Kittitas County rancher Russ Stingley and his family met the challenge of accomplishing multiple goals in the management of their beef cattle operation east of Ellensburg, Wash.

Russ, with his three sons and daughter, runs about 850 head of cattle on 25,000 acres of mostly native sagebrush steppe rangeland in Kittitas County. A report on the Stingley beef operation is given in PNW724, one of a series of case studies available from Pacific Northwest Extension Publishing, a cooperative venture of Washington State University, Oregon State University and the University of Idaho.

The Stingleys graze cattle on rangeland leased from Puget Sound Energy and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in the spring and summer and winter their cattle in the Columbia Basin on corn, wheat and other crop residues. They also raise hay on about 2,000 acres of irrigated land in the Kittitas Valley.

The grazing management is based on a Coordinated Resource Management plan. A collaborative effort to resolve the problem of elk spending increasing time on irrigated land the valley eventually led to the creation of the Wild Horse CRM in 2005. The CRM plan was developed with PSE and WDFW and with input from a group of local stakeholders. It is designed to accomplish multiple goals: provide forage for the cattle, enhance wildlife habitat, improve rangeland health and reduce wildfire risk. Keeping the land healthy and productive to stimulate its resilience was the primary goal.

To meet the goal of supporting a high level of rangeland health, the CRM planners agreed on the following guidelines: use a conservative stocking rate to include elk grazing; allow the perennial bunchgrasses to set seed at least every other year; only graze during the critical period of internode elongation (late spring-early summer) one year out of three; limit grazing duration to less than half of the growing season; maintain at least 6 inches of grass residue to accommodate sage grouse survival; maintain at least 4 inches of plant stubble close to watering sites.

To achieve livestock distribution across the range that would result in a sustainable stocking rate, the plan called for developing water sources and installing cross fencing. In areas where there were no springs or water sources to develop, the Stingleys decided to haul water with a tanker truck. Over 25 miles of additional fencing was installed. The additional fencing resulted in having enough separate pasture units to facilitate better animal distribution and improve grazing management.

This management approach, as developed by the CRM group, is successfully meeting the plan’s goals. The Stingleys are managing for high post-grazing residual, low impact on plants and soils, maximum seed production and root reach and high species richness.

This results in always maintaining an amount of reserve so that in drought years it is much easier to maintain something close to regular stocking levels. Wildlife habitat has improved and cheatgrass establishment has been limited by the presence of healthy perennial grasses. The forage availability for elk grazing has helped alleviate the depredation by elk of irrigated hay and pasture land on valley farms.

The successes accomplished by the Stingleys working with the local CRM group has resulted in a model for working together to achieve multiple goals. To be successful, time and effort must be expended to ensure that all stakeholders are included and supportive of the goals established by this collaborative process. Patience, understanding and effective communications are necessary to make this process work well.

Doug Warnock, retired from Washington State University Extension, lives on a ranch in the Touchet River Valley, where he writes about and teaches grazing management. He can be contacted at dwarnockgreenerpastures@gmail.com.

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