“We caught many catfish, sun perch and trout. At the time the North Concho was very large and deep. Many live mussel shells crawled around on the flat surface bank, dropping off into the river when anyone approached the bank.” Edna Allison ‘Milling Around Sterling County’ 1911 era. This memory of the North Concho River just south of Sterling City is a sad statement as to the current condition of the river. The river was named Concho by Spanish explorers, because of the numerous mussel shells found. The Spanish word concho is interpreted to be shell in English. As a young boy in the late 1950’s and early 60’s I found numerous mussel shells along the river, but never any live mussels. Today one must search to find a single remaining shell and the river is only a remnant of what it once was. Dry in many areas with a few clear pools of water, running a small stream during wet spells-mainly in the winter. Still a beautiful river when looking at the areas of clear live water, though wide and muddy when big rains come.
‘Milling Around Sterling County’ a history of the settlement of Sterling County was published in 1976 and is currently being updated after close to fifty years of new history taking place. Wouldn’t it be wonderful after the next fifty years if a third book were to be published telling of the North Concho once again being ‘large and deep’. The knowledge as to what caused the river to ‘dry up’ is now understood, as the loss of the dense cover of vibrant grasses and forbs has been lost and the water cycle no longer works as it once did. Yes, the increase in brush has added to the loss of the water cycle effectiveness, but it is only an ’effect’ of the loss of cover and healthy soils that is the ‘cause’. It is also understood by some that proper grazing management can overcome this lack of cover and healthy plants allowing that water cycle to become an effective provider of water to the aquifer once again. Yes, many other factors, including the many water wells that draw on the aquifer that once provided the beautiful fish and mussel filled river with water, are a contributing factor and always will be.
It is but a dream, but dreams can come true with sharing of knowledge, diligence of labor and love of the land. Fifty years from now Sterling County could be looking at struggling to have any water and the wells that now provide that high quality water could produce little to none. An unlikely thought? While fishing on the North Concho watching the mussels get away from her, Miss Allison probably didn’t dream, at some time in the future, the ‘conchos’ on the river could not be found.
THE BETTER IT GETS, THE FASTER IT GETS BETTER
Engleman Daisy, having been grazed short during the last grazing cycle in the fall. Is beginning to show recovery from the current rest period.
The following three pictures (All of the same location) have an interesting story to tell of the ability of our rangelands to adapt to ever changing climatic conditions. Both short term and long term. Proper grazing management is critical to assisting natures long range plan.
Historical data and ecological studies of droughts of the past (Paleoclimatology) shows a long history of drought. It is nothing new and as the climate has changed over the millennia (Always has and always will) the plant community adapted to those changing environmental conditions. Climate change is currently and going back to the beginning has always been a determining factor in the development of the plant and animal community. Man is at fault primarily because of his influence or contribution to the poor health of the rangeland.
Yes, drought is much more severe now than in the past, not because the amount of rainfall is less than in the past. It is more severe because our rangelands are in much poorer condition (bare ground-unthrifty plants with weak root systems, loss of the drought tolerant plants, brush encroachment– the list goes on and on.)
When drought occurred prior to mans influence, the wildlife either moved to other areas or died of starvation or lack of water. This resulted in ‘destocking ‘of the land and possibly disruption of the normal migration patterns of the migratory animals. (Moved to other less drought-stricken areas.) This destocking and the length of the ‘rest period’ was greatly influenced by the length of the dry spell. Recovery of those drought-stricken lands of the past was probably very quick thanks to natures quick response to controlling numbers of animals and rapid response to drought management protocol. (Move or die) The length of the drought was a determining factor as to how many numbers were ‘cut from the herd’ and the length of rest until restocked. Take note that this description of natures ‘drought management’ procedure is the basis of many currently productive grazing management programs. (Over simplified statement for certain)
Man, being more concerned with his survival than the land or the animals and originally his lack of understanding of the design of natures ‘drought protocol’ has resulted in the current severity of ongoing droughts. The understanding and knowledge of these drought protocols is now clearly understood by many producers and the lack of that understanding should no longer be a part of any rangeland management process.
Photo is of a transplanted Eastern Gama Grass. Long lost and to a great extent ‘extinct’ from the rangeland in my area. The result of grazing management practices that resulted in loss of the deep-rooted tall grasses that were much more drought tolerant than today’s plant community of the rangeland and the loss of a continuous cover of grasses and forbs over the soil. (Note the density of cover in the photo. Yes, this spot has had some help in the form of irrigation to aid in establishing the Eastern Gama, not a true rangeland condition) With tender loving care (Proper grazing management) and time, this plant could be a part of the basis of recovering the rangeland to its former drought resistant dominance.
