By Jake Landers
Published September 2012
What has happened to our rangeland following combinations in the past year of extreme drought, wildfires that wouldn’t quit, temperatures that kept going up, and the usual mix of livestock and wildlife grazing pressure? I’m tempted to say “Who knows?!” and go on to a less complicated subject, or “Who cares?!” and let the land take care of itself. My conscience wouldn’t let me take either choice. We need to observe what has happened and hope that we can understand our individual responsibility in passing our knowledge of land management on to the next generation.
A return to more normal growing conditions and recovery on our rangeland first of all has required rainfall. An assortment of adapted species, mostly our native grasses and forbs, have responded to the levels of moisture and temperature to which they are adapted. In most situations, recovery has begun.
As the 2012 season progressed, we saw an abundance of moisture in the early months, so much so that the wildflowers smothered the recovering grasses with waves of colorful blankets. First came a carpet of canary yellow Bladderpods, then orange Greenthreads and Engelmann daisy, purple Horsemint, reddish Indian blanket, many drab annuals, including Burclover, Vetch and, later on, Doveweed and Broomweed. Rainfall became spotty, and the appraisal of recovery became more difficult to make general conclusions.
My observations have been made from the pickup window on our place south of Menard, from the highways south and east of San Angelo to Mason, and on local ranches at different levels of range condition, one recovering from an August wildfire. It’s not a well defined area, let’s say, “Western parts of the Hill Country,” and keep the boundaries open.
Early on, recovering plants were Texas wintergrass, Canada wildrye, and a few more of the cool season grasses. In photo No. 2., seedlings and sprouts of Texas wintergrass can be seen several inches apart in a pasture where they usually are clumps several inches wide. By mid-summer similar small clumps of Buffalo grass, Curly mesquite grass, Tall threeawn, Hall’s Panicum, Texas grama, Red grama, Hairy tridens, (Don’t think of the last three as recovery plants except that they are a lot better than bare ground!) and others were appearing as new plants as seen in Photo No. 3.
Little bluestem and Feather bluestem were sprouting from surviving clumps, and Vine mesquite was extending runners. In late summer I began to see Sideoats grama seeding out as a very good sign of recovery. In photo No. 5., Sideoats is expanding from the protection of an Algerita bush, showing the value of some of our brushy species in protecting desirable plants from damage by excessive grazing. I hope you have been seeing the same recovery patterns.
The one example that I observed of recovery after a wildfire was most encouraging. The pasture was in good shape before the burn, and the native plants responded with good recovery as we have learned to expect from well conducted prescribed burns. I hesitate to say anything more about the wildfires, but I expect a lot of site to site variation, from extremely slow recovery where fire was severe and rainfall was slight, to good recovery where conditions were less extreme and rainfall was adequate.
Our native plants that have been growing and reproducing for thousands of years in our environment are going to keep on keeping on. I marvel at one example of survival and recovery as shown in photo No 4. Five years ago I had transplanted clones of Eastern Gamagrass, our most productive and palatable native grass, into its natural habitat of deep soil suitable for cultivation at our pecan orchard east of Menard. I am hoping to develop an ideal hay crop plant without irrigation that comes back from roots instead of requiring seeds every year. The planting was vigorous going into the severe drought year of 2011, it received no irrigation water, was burned in winter, and every one of several hundred plants survived. This fall I will get some estimates of its production.
Further recovery of our rangeland resources hinges on two things, Rainfall, and the associated weather that we have no control over, and Management, the applied wisdom of the land manager who determines what is grazing on the land. Livestock have no applied wisdom except to eat the best they can find.
Those ranchers who stocked too early or too heavily are apt to see Broomweed, Doveweed, and other unpalatable annuals take over this fall and delay recovery much to their disappointment. Good luck on the rain, wisdom on the management.
pickled pods back in the market.
Reading The Landscape
Photo taken last winter along Highway 83 in central Texas. What is the potential production of this rangeland? Suggest some problems with management and range recovery. —JL
|See below for Jake's answer|
Jake’s summary: A typical Liveoak, Mesquite, and Shinoak range on the Edwards Plateau with abundant growth of mixed grasses in road right of way to show high productivity potential. Closely grazed pasture is providing no forage for poor condition cow and calf at this time. Recovery of range will be grealy delayed when rains come because of damage to forage plants, financial diffifculties expected for rancher, long term problem with managing brush as it continues to increase. —JL