A Busy Summer on the Kane and Two Mile Ranches
Following the formalization of the Kane and Two Mile Research and Stewardship Partnership (the collaborative effort we initiated with colleagues in both land and wildlife management agencies and research institutions), the Kane and Two Mile ranches have seen a major flurry of activity. The July release of a Proposed Action to reauthorize grazing on the Kane Ranch allotments reflects continued progress towards a ranch focused on science and stewardship. Shortly thereafter lightning ignited a series of fires known as the West Side Complex, which burned roughly 3,000 acres of the far-western portion of the ranches. Throughout all of this Trust staff has continued efforts to bolster our knowledge of this dramatic landscape and expand the foundation for science-based, conservation-focused land management.
On July 8, 2012, the Forest Service released a Proposed Action to reauthorize grazing across the Central Summer, Central Winter, and Kane Allotments (the Kane Ranch). This proposal reflects months of effort by the Trust, working with the Forest Service and other collaborators, to develop a plan for livestock operations that allows for fewer impacts on the land and provides the flexibility necessary to avoid unnecessary impacts in the event of fire, prolonged drought, or continued invasive species expansion. Perhaps as important, this proposal advances many of the elements identified by the Kane and Two Mile Research and Stewardship Partnership as critical to advancing our collective scientific goals on the ranches. We will continue to work with the Forest Service and other partners to improve this proposal through the Environmental Analysis. However, we feel the current proposal reflects a significant step forward towards our goal of a ranch focused not on beef production, but on the development of solutions to the key issues facing the Colorado Plateau.
On July 21, 2012 a series of lightning strikes ignited the West Side Complex, a group of four fires on the west side of the Kaibab Plateau that burned roughly 3,000 acres in three days. Fueled largely by increases in non-native cheatgrass following previous fires, the West Side Complex further degraded key winter habitat for the Kaibab mule deer herd and confounded previous efforts to restore native plant species to this portion of the ranches. These fires serve as a stark reminder of the critical need to develop an effective and efficient strategy for slowing the invasion of cheatgrass. Developing such a strategy will not occur through trial-and-error, but requires a highly controlled, scientific approach. Working with the Forest Service, we have created the opportunity for this approach within the new Proposed Action and are now working with partners to pursue the necessary resources to complete this effort.
Along with these pivotal events, Trust staff continues to develop our foundational knowledge of the ranches. Throughout the summer and fall, volunteer botanists are joining us in the field to develop a comprehensive species inventory of Vermilion Cliffs National Monument flora. Knowledge of the diversity of plants that call the Monument home will inform our livestock management strategies and provide an important benchmark for judging success. Equally important, we are providing an opportunity to personally connect to this dramatic place and hopefully fostering a conservation ethic that endures beyond any individual project.