Last month’s newsletter mentioned the installation of experimental water bars on some of the roads around the Kerr Ranch. Despite the sound of it, these are not swank joints where thirsty loggers and ranch hands…
A floating fence and rock ramps allow cattle to access the pond to drink, yet keep them from wading into the water. This helps prevent soil erosion, extends the life of the pond, improves water quality, and enhances wildlife benefits.
Riparian area management and rotational grazing systems work together to protect and enhance water quality, soil, and wildlife habitat. The Kerr Center has developed several working demonstrations to show producers how these techniques work in the field.
A riparian area is the vegetated area adjacent to a stream or other body of water. Riparian area ecosystems are often threatened because of their attractive location. Riparian bottomland forests are often prime farmland that has been cleared for crop land or pasture, while some riparian areas are considered prime real estate by developers. Channelization of streams has also reduced the effectiveness of many riparian areas.
What are the benefits of a riparian area? Riparian areas help reduce floods, stabilize streambanks, control and reduce the effects of nonpoint source pollution, and provide food and shelter for wildlife.
One of the most important aspects of a riparian area is the benefit to wildlife. Not only do riparian areas provide food and shelter, but act as travel corridors between increasingly segmented habitats.
Nonpoint source pollution can include pesticides, fertilizers, and sediment from the surrounding watershed. Sediment loads can interfere with fish feeding and reproduction in the stream, as well as clog channels, increasing the erosion of streambanks. Recently, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has been emphasizing restoring and protecting riparian areas.
One controversy surrounding riparian area management is whether or not to exclude livestock. Before fencing a riparian area, several things must be considered. Often the riparian stream is the water source for livestock. If livestock production is the goal, then developing other watering points is important.
The Kerr Center is developing several riparian area demonstrations on its Stewardship Ranch. Cattle have been fenced out of some riparian areas for eight years and others for one to three years. Several riparian areas will not be fenced.
The Kerr Center Ranch practices rotational grazing as opposed to continuous grazing. By allowing access to some riparian areas and excluding livestock from others, we will be able to show visitors the differences between areas where livestock is fenced out and areas that are part of rotationally grazed pastures. Trees are being planted in fenced areas to enhance the wildlife habitat benefits.
In 1998, Kerr Center fenced off a section of a stream running across its “nurse cow” pasture, establishing a buffer strip along this riparian area. The changes in vegetation have been dramatic.
Photo monitoring is being used to record changes in the riparian areas. Photo monitoring is an excellent way to monitor gradual changes in habitat that occur over long periods of time. To photo monitor a practice, select on area from which the photo will be taken, identify key features such as a utility pole, tree, or other landmark, and record the spot in a file. Return at the same time each year to take a photograph.
Public benefits include enhanced natural resources that help sustain agricultural productivity and environmental quality while supporting continued economic development, recreation, and scenic beauty.
NRCS offers many stewardship programs for landowners, some of which offer grants. Programs include: the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), the Conservation Security Program, Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program, the Grasslands Reserve Program, the Healthy Forests Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program. Complete information on these and others is available at www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/ok/programs/
To contact an NRCS office in your county in Oklahoma visit:
or consult the government pages in the phone book
The Kerr Ranch is located in Le Flore County. For more local information contact:
Le Flore County NRCS
Poteau Field Service Center
109 Kerr Blvd
Poteau, OK 74953
Assisting the Le Flore County Conservation District
and the Talihina Conservation District – visit website
Poultry Litter in Oklahoma
The Oklahoma Litter Market website serves as a communication resource linking buyers and sellers of poultry litter. Marketing poultry litter to more distant nutrient-deficient areas or for further processing offers one solution to the litter surplus issue associated with high production areas. The Oklahoma Litter Market participant listings are added and maintained throughout the year on the website.
Benefits of Protecting Riparian Areas
One of the most important aspects of a riparian area is the benefit to wildlife. Not only do riparian areas provide food and shelter, but they act as travel corridors between increasingly segmented habitats.
The main threat to wildlife today is habitat loss. Riparian areas provide two major habitats: aquatic and terrestrial. The aquatic habitat consists of perennial streams and wetlands. Vegetation in the riparian area affects the water temperature which influences fish. Vegetation is also a source of food for invertebrates which are the basis of the food chain. If protecting the fishery is important, maintaining the vegetation within twenty-five feet of the shoreline is important.
Providing habitat for land-based wildlife is another important function of a riparian area. Generally, the riparian area contains a diversity of structure which increases the number and kind of animal species present. Diversity of structure refers to diversity in the type and age of vegetation.
Habitat for native pollinators is a growing focus of the Kerr Center’s conservation efforts. With the ongoing decline in honeybee colonies, native pollinators are increasingly needed to pollinate food crops.
Native pollinators include numerous flies, beetles, bats and other bee species. While honeybees are under siege, native pollinators, too, face threats from many sources including the use of insecticides, intensive farming/ranching practices and loss of habitat to urban development.
Pollinators play a role of obvious importance in crop farming, but livestock operations can also benefit from native pollinators by improving the seed set on legumes in pastures.
One of the most frequently asked questions seems to be: “How wide should a riparian area be, and what should be planted? Unfortunately, the answer is not that easy. It all depends on what your goals are, how the adjacent land is being used, and the slope of the land.
The width of a riparian area is measured from the top of the stream bank, back. If the adjacent land is in row crops, a riparian buffer may be needed to filter out fertilizers, herbicides and sediment before runoff enters the stream. A buffer strip in this case may consist of maintaining a grass strip between the field and stream. If the goal is diverse wildlife habitat, the width of the riparian area is influenced by the wildlife you hope to attract and what type of vegetation you will plant. Often planting trees and shrubs is not necessary. If native tree and shrubs exist in the watershed, eventually they will be found in the riparian area.
Agriculture is being looked at increasingly as a source of non-point source pollution, and riparian areas can help buffer and reduce the effects of non-point source pollution. Protecting riparian areas demonstrates to an increasingly urbanized population that agriculture is concerned about the environment while producing the food society needs.