After reading the title of this column some folks will think I’ve gone off my rocker. What could buying hamburger, or any other kind of beef, have to do with wildlife? Well, let me explain.
Everyone that reads this column, at least occasionally, likely knows that I enjoy hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities. I was thinking about some of my favorite fishing and hunting spots a few weeks ago when I was picking up a quarter of a beef that we had purchased from friends that are local ranchers. It dawned on me that I spend quite a bit of time on private ranchland owned by these friends and other local farmers and ranchers and that I’ve done so for many years.
Wildlife biologists have long understood the connection between well-managed ranch and farmland and healthy wildlife populations. In Idaho, many river and stream bottomlands as well as other riparian zones are privately owned because early settlers understood the importance of water for their farming or ranching operations. These same areas have always provided key habitat for many wildlife species.
Southeast Idaho agriculture has both positive and negative effects on wildlife. Cropland has eliminated or degraded habitat for some species but other species including pheasants, geese, and mourning doves are heavily dependent on agricultural lands where crops provide key forage and water is normally abundant. Other species, including gray partridge, sharp-tailed grouse, turkeys, and white-tailed deer are commonly found on farm and ranch land. The bottom line is that many wildlife species are often byproducts of rich agricultural land that provides cover, food, and water.
Recently, landowners in south-central Idaho led efforts to protect roughly 94,000 acres of private ranch land for wildlife, focusing on sage-grouse and pronghorn. Some Bingham County farmers and ranchers have gone the extra mile and established shelterbelts and fenced riparian zones to benefit wildlife and fish. Others have enrolled thousands of acres in Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s Access Yes program, providing opportunities for local hunters and anglers.
My wife and I hike, picnic, fish, and hunt on ranch properties owned by some of our good friends and usually only have to share our outings with songbirds and cows. I’ve enjoyed excellent trout fishing and hunting while observing five species of game birds, three species of big game, doves, waterfowl, and innumerable species of songbirds on these properties. The diversity of wildlife on well-managed lands is remarkable. Our rancher friends are very knowledgeable about wildlife and conservation issues. They share their wildlife observations with me and we have great discussions about conservation issues.
Some of our friends began marketing their beef locally and in doing so proudly explain that their ranch is home to a diversity of soils, plants, and animals. They consider caring for their landscape a top priority and use cattle to holistically manage their land while taking a hands-on approach to raising animals and following rigorous husbandry guidelines. Their cattle spend their lives on pasture and never receive added growth hormones.
When we buy beef locally, we set up a win-win-win situation. The ranchers win because they obtain revenue from beef they raised. The local meat packers win because they are paid for processing the meat. Wildlife wins because the ranchers provide habitat. Wait, there is another win. I win on two counts, first because my family ends up with nutritious food and second, I have places to hunt and fish. What a deal!
If you meet a rancher or farmer with ground that supports good wildlife habitat be sure to thank them. Even if they don’t offer hunting or fishing access, they are providing important areas to help sustain our wildlife and fish populations.