“And he have it for his opinion that whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass grow on a spot of ground, where only one had grown before, would deserve more of mankind, and would have done more essential service to his country, than the entire race of politicians put together.” -Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), Gulliver’s Travels
Well, maybe Mr. Swift was being a bit too hard on politicians…but here’s to the stewardship of soil! This is why we aspire to take good care of this land that we do not own, but that we have been given responsibility for. The following video talks about a project to leave extra water for cutthroat trout spawning in Wasson Creek. Combined with a fencing project that kept cattle off the creek long enough for re-vegetation to occur, this has greatly increased the fish population in this little tributary of the Blackfoot river.
For 11 years now, we have been working to manage invasive species such as Knapweed, Sulfur Cinquefoil, and Houndstongue using sheep or goats. With the help of a grant from the MT Sheep Institute, George Hirschenberger from the Bureau of Land Management, Sieben Livestock Co, and Sieben Ranch, a wonderful family of Peruvian herders, Montana State University, and many others, we are working to combat spotted knapweed on 6,000 acres of ground that lies east of hwy 141. The sheep are herded through areas of high knapweed density during the time when it has bloomed, and they eat the seed heads to prevent as many plants from going to seed as possible.
Managing noxious weeds can be a very big challenge, and the knapweed project is no exception. Because knapweed seeds can survive in the soil for 10 years or more, and because there are always plenty of sources of new seed (wind, birds, animals), our focus is to manage for healthy soil and diverse grass species so that there are plenty of competitors for hardy invasive plants.
We also integrate chemical control into our weed management, especially in the case of small infestations that are many miles apart. Since some of these plants (e.g. leafy spurge) cannot be pulled by hand, and since it is impractical to haul or herd a band of sheep such a distance for one small infestation, we feel that selective chemical control is in some cases the “least worst” option. Over the years, we have implemented biological control on knapweed as well, using root and flower weavils to set back plants. There is probably no single solution to the noxious weed challenge. The goal is to integrate as many methods as possible in ensuring the health of our pastures..