Many within the ‘Save the Earth from Climate Change’ group are promoting doubling the land mass that is ‘Protected’. Protected areas are areas like national parks, Yellowstone National Park being one of them. Sadly, studies of the Yellowstone show land degradation continuing even though considerable study and resources have been used to reverse this trend. The Jornada Experiment station in New Mexico is another glaring example of what happens to land within a ‘brittle’ environment that are ‘protected’. (Protected area from grazing livestock was created some 90 years ago, to preserve an area of grassland. It is now a barren desert.)
Sound rangeland-grazing management is perhaps the most valuable environmental solution or tool to a continually changing climate and the resources available to PROTECT the environment. While the ranching-rangeland management industry has made many mistakes in the past, todays knowledge of rangeland recovery techniques has much to offer those concerned with declining environmental conditions. Everyone must learn from past mistakes-inequities; that involves study of the past and asking the simple question of ‘What is the Cause?’ (This not only applies to the environment but most everything that the past has to offer. In short, the study of history and understanding of the issues that caused the extenuating circumstances to exist.)
The climate has never been or ever will be a stable process.
Storing vast amounts of carbon, stabilizing those carbon rich soils, utilizing/storing virtually every drop of rain-snow, maximizing the mineral cycle that strong root systems and the micro biomes can provide a healthy rangeland. Utilizing sunlight energy to the maximum is what sound grassland management is all about, providing society with ever improving environmental conditions regardless of what climate The Lord/Nature provides.
The pictures below depict rangeland ‘protected’ from environmental destruction utilizing a controlled graze-rest program. Utilization of this process can be extremely valuable in preserving The Lords creation and the resulting environmental sound processes.
An exceptional specimen of winter dormant Southwestern Bristle Grass. (Several other SW Bristle grasses are visible within picture along with Indian Grass, perhaps long-time survivors, or seedlings from a time long ago prior to Europeans mans influence.) These have appeared along a creek that was formerly very dense cover of Blue Berry Cedar and regrowth oaks that burned some 11 years ago. Recently cleared of brush, the site has a long way to go in becoming a productive area for livestock and an environmentally significant site as to mineral, water and nutrient sequestering. There is little doubt that in short order, if the proper utilization of a well-planned graze-rest program is continued, this site will quickly become a productive part of the ecosystem. As I have previously noted the Southwestern is much more palatable, produces much more leaf, that is much wider than Plains Bristle’s leaves. As we move forward in our graze-rest-graze-rest management program the Southwestern is increasing at a considerable rate mainly within the eastern or slightly higher rainfall areas. This is a ‘up-and-comer’ in my book and is a very positive indication of better grazing conditions to come.
May not be an impressive photo to some, but those that know the area -a few years back- would have described it as nothing but a bunch of rocks and cedar trees. Blaming the poor condition of the rangeland on low average rainfall and little soil on which to produce any grass, let alone tall grasses. The only thing that has changed is the initiation of a controlled graze-rest program. Nature is very resilient and even after some 140 years of continuous grazing, recovery can be just around the corner. Patience is in order though as it has taken several years of those grazing improvements and the management that goes with the program. Drought is much less prevalent when a good grazing program is utilized, and wouldn’t it be neat to have seen that pile of rocks 150 years ago? I’m betting that the rocks were not as noticeable because of the soil covering them, of course that washed away long ago. It will take many years, but the current management programs resulting healthy root systems will rebuild that soil.
Many within the ‘Save the Earth from Climate Change’ group are promoting doubling the land mass that is ‘Protected’. Protected areas are considered to be areas like national parks, Yellowstone National Park being one of them. Sadly, studies of the Yellowstone show land degradation continuing even though considerable study and resources have been used to reverse this trend. The Jornada Experiment station in New Mexico is another glaring example of what happens to land within a ‘brittle’ environment that are ‘protected’. (Protected area from grazing livestock was created some 90 years ago, to preserve an area of grassland, it is now a barren desert.)
Sound grazing management is perhaps the most valuable environmental solution or tool to a continually changing climate and the resources available to PROTECT the environment.
As the pictures below depict rangeland ‘protected’ from environmental destruction utilizing a controlled graze-rest program can be extremely valuable in preserving The Lords creation and the resulting environmental sound processes. (Some call it Natures; I consider it one in the same)
Well planned and implemented rangeland management programs can be one of the best options for environmental recovery of our natural resources. Water quality and quantity, air quality, recovery of natural habitat and providing for the nutritional and environmental needs of the public are all enhanced by the caring hands that utilize livestock and good judgement to repair past issues that have degraded our precious landscape. Telling the story of those success’ is essential, not only for those seeking to enhance nature’s ability to repair the land, but to those that are far removed from the land that wish to understand the process of regenerative care of our resources.