The Open Space Council Blog


Trust, communication and collaboration on private and public rangelands

June 20, 2014

On Wednesday, June 18, 2014 over 50 people gathered in Livermore to talk about rangelands and how we can work together across jurisdictional lines to deal with the challenges we all face. It was a Stewardship Working Group workshop that was coordinated in partnership with California Rangeland Trust, Alameda County Resource Conservation District, and the University of California Cooperative Extension. Financial support was provided by the California State Coastal Conservancy.

There were 50 people in the room, but there are hundreds around the Bay Area (and state and nation) who care about these same issues. So we have summed up the day with a play-by-play, photos and presentations with the help of our summer intern, Angel Hertslet. Here’s how it all went down:

Trucker hats and cowboy hats and smiles

1:00 pm: Good afternoon! We’re here at the Martinelli Event Center in Livermore for our Stewardship Working Group workshop entitled Collaborative Strategies and Flexible Grazing Programs: Improving Conservation and Sustainability on Private and Public Rangelands. I’m Angel Hertslet and I’m interning at the Open Space Council this summer. I’ll be blogging throughout today’s workshop.

Today’s workshop is about getting all the voices in the room to discuss collaborative solutions to these trying times. As the drought wears on, ranchers are scrambling to find enough forage and water to sustain their herds. We’re here to explore the economic, social, and environmental feasibility of flexible grazing strategies. We’ll be brainstorming ways that public and land trust land managers and ranchers can collaborate to develop grass banking or other types of flexible use grazing programs, which can provide additional grazing resources on public lands.

Our workshop consists of two parts: presentations and breakouts. We have the following presentations lined up:

The breakout groups will be prompted with scenarios of natural disaster, e.g. “The current drought continues into 2015 and beyond in the region. Forage loss is severe.” Each group will work through the scenario to define the impact, brainstorm solutions, and identify collaborative actions. In addition to a drought scenario, we are also talking about fire, flooding, and invasive species.

As the workshop participants filter in, we’re enjoying this beautiful courtyard!

Love the lines in this photo

1:13 pm: The workshop has officially begun! Katherine Boxer, Executive Director of the Alameda County Resource Conservation District, welcomes us and Crystal Simons, Program Manager at the Open Space Council, goes over the workshop objectives. There are 50 of us here today to consider collaborative solutions!

1:29 pm: Larry Ford, Ph.D., a certified rangeland manager, is sharing his insights on the challenges extreme weather poses to conservation, including soil erosion and compaction, reduced forage quality and quantity, an increase in pest plants, diminished surface and ground water, and a spike in grazing operation costs to name a few. Here is his presentation:

Resilience on Rangelands – Larry Ford – Stewardship Working Group from OpenSpaceCouncil


The challenges we face together demand that we plan ahead and prepare for weather extremes. We can do this by developing grazing management plans, then careful monitor and adapt as needed. Check out his workshop handouts (and other reading materials) here.

1:48 pm: Kelly Cash is presenting now. She has experience with grass banking in the Malpai Borderlands located in southern Arizona and New Mexico. She’s talking to us now about the opportunities and challenges of grass banking. And while grass banking didn’t provide conservation into perpetuity in the Malpai example, there is still much to learn from examples like the Malpai and Matador in Montana. The basic concept in the case of the Malpai grass bank was to exchange conservation easements for forage. We’re realizing as the questions roll in that grass banking means different things to different people and nailing down a working definition is a good place to start. Kelly leaves us with several links worth exploring to learn more about grass banking.

2:02 pm: We pause the presentations to do a round of introductions. What a diverse crowd we have here today! We’ve got ranchers, ecologists, graduate students, rangers, land trust directors, and folks from several agencies and consultancies.

2:14 pm: Denise Defreese, the acting wildland vegetation program manager for the East Bay Regional Park is at the front of the room. Here is her presentation:

Collaborative Strategies – Denise Defreese – Stewardship Working Group from OpenSpaceCouncil

She is emphasizing the importance of flexibility and how much successful partnerships with ranchers depend on it. She sees land tenants as partners first and foremost and identifies regular communication as key to adaptive management. Co-authoring grazing plans on an annual basis is not only a sound land management practice but also a great way for tenants to provide their valuable place-based knowledge of the land.

2:31 pm: Ned Wood is the last of our presenters and here to share his perspective as a rancher in the East Bay. When he thinks of sustainability, his mind jumps to financial sustainability. That’s why it’s so important we keep talking about public-private partnerships and ways of accomplishing both our conservation goals and livelihood goals.

