Anna Owsiak, ID Section Fundraising Committee Chair
One of the highlights of the Idaho Section’s annual activities is the summer field tour. Each year provides new opportunities and priorities in conservation and management of Idaho rangelands to bring our section together.
Because we use the summer tour to focus on current issues, it has covered all corners and regions of the state over the years. In north Idaho, forested rangeland management for livestock grazing, timber harvest, and steelhead and wildlife habitat was the most recent topic. Attendees were able to see the impacts of local weed issues and the working partnerships between rangeland managers of all types and the Nez Perce Biocontrol Center, which works to raise noxious weed biocontrol insects to distribute throughout the state.
In central Idaho, a tour of the US Sheep Experimental Station provided the setting to learn about the shrub ecology and sheep grazing research that has taken place at this location since 1924, and included viewing and discussing findings from the oldest continuous rangeland study plots known to exist. The Station also manages for elk, pronghorn antelope and sage grouse, and is one of the sage grouse strongholds in Idaho, so it plays an important role in sage grouse recovery across Idaho and the west.
A joint tour in southwest Idaho with the Great Basin Fire Science Group brought the impacts of large scale wildfire in the Owyhee’s up close and personal. We saw how wild land fire was being addressed at the local level by neighboring landowners coming together to work in partnership with the BLM as fire first responders through Rangeland Fire Protection Associations (RFPA), and at the landscape level through shifts in focus and actions to not just respond to, but to proactively create on the ground conditions to better manage future fire.
There is always much more covered at each summer tour than can be relayed within a paragraph. One of the strongest points of each tour is how it brings people together from diverse but strongly connected aspects of an issue in such a way as we all learn more about the breadth and impact of the issue. It’s not just about managing rangeland grazing in shrub steppe for example, it’s also about how advances in satellite monitoring has improved the ability to answer vegetation dynamics questions; how differences in timing of rotational grazing can increase sage grouse habitat quality and ultimately increase the security of a species in need; and how changes in soil composition and characteristics from various uses influences not only the plant community but erosion and the local and landscape level. No matter where we tug on the rangelands string, we find connections to so much more than it first appears.
The tour is our opportunity to get together in the field, learn from each other and share ideas, experiences and problems to solve. It is also a time for us to forge stronger member connections. There is always a BBQ, potluck or Dutch oven dinner to get folks sharing stories, adventures and ideas. The tour also raises funds for the Section’s Brian Miller Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships for rangeland students at the University of Idaho. Another strong component of these tours is how each brings a broad spectrum of rangeland managers together; from private landowners, to state, federal and tribal land managers, to university researchers and students, to rangeland management retirees. It helps us realize we are each not just a category because of who we work for, but are a blend of many categories as we walk across public and private lands, working to address issues that impact us all. Our common thread is our passion and concern for rangeland health no matter how it is we are individually tied to rangelands, and we appreciate that in each other.
This year’s Idaho Section summer tour in July will feature the Challis Environmental Stewardship Program, one of three inaugural sites in the country (now 37 years old) authorized under the Public Rangelands Improvement Act. We will have the opportunity to see long term riparian trend and rest-rotation grazing plot conditions. Although the details are still being finalized, you can bet this tour will bring a diverse group of presenters and attendees together once again to learn about the breadth of rangeland aspects addressed within this stewardship and where the challenges of the future are taking it.