Ranching for Rivers

Fences built on Dick Iversen's place on the Missouri River.

Fences built on Dick Iversen’s place on the Missouri River.

Check out our new video about riparian pastures! Ranching for Rivers Video

This past winter/spring, SWCDM partnered with the Missouri River Conservation Districts Council to launch a pilot program called Ranching for Rivers which helps ranchers develop riparian pastures on their lands by providing 50% cost-share for riparian fencing and related infrastructure (water gaps, off-site tanks, etc) projects.

Unlike complete exclusion, riparian pastures are intended to be grazed during some portion of the year, which can provide a number of benefits to the rancher, water resource, and riparian habitat alike. Common benefits of riparian pastures, to name just a few, include improved management flexibility, shelter for animals, increased riparian habitat diversity (including cottonwoods and other woody plants important for stabilizing stream banks), improved fisheries habitat and water quality, improved management of weeds and overgrown vegetation through grazing, and greater wildlife access to streams.

Five projects were funded through this pilot program, which together resulted in over 10 miles of riparian pasture/fencing projects on the Missouri and Milk Rivers. One of the program participants was Dick and Connie Iversen, Richland County ranchers near Culbertson.

When the floods of 2011 hit the Iversen’s place on the Missouri River, they lost a lot of land to either erosion or sand deposition. But they noticed two things after the floods: first, the banks with trees fared much better and had less erosion than the banks without trees; and, second, the areas that flooded the worst were sprouting up a lot of new cottonwood seedlings. Dick estimates that there are over 200 acres of new cottonwoods that he is now trying to manage.

To protect both his streambanks and these cottonwood regeneration areas, Dick decided to install new fences (and replace those lost) along the river pastures in order to better control grazing in his riparian areas. In some places, the fences are to keep cattle out of regeneration areas, and in others he will control grazing to manage for balanced regeneration. Dick also installed a water tank to help manage river access in these pasture areas.

In all, the Iversens have three to four miles of river frontage where grazing will be managed through riparian pastures. The entire project cost the Iversens upwards of $30,000, which was made much more affordable by the 50% cost-share provided by the Ranching for Rivers program.

If you or your Conservation District are interested in learning more about this program, or future Ranching for Rivers funding opportunities, please contact Rachel Frost at mrcdc@macdnet.org or Ann McCauley at ann@macdnet.org. Thank you to Rachel Frost and the Missouri River Conservation Districts Council for bringing this program to fruition and coordinating with landowners, MRCDC member districts for their participation, and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality for project funding.