Steamboat Springs We have all heard that saying “It takes a community to raise a child.” The adage also can be applied to our local ecosystem.
It takes a landowner to sustain an ecosystem.
Every landowner, large or small, contributes to our ecosystem and local environment. Landowners’ efforts ensure that we have clean water to drink and grow crops, clean air to breathe, local food to feed our families, wildlife to view and hunt, and working landscapes to view and recreate in.
Small-property owners with gardens who sell their produce or share their harvest with friends and neighbors have a positive effect on the environment. By growing and using food locally, we can cut down on transportation and energy costs. Other small-landowners may focus their efforts on attracting wildlife to their property. Whether it’s trees for rousting birds or flowers for pollinating bees, insects and bats, this provides a habitat and food source for our precious pollinators and wildlife. A healthy insect community is a great indicator of a healthy environment.
Some of our wildlife, such as the greater sage grouse, are continuing to decline. This key species is often an indicator as to what is going on in our local landscapes. Are we grazing too heavily, at the wrong time and using chemicals on too many acres? Unfortunately, there is not one clear answer, but sometimes it’s a combination of more than one factor. Making sure that a keystone species is healthy and vibrant translates into a healthier ecosystem for all of us.
Bigger landowners are often our most important ecosystem managers because the management decisions they make have a greater impact. A local rancher who raises beef cattle is in the business of growing grass. Grass translates into pounds of beef produced. The more grass you can raise, the more pounds of beef and sheep you can produce. Because this is their focus, they make management decisions that focus on producing the most grass possible. The secondary benefits that this provides to local ecosystems are many. Healthy grass means good water quality because grass is often a great filter.
The few farmers we have left in the county make sure there is adequate crop residue left on the ground over winter to prevent soil erosion. In our area, this is usually wheat stubble or growing winter wheat. The wheat may not get very tall before the snow settles in, but it helps hold the soil during spring runoff. Weed control also is a major focus. The better they control the weeds, the more grass and/or crop they will have for their production and wildlife habitat.
That’s right, they manage for wildlife, too. Hunting often generates an important income to a ranching operation. A big landowner must manage his cattle herd size so that the cattle don’t eat all of the grass because the grass that is left attracts wildlife onto the property at least for a short amount of time while they are migrating through.
Don’t forget about our feathered friends, as well. Many migratory bird species stop to rest in our valley during the spring and summer months, and a select few, including the sandhill crane, call our county home for the summer. This ground often has the perfect food source as well as water to play in for these migrating birds.
No matter how big or small their properties, every landowner is responsible for contributing to the health of our local ecosystem. One local system is just a part in the whole system, but we must all do our part to keep our local ecosystem as healthy and productive as possible. There are many qualified individuals out there who can help you do that. Contact the local Natural Resources Conservation Service office at 970-879-3225, ext. 3, for help. But remember, it’s your ground and your plan. What do you want your place to look like in five or 10 years? What natural resource are you most passionate about? Our healthy community starts with you.
Lori Jazwick is a district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.