What Color is Your Winter Dormant Rangeland?

White Range

White rangeland is composed of narrow leafed, slow growing drought tolerant grasses. Three awns, many of the Tridens and even Hooded Windmill are among the many white grasses. Regretfully most of the rangelands of the western United States are dominantly white with very few red grasses found. Lack of proper grazing management has caused this to happen as use of livestock under continuous grazing and over rest (Gray rangeland) has caused the red grasses to die over time with the white grasses replacing them. White grasses are not necessarily all bad. Using Hooded windmill for a comparison, it is well liked by cattle during the growing season even if it is dormant due to dry weather. Even Black Grama matures in the winter to a white color, it is known to be a highly favored grass in western areas. The color comparisons are for quick visual determining of the general health of the rangeland, close inspection and identification of the individual plants is always the best for sound rangeland analysis.

An interesting study of these colored rangelands can be made as the highway rights-of-way are mowed after frost. Many times, the right-of-way will show a mix of red and white after the mowing demonstrating what color quality rangeland can potentially look like. (KR Bluestem can lead to considerable discussion here.) Now look across the fence onto the grazed range, sadly in many cases no red can be found and if it is found, most likely one of two things is taking place. Perhaps the rainfall and average humidity is higher resulting in more red range or, if in dryer areas, red in the pasture is a good indicator of a grazing manager that understands proper grazing management and applies this knowledge within his grazing of livestock. While taking note of the range color, many times it is not dominant red or white, it is gray indicating severely declining range conditions. We will cover this one next time.

In 2011 this photo would have been much different as this canyon was a solid mass of Blueberry Cedar (Very difficult to ride across, even impossible in places.) After a wildfire passed through, nature has replaced the Blueberry with Flameleaf Sumac, Shin oak and the grasses are beginning to take ahold where there was very little prior to the fire. Some of the skeletons of the Cedar are visible, much of it was over 20’ high. The fire was so intense that all that was left of the larger trees was an outline of ash showing the limb structure laying on the ground.

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