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Important role of grazing management emphasized at conference on grazing lands



Grazing enthusiasts from across the country joined together for the Fourth National Conference on Grazing Lands (4NCGL) held Dec. 13-16, 2009 at the Nugget Casino Resort in Reno-Sparks, Nev. The event attracted nearly 700 registered attendees, 30 exhibitors and 45 poster presentations. A line-up of over 100 speakers – about half of them ranchers – emphasized the important role of grazing management in helping sustain ranch families, healthy landscapes, productive livestock, wildlife habitat, clean water and open space.

During the opening keynote address, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief David White retold the story of how Hugh Hammond Bennett showed his dedication to the land as he led the soil conservation movement in the 1920s and 1930 – and eventually convinced the nation to establish the Soil Conservation Service. SCS, renamed the Natural Resources Conservation Service in 1994, will celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2010 and White reminded conferees that the basic tenant in establishing the Agency, i.e. “How we treat the land will impact our own long-term sustainability,” is still relevant today.

“No other conference I know of brings together such an eclectic group of ranchers and resource experts and encourages them to share center stage to find the best in grazing lands innovations–whether they come from the university or from the back porch,” says Bob Drake, GLCI Chair. Drake noted that professional researchers and ranchers from Maine to California to Florida all sent representatives and speakers to the conference to share their experiences and approaches to grazing lands challenges.

The California Conservation Rangeland Coalition, was among the groups presenting at the conference. CCRC Director Tracy Schohr and California rancher Chet Vogt described the joint effort between ranchers and environmentalists to protect the natural resources, open spaces, myriad wildlife species, and ranching families that are all supported on the 34 million acres of California rangelands.

Nevada rancher Brian Thomas discussed cattle operations on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation.  Thomas is testing dryland corn for use as winter bedding and as a feed source.

Colorado rancher Kit Pharo spoke to a standing-room only crowd and emphasized the need for ranchers and land managers to embrace change in the future. Pharo believes the livestock industry is at a “tipping point,” saying, “What may have worked well for the last twenty years is not going to work for the next twenty years.” Rather, Pharo emphasized the need for new thinking and low input operations to increase sustainability and profitability within the industry. He said, “Only 10-15% of cow-calf producers are making money every year. We need to change that.”

Topics that received increasing prominence at the 2009 conference included the opportunities for grazing lands (covering approximately two thirds of the national land mass) to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere by capturing more carbon in grazing lands vegetation and storing it in the soil. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) administrator and conference speaker Ed Knipling joined other speakers in addressing the opportunities that grazing lands hold for this global need. Other emergent topics included the need to communicate about grazing lands ecology through the new social media, and the efforts underway (through Conservation Effects Assessment Project CEAP) to document the economic and environmental effects of specific grazing lands conservation techniques.

But even as new topics were broached, Nebraska rancher Sherry Vinton stressed that GLCI’s core values of “basic research, education and technical assistance are like a little black dress – they never go out of style.”

Proceedings from the event’s speakers will be compiled on CD and will be available for a nominal fee by contacting Monti Golla at [email protected]. For more about GLCI visit www.glci.org.

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