2:34 pm: Ned is reading an excerpt from an editorial written by a lady rancher in Eastern Oregon titled ‘Adapt or Die.’ “Public lands ranchers are standing on the cusp of a new age. The permittees who survive will be the ones who are ready to step into a proactive management role, and assume a new sense of responsibility on their range.” To read the full editorial, click here.

2:41 pm: Ned is making the case for maintaining a local cattle industry. When cattle are moved from one area to another, they are susceptible to diseases and fertility issues. It’s important to retain enough heifers for herd replenishment during droughts and other tricky moments because selling off part of the herd then later replacing it is incredibly expensive. He’s also sharing some great instances of collaboration that accomplishes multiple goals, such as when EBMUD worked with ranchers to develop stock ponds to benefit both amphibian habitat and livestock.

3:04 pm: We’ve just stretched our legs and rearranged the room to move into our scenario exercises: fire, flood, drought, and invasive species. We’ve divided the room into six groups to talk through these doomsday scenarios. While it may sound grim, there is a tone of optimism in the room!

Fire! Drought! Flood! Invasives!

3:29 pm: I’m floating from group to group to listen in on how these scenarios are playing out. I’m picking up on a lot of firsthand experience in the room. People are leaning in to hear each other and share their perspectives on these scenarios which, unfortunately, are not purely hypothetical. There is work to be done in nearly every realm – from day-to-day operations to the ten-year planning. Luckily, there is strength in numbers and workshops like these bolster the community of land stewardship. People are sharing online resources, proposing lease language, talking through what incentives might work, and talking through the full spectrum of collaborative action points they’ll share with the larger group.

3:43 pm: The fire group talks about the importance of inventorying infrastructure so in the event of a fire there is a record of what’s been damaged or lost completely. Collaborating with adjacent landowners to reduce fuel loads is essential. This work can also be done on a more regional level with the various agencies.

THE Stu Weiss

3:49 pm: The drought group emphasizes the knowledge base that ranchers’ possess as stewards of the land. They are key partners in identifying vulnerabilities and response strategies. Someone mentions a portable solar pump that’s already in use to access water deep in a well. Building extreme weather agreements into leases helps everyone to partner should a drought arise; it’s said that planning is best done in advance! There is a need to educate the public about the role of sacrifice areas (an area set aside to confine the herd to protect pastures from over-grazing) and other techniques used to adeptly manage drought.

3:52 pm: The flood group begins by emphasizing the need for more communication. Sometimes this means knowing where to go to talk in person – be it the coffee shop or the local gas station – and sometimes this means joining a Google group or writing a blog. When we work together to identify funding sources and technical expertise, everyone benefits. NRCS has been a great collaborator during the drought vis-à-vis their drought initiative. A stitch in time saves nine: why not develop a flood management plan just like a fire management plan? We can identify threats, identify resources, and identify duties so that if a flood were to occur, we will weather the weather at a higher capacity. In the long-term, workshops like this are helpful as are hands-on demonstrations and trainings. Also, in order to adapt, it’s helpful to have good data in hand before making management changes. Getting this data into the hands of the land stewards is a step toward adroit management.

Talking about some kind of disaster

3:58 pm: Our last group has put their heads together to think through collaborative action points to handle invasive species. They speak to the rest of us about the importance of using existing resources, such as early detection networks, to manage invasive species on a regional level. It’s important that regulatory agencies sing from the same songbook: operators run into problems when one agency has a no spray policy while another agency encourages spraying to protect for an endangered species. There is much we can do to encourage tenants to actively manage weeds via rent credits. Lease agreements that state explicitly how invasive species will be managed will be one step ahead. As much as we plan ahead, it’s also important to maintain a level of discretion so local land managers can adapt their management plans to fit the landscape. If grazing is to be a management tool, then we should allow for flexible grazing cycles. Finally, communication with the public is so essential. It’s up to all of us to manage public perceptions – if an area is looking hammered, let’s communicate clearly why it looks that way and what strategy we’re using to address it.

4:03 pm: Whew! What a success! Crystal Simons, Project Manager here at the Open Space Council, is thanking each and every person in the room for their contributions today.

They just keep talking!

4:14 pm: We’re still here!

There’s so much to digest after a workshop like this so lots of folks are lingering to continue discussing the main themes in side conversations. Handshakes. Business card swaps. Some laughs over here. Two people pouring over paperwork over there. You know it’s a sign of a good workshop when the workshop participants hang around.

Thanks again to our all of our presenters, facilitators, hosts, financial sponsors and the workshop committee for making this conversation possible.