In her recent op-ed in the Des Moines Register, Susan Heathcote noted that additional grazing activity on Iowa grasslands might help make keeping sensitive land planted in grass more economically competitive with row crop production.
One interesting project to explore this idea is already underway at the Whiterock Conservancy in west-central Iowa. In the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture‘s video report (below), Tolif Hunt, Whiterock’s executive director, and ecologist Elizabeth Hill discuss their work:
The goal of the Whiterock project is to help cattle producers match their grazing practices with the availability of nutrients on a native grassland, which varies by season and other factors.
The most recent issue of the Leopold Letter (see article, p. 7), explains the idea behind this project:
“In the Midwest, vast grasslands developed with the help of fires and grazing by buffalo and elk. Today, the few remaining protected or restored grasslands in Iowa often lack the disturbances that once kept them healthy. Managed properly, cattle can help return beneficial disturbance to the landscape.”
As Tolif Hunt told the Leopold Center’s Melissa Lamberton, the project is a collaborative effort where government agencies work with conservation advocates and cattle producers to achieve benefits for the landscape.
“We’re collectively looking at grasslands as an endangered resource that we all have a stake in,” Hunt said.
To learn more about this project, visit the Whiterock Conservancy’s project website, or check out the Winter 2011 Leopold Letter. Whiterock Conservancy is an organizational member of the Iowa Environmental Council. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture is helping to support Whiterock’s work through a grant from its ecology initiative.