EDITOR: In this rare instance, we are compelled to combine two separate pieces on the same subject from two different authors and photographers, one submitted in early May, the other in late June. First, Kori Anderson with the Montana Stockgrowers Association educates us on how and why others see sustainable ranching in a positive light. Read through and you’ll understand why we stitched them together.
By Kori Anderson, MSA
Photos by Laura Nelson
Montana’s ranchers, conservationists, wildlife biologists, water quality experts, range scientists and hunting advocates share an incredible common bond: they each love the land and care about the animals and natural resources that depend on it.
“There’s no doubt we have more in common than most of us think,” Jesse Tufte, the program officer for World Wildlife Fund’s Sustainable Ranching Initiative said. She’s especially keen on the state’s cattlemen and women who put in much of the legwork to conserve and steward the health of grasslands. “We need to learn from, listen to and understand how we can keep ranchers ranching, because they contribute so much to conservation.”
For more than 25 years, the Montana Stockgrowers Association has proudly sponsored and honored ranchers across the state with the Environmental Stewardship Award Program. Today, they partner with the Montana Beef Checkoff and conservation organizations like the World Wildlife Fund to share the full picture of the impact ranchers have with their environmental stewardship practices.
The program recognizes the role ranchers and private landowners play in the stewardship and conservation of healthy ecosystems in the state.
Cherry Creek Ranch
Lon and Vicki Reukauf, from Terry, Montana, were one of seven ranches in the nation recently recognized in the award program at the National Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville. They were the 2016 Montana Environmental Stewardship Award Program honorees and 2017 Region IV winners.
“We don’t have a show place for a ranch,” Vicki said. “We’re just doing what we’ve always done to take care of the land and make sure this place is better for the next generation. We just realized that if we didn’t step forward to share our story about stewardship and conservation, someone else would tell that story for us, and it might not be accurate.”
EDITOR: Now the second part; the Reukauf’s Cherry Creek Ranch just happened to be on the ESAP’s list of ranches visited in the latter part of June by a diverse group of folks hosted by the Montana Stockgrowers Association group, shortly after a drought began to choke the countryside. We asked Kayla Sargent to file this report.
Raising the Steaks
Story and photos by Kayla Sargent
The caravan of white vans made a trail of dust as they drove across the drought-stricken pastures of the Cherry Creek Ranch near Terry, Montana. Lon Reukauf and his family, winners of the 2016 Montana Environmental Stewardship Award, are facing a very tough year along with many other ranchers in the Northern Plains. Opening his ranch to the 2017 Raising The Steaks Tour shed light on the challenging job that ranchers must face every day.
“You can’t anticipate a big drought but you can react when it happens. Plans need to be flexible,” Reukauf said. “If it doesn’t rain by fall then we’ll have to make some massive changes. The yearlings were first to go with the drought this year. We sent them to the feed yard. The terminal herd cows will be next if this drought continues. We might sell some old cows and maybe wean earlier than planned. If the cow doesn’t have to milk it cuts her consumption by fifty percent”
Today’s ranchers have a huge responsibility that goes far beyond providing for themselves and their family. They have to care for their livestock, the wildlife, the land, the entire ecosystem, and the world full of consumers, no matter what Mother Nature throws at them. For this to be possible, ranchers must actively manage their operations and be responsive to the ever changing needs of the land.
“This drought shows how responsibly and proactively Lon has managed the land and because of that he will get through it. Ranchers lifestyles are totally compatible with this natural ecosystem,” Jesse Tufte, of the World Wildlife Fund, said. “What you’re not seeing here is the enormous impact his stewardship is having beyond his fences. This landscape thrives on diversity and close management and Lon exemplifies that.”
Lon has developed new rotational grazing plans that allow the land plenty of rest which encourages new growth and plenty of species diversity. He has created individual cow herds that each serve a specific purpose in his operation, making each one more efficient depending on the end product in mind. He has successfully used his feed grounds as hay fields by converting the waste product from the winter to fertilizer for the land through the implementation of a dike system around the fields.
“Lon manages for the health of the entire area. There’s no fence line contrast between his place and the BLM. He is an active manager,” Dale Tribby, a retired BLM employee, said. “As much drought as we are facing this year, he still has a nice amount of grass and that’s a real testament to his practices.”
While Lon has executed many new practices to further the health of the land and success of his ranch, he credits his success to the generations before him that did their part to ensure he could one day manage the place himself. He religiously studies his grandfather’s diaries that document what the ranch, the land, and the ecosystem have been through and what they are capable of.
“We’ve always been a family to try a lot a of crazy crap. Intelligence and wisdom are two different things and wisdom has way more value. To me stewardship is passing on the knowledge of what the land has been through and what it can do to the people that come after us, whether that’s family or not,” Reukauf said. “Sustainability is an attitude that you end the day with and you wake up each morning planning for by asking yourself, ‘can we make this land more productive and diverse tomorrow than it was today?’.”