Sunday, February 12, 2006

Grazing tool for managing riparian buffers

A Capital Press article (subscription) by Doug Warnock promotes grazing in riparian buffer areas, saying:

When grazed properly, forage plants in the riparian zone can be stimulated to re-grow and contribute greatly to the health of the ecosystem.
The grazing process helps break up capped soil...
Up until a few months ago I was enthusiastic about preserving soil crusts. Some reasoned criticism of this perspective has helped moderate my opinion.
... stimulates the incorporation of plant tissue into the soil resulting in increased organic matter and the animals add minerals to the soil. It also helps control the growth of woody plants, which can shade out desirable grasses and forbs that hold the soil on stream banks and filter out soil particles during high water periods. Grazing animals can also be effective in controlling undesirable plants, if grazed at the proper time.
By excluding this tool (grazing), other tools must be used in to manage the property and most of them are more costly. Herbicides to control weeds, and equipment to cut back brush and trees require out-of-pocket expenditures. Still, probably the most important benefit from grazing is the stimulation of the growth of the grasses and forbs by the removal of part of the plants’ stems and leaves.
The key, in all of this, is to not allow the grazing animals unlimited access to the riparian zone, so that they are kept from overgrazing the plants.
This all makes good sense and the article goes on to line out the tools available to make it happen. In comparison, the common regulatory default position of universally excluding the total sum of all excludable activity from all riparian buffer areas appears a convenient stop gap rather than a reasoned construct.

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