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Riparian Managed Grazing

Our primary management concern in a riparian grazing setting is preservation of habitat and mitigation and containment of source and non- point source pollution. Grazing Management in Sensitive habitats, particularly in riparian areas or functional watersheds requires certain additional layers of animal management and planning than areas which are less susceptible or more adapted to animal impact

 Managed grazing involves careful and intelligent management of grazing impact.

There are a variety of methods that can be employed that minimize the possibility of ecological damage as a result of riparian and watershed grazing.

 

Some of the most common and effective methods for managing grazing impact are: larger paddocks for larger herds, coupled with short duration grazing can minimize the buildup of fecal material (which is already negligible with goats and sheep) and allow for a less concentrated distribution of animal waste. Grazing Exclusions-- In areas where animal waste is likely to enter either directly or indirectly into waterways, exclusions, which are fencing subdivisions can be constructed to prevent or further control animal access to certain areas. Grazing Timing; certain seasonal vegetative and weather and climate patterns can mitigate the flow, absorption and distribution of animal waste. Soil temperature, moisture content and climate determine the viability of bacteria colonies. (such as many Fecal Coli forms) Grazing Timing can provide an additional control, inhibiting bacteria from reproducing by providing conditions unfavorable to the bacterial colonies. Adequate vegetative cover can reduce the ground flow of water and capture and collect animal waste. Grazing in certain types of soils, which are not already saturated with water from rain or runoff can ensure rapid and increased absorption of animal waste, improving the delivery and containment of N,P and K .

These techniques are effective under most conditions and allow for the positive effects of grazing without compromising the delicate ecological balance in riparian areas. One important point to consider about managed grazing especially in sensitive ecological areas is that;” traditional confined system grazing” and “managed rotational system grazing” are wholly different and should not be confused. Many people unfamiliar with managed rotational grazing systems, which are appropriate in riparian zones, may have the false ideation that all grazing has the result of feedlot or small farm type grazing operations (confined system, which is inappropriate in riparian areas) . In fact Managed grazing is based on ecological principles that enhance natural systems. Managed grazing involves proper timing, distribution and density of animals (Grazing Allocation), which avoids the possibility of overgrazing, erosion and polluted watersheds.

Erosion is a function of many variables including but not limited to a soils ability to absorb water, vegetative cover, non-vegetative organic cover, flow and distribution of rainfall over soil horizon, slope and many other overarching factors effect or prevent erosive activity. On a fundamental level erosion can occur whenever a system is out of balance. A stable soil system in a riparian area will contain a certain type of vegetation that allows water to move through vegetation quickly and can also sustain itself through periods of heavy rainfall or drought. Native sedges and grasses are common sign of stable watershed function as these plants are primary and functional in riparian corridors. Grasses build and maintain soil structures, increasing a soils ability to absorb and distribute rainfall. Additionally grasses provide protective cover during the rainy season. Sedges filter and stem the flow of water and have similar function to grasses in a watershed.

             

Through the process of grazing and controlled animal impact, invasive plants such as Himalayan blackberry, French broom, and even our native poison oak can be controlled without the application of herbicide. What’s more, grazing leaves root systems intact providing a layer of stability to soil structure while shifting the ecotone towards more functional vegetation, such as grasses forbs, native plant cover and native trees. Mechanical removal of the aforementioned plants can disturb the soil at various levels. Short term managed grazing opens up the canopy created by opportunistic invasive plants that inhibits grasses and native herbs and forbs from establishing themselves in the riparian zone. 

Many  riparian areas contained largely non-native vegetation; plants that compete and impede functional and native plants ability to derive nutrients and light from their environment. Managed Grazing helps to reestablish more functional vegetation in watersheds and to mitigate the effects of non-native vegetation.

             

Grazing these corridors can invigorate the dormant native systems, and will increase the possibility for endemic systems to reestablish themselves. Plants require adequate light, which large stands of broom inhibit. Plants require the right balance of nutrients, broom, poison oak, vinca and Himalayan Blackberry diminish soil quality and directly effect the viability of functional/native riparian vegetation. Grazing produces an instant spike in N,P and K levels, nutrients all derived through the process of grazing invasive plants, which hoard these resources.