A cooperative partnership:
This is what got thousands of acres of rangeland reseeded and native plants growing less than a year after wildfire raced across Gary Visintainer’s land.
Right after a wildfire burned over this cattle and sheep rancher’s land in northwest Colorado the area looked like a charred wasteland that could never support livestock, elk or antelope again. With all the plants turned to ash, there was nothing to hold the topsoil in place. The wind blew the dirt into gray dunes that piled up against fences and livestock tanks.
The U.S. government came to the rescue who isn’t the usual hero of landowners. From pools of money tucked away for conservation in the Department of Agriculture, various organizations have found ways to wield their limited funding to have the biggest bang for their buck. This new conservation model of landscape conservation through partnerships has created the Sage Grouse Initiative.
The Sage Grouse Initiative gets ranchers, nonprofits and government agencies working together to protect sage grouse from being listed on the Endangered Species Act list. Conserving sage grouse habitat not only benefits this bird but also deer, elk, cattle, sheep, other prairie birds and desert mammals.
“Without cooperative funding we couldn’t do these projects on our own,” Visintainer said. “We can never drive enough income up to keep the land as it should.”
Managing 50,000 acres of his own land and thousands more leased from the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, Visintainer has to stretch every dollar.
Therefore, after the Alkali Fire, Visintainer approached the local Natural Resource Conservation Service to see if he could even get a small bit of funding to try to reseed the burned area. Employees of Natural Resource Conservation Service saw the need to quickly reseed the area for the good of Visintainer’s livelihood as well as the wildlife. They came through with Sage Grouse Initiative money and other funds to purchase the seed and a plan to drop the seed over all the burned acres .
Mother Nature worked her magic and after the seed was on the ground, she dropped a few inches of early snowfall on the land. This helped the seed kick-start its germination, and by the next spring, tiny Sagebrush, Needle and Thread grass, Western Wheatgrass and Blue Flax were pushing their way up through the soil.
This reseeding was an example of success in the partnerships and cooperation that landowners and government agencies can enact with new conservation models. Without it, the burned land in northwestern Colorado may still be plant-less, barren sand dunes where elk and cattle could never roam again.
Though this funding was available when needed, difficulties still await. Visintainer said the challenges he faces in the next 10 years are invasive species and showing people that agriculture is important.
“You have to eat. Everything we do comes from the land or is grown on the land. Your beef is grown on the land and your car comes from the land,” he said. “If we intend to have a future the land is important.”