for the value in terms of the whole ecosystem function.”
The National Wildlife Federation held the biennial America’s Grasslands Conference Aug. 20-22 in Bismarck, and part of the focus was on the interplay between grazing and grassland health.
A pasture that had a prescribed burn the year prior has more species diversity than a pasture that did not get burned.”We’re here to try to build partnerships with landowners, with ranchers who really are the true heroes in this because they’re the ones that are maintaining these grasslands, conservation groups, state agencies, federal agencies, really talking about restoring this world-class resource,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the federation.
Profitable ranches are important in keeping grasslands from being plowed under or otherwise degraded, O’Mara said.
“If we didn’t have profitable ranching operations, we would have lost even more grasslands across the country,” he said. “And I think some of our greatest grassland conservationists are our ranchers.”