Fish, wildlife service using grazing as management tool

Published 8:00 pm Friday, May 15, 2020

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The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is utilizing grazing as a management tool in the Windom Wetland Management District, according to a press release. Livestock are being used to simulate the effect that herds of bison and elk once had on prairies in pre-settlement times. The USFWS has contracted with local cattle producers and grazing will take place on eight of the  78 waterfowl production areas and three national wildlife refuge sites in the 12-county district. This amounts to just over 5% of the district acres.

Each grazed WPA and N WR has specific wildlife management goals and objectives to improve habitat. Grazing is a flexible tool and will allow managers to adjust the mechanisms of grazing such as rates, timing, duration, seasonality and return intervals to accomplish these specific habitat goals and objectives.

The effects that a herd of ungulates (cattle, bison, horses, deer, sheep, goats, etc.) can have on a prairie can be wide and varying with timing and intensity. During pre-settlement times, large herds of bison and elk would graze prairies heavily for a period of time and then move on, not returning for several months or years. Throwing wildfires into the equation and over time, the prairie evolved with these cycles of disturbance followed by periods of rest. The prairies responded by increasing flowering plants, seed production and diversity.

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The USFWS can take advantage of this process and use grazing to increase plant diversity, structural diversity (areas of short and tall vegetation and areas of dense and sparse vegetation all mixed together) and reduce invasive non-native plants.

Grazing increases plant diversity by targeting non-native or invasive grasses thus reducing the density of grass. The district has been involved in the Native Prairie Adaptive Management program for 10 years now. Through this program, we have seen an increase in native species within NPAM units since the program’s initiation in 2010. They have found that resting the prairie is up to six times worse than they originally believed. The data they collected since 2010 tell them rest is worse than originally believed, grazing is not as effective, although dependent on the dominate invader, but is still helpful, and burning is more effective than they predicted.

Studies have shown that grazing has little impact on nesting attempts and in some cases, even higher nest success is found.

If you have questions about grazing, habitat management and its effect on natural resources or wildlife, contact biological science technician Marty Baker at the Windom WMD at 507-831-2220 extension 14 or 1-800-577-2875, extension 14. Additional information about the Windom Wetland Management District can be found at