One of our favorite local authors, Laura Pritchett, will be appearing at Loveland’s Anthology Book Store to discuss her new book, Great Colorado Bear Stories, on Thursday, May 17 at 6:30 PM. We hope to see you there. Anthology Book Store is located at 422 East 4th Street Loveland, CO 80537 (970) 667-0118. We’re big fans of Laura’s writing, especially Hell’s Bottom, Colorado, reviewed elsewhere in this blog.
By David Jessup
There’s no such thing as a routine cattle drive. Just ask the group of Sylvan Dale Ranch “adventure riders” who helped move sixty yearlings from their winter pasture back to the main ranch on Saturday, April 14, 2012.
Seven of us saddled up at 9 am, the spring sun warming our faces, the deep blue Colorado sky and crisp air thrilling our senses. We figured we’d be back by noon. We figured wrong.
As we rode toward the winter pasture, we took note of the problem areas we’d encounter on the way back: several driveways, a home with an inviting lawn, a stretch of county road with occasional cars, a highway crossing, and a steep, red-rock ridge to cross. The yearlings had made this trek in the opposite direction six months ago with their mamas. Now they would be on their own. Read more on Troubled Teen Cattle Drive…
A Pilot Project of the Colorado Conservation Exchange
By David Jessup
Can ranches and farms in the Poudre-Big Thompson watershed improve the quality of water used by Front Range urban dwellers? That question is being addressed by a pilot project at Sylvan Dale Ranch, a 3,200-acre working guest ranch located at the mouth of the Big Thompson Canyon west of Loveland, Colorado.
Owned and operated by the Jessup family since 1946, Sylvan Dale hosts family dude ranch vacations in the summer and everything from weddings to corporate events during the rest of the year. The ranch also runs a cow-calf operation that raises 60 calves per year to grow and sell as grass-fed and grass-finished natural beef directly to local consumers.
The Jessups have been concerned about runoff from manure in their cattle pens and horse pastures next to the river. Although small in amount compared to feedlot operations, the nutrient runoff reduces water quality in the river and may even contribute to recent duckweed blooms in the ranch’s trout ponds below the pastures.
In 2010 the ranch invited the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to analyze the problem and suggest solutions. Three options were suggested, all of which required considerable cash outlays. As with many close-to-the-margin family ranches, such expenditures sometimes fall to the bottom of the list as equipment repairs, leaky roofs, broken water pumps and other urgent projects rise to the top.
Several organizations came forward to help. CSU’s Institute for Livestock and the Environment (ILE) provided an implementation grant with a community outreach component to share lessons learned with a larger public. A group in formation at CSU’s Center for Collaborative Conservation, preliminarily called the Colorado Conservation Exchange (CCEx), saw an opportunity to demonstrate how a marketplace might be created for community members to support land stewards who seek to conserve and enhance natural resources. The Big Thompson Watershed Forum (BTWF) provided technical expertise to measure nutrient runoff before and after any changes are made. Northern Water (NW) agreed to provide a Parshall flume and rain gauge for these measurements, and the City of Loveland Water Department agreed to do lab tests.
All sought an answer to this question: How many pounds of nitrogen, phosphorus and organic matter can be kept out of the river by implementing a solution, and what is the most cost-effective way of doing so? All were interested creating a pilot project to serve as a model for other water quality efforts.
Wider Implications for the Watershed
By itself, the Sylvan Dale effort will have a negligible effect on overall nutrient loads in the Big Thompson River. But there are hundreds of small livestock and horse properties in the watershed that collectively have a considerable impact. Large-scale animal feeding operations are required by law to mitigate their runoff and environmental effects. Similar rules for small family operations would likely put them out of business. The CCEx hopes to implement a voluntary marketplace whereby communities, organizations, and individuals who benefit from cleaner water will provide resources for land stewards who seek to provide it. If this is done on a wide scale, the improvement in water quality could be significant. All would benefit: water users, city dwellers and family farms and ranches.
(Note: This article was originally published in CSU’s Center for Collaborative Conservation Newsletter, Spring, 2012.)
By David Jessup
First I thought we were cattle ranchers. Then I learned we were grass ranchers (the cattle are merely a way to get the grass to the bank). Then at a 2010 Quivira Coalition conference, I found out we are really carbon ranchers, of all things.
Plants scrub the air of Carbon Dioxide during photosynthesis. Some of the carbon goes into the soil through the roots, where it gets stored in humus. Humus lasts a long time. It enriches the soil while removing excess CO2. Unfortunately, our chemical-heavy agricultural system is destroying it at a scary rate. “Don’t treat soil like dirt,” one speaker said.
Following the conference, Linda and I paid a visit to John Wick, a California rancher working with the Marin Carbon Project. He’s all hepped up about the potential of wrangling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it in soil humus. How? By spreading a thin layer of compost on his cattle pastures. He claims that a mere 2 percent increase in the carbon content of agricultural soils in his state could absorb all the annual CO2 emissions from California vehicle traffic. Oh, and by the way, the increased soil carbon makes the grass grow taller and faster.
So you can improve your pastures and help save the planet at the same time? Sounds like a bargain.
We’re now trying to replicate some of his research here at Sylvan Dale Ranch. With some advice from John and carbon researcher Whendee Silver, a UC Berkeley professor, and some baseline soil samples taken by Rich Conant at Colorado State University, we spread compost on one side of our pasture in a checkerboard pattern to create a number of sample plots. CSU’s Center for Collaborative Conservation helped pay for some of the compost (it’s expensive!). We’ll mob-graze some of these plots with our cattle herd to see if trampling hooves and manure also enhance carbon storage. Then more soil samples. Results will be posted here as they come in (not soon, I might add – soil building is a long-term process).
In the meantime, I found some riveting internet sources on carbon ranching:
- The Carbon Pilgrim. Courtney White, founder of the Quivira Coalition, writes eloquently about carbon ranching and explains the carbon cycle in a way that inspires the same goose-pimply feeling you get when contemplating the universe. White chronicles his trip to find out whether farming and ranching could play a significant role in reducing CO2 using carbon sequestration. A book is in the works.
- The Soil Solution, a five-minute film on Youtube. Sustainable World Media visits with farmers, scientists, and educators who are exploring the connection of soil fertility to water quality, food security, and carbon sequestration.
- Peter Donovan is an educator from eastern Oregon who has created a $10,000 prize for a farmer or rancher who can convert the most CO2 into soil carbon during a five year period. During his yellow school bus trip around America, he has managed to sign up fifty takers. Maybe we’ll add our ranch to the list. All in favor, say “Aye.”
Enjoy. This is good stuff.