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Andrew and Peter Church at the Keddy Ranch

Andrew and Peter Church at the Keddy Ranch

Cattle ranches dread a wildfire that burns off vegetation. The Coal Fire started on September 17 of last year and burned 2,800 acres of private land on the Keddy Ranch, owned by Glaser Land and Livestock Company and managed by Peter and Susan Church with their son, Andrew.

Fortunately, their cattle had been removed from the area just seven days before the fire. Yet the wildfire meant ecological and financial hardship for the ranch since it not only destroyed vegetation needed for the ranch’s cattle but also ranch infrastructure. The fire incinerated over a mile of water line and a major fence separating public from private lands. The fence needed immediate work and Peter hired extra help to repair the fence last fall. The water infrastructure will need to be rebuilt this spring.

However, the Churches have a philosophical take on the fire. Andrew told me “you have to acknowledge that fire is a natural occurrence, and you have to deal with it.” No rancher wants to see their rangeland burned, but the family sees the fire as an opportunity to create new strategies toward revegetation and range management.

The burned draws had been covered with thick, tall sagebrush. The newly burned ground will allow for native grasses and forbs to recolonize, and make it easier to bury replacement trough lines. Future water improvements will utilize solar powered pumps

The ranch received help from Resource Management Officer Gary Reese of the Nevada Division of Forestry. Reese helped them determine what areas of vegetation should come back on their own and which areas need reseeding; luckily areas on some of the upper slopes had been spared. Gary and Peter then quickly began broadcast seeding on slopes and dozer lines before late fall snows stopped their efforts.

The Northeastern Nevada Stewardship Group donated grass and forb seed, using money from the Ted Harrison bequeath. The group also donated money toward the purchase of 600 feet of straw waddles, to be installed later this spring. The waddles will help cut down on erosion in the burned off draws.

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It will require creative grazing techniques to keep cattle off the burned land, along with watchful riders and new and existing water systems. While adjusting their grazing strategy will be difficult, as Peter and Susan say, “it could have been worse.” They obviously did not want the fire, but they see its aftermath as a chance to make improvements in the burned areas.

Though fire brought about an increased financial burden, the Churches feel that, much like the native landscape, they too can recover, adapt and benefit from the fire’s effects.

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