Santa Fe Ranch has been actively monitoring the impact of grazing on the rangeland since 1980. Ron Fish and Dan Robinett, formerly of the Soil Conservation Service (later named the Natural Resource Conservation Service) started collecting data on four key areas of the ranch. As a young boy I remember these annual visits with much delight because my mom would always make Dan a very impressive lunch. My brother and I would be the unintended beneficiaries of this feast. I had no idea of the importance of what they were doing until much later.
Many of you know that I attended the University of Arizona and studied animal science. I always knew that beef cattle were a passion, in particular reproduction and genetics. As I started my professional career working with ranchers, I soon realized that my training was of very little use to the clientele that I served. Most of the ranchers in southern Arizona needed assistance with defending their grazing practices against all sorts of real and perceived threats. The only way that a grazing program can be justified is through collection of scientific, peer-reviewed data that objectively quantifies the impact of livestock on rangeland. In my former career, I was able to reconnect with Dan and he took me under his wing and helped to train me in rangeland monitoring. Kim McReynolds and George Ruyle also served as great mentors. Jim Koweek helped me gain a better appreciation for the flora of our incredibly diverse county. For these and many other professionals, I am eternally grateful.
Jim Koweek and I met in October and read all four transects over two days. For those of you who have never participated in pace frequency monitoring, hold on to your hats! We read 100 frames for ground cover, document species present and assign a dry weight rank to the species. This could be the most boring, repetitive exercise in the world, with only NASCAR and disking fields even being close. The only thing that makes this bearable is the great company that Jim provides. In all seriousness, these two days are probably the most important ones we spend at the Santa Fe Ranch. It helped to guide my father in his grazing management practices and it is helping me gain a better understanding of how incredible this piece of the world is.
Bottom line is that the rangeland looks great, we are at low risk for erosion and the species diversity is fantastic. One of my heroes, Bob Hudson, had a statement that I have never forgotten. At a meeting where we were discussing long term trends in rangeland health, he stated “It’s the rain, dummy!” While I would like to credit my astute range management or livestock grazing skill, 16.4 inches of summer rain makes a good range manager!