Seven ranches across the nation were recently honored as outstanding stewards of the land in the annual Environmental Stewardship Awards Program (ESAP). In the next week, we will feature one of these ranches each day.

ESAP is in its 25th year and the 25th national winner will be selected from among these cattle producers and announced in early February 2016 at the annual convention of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in San Diego.

Most, if not all, of  the ranches named ESAP winners in the past quarter century are multi-generational and have long-standing records of operation, showing the connection between stewardship and ranch profitability.

ESAP is administered by the National Cattlemen’s Foundation and is funded by Dow AgroSciences, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Tyson Foods and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Here is a “tour” of one of those ranches and some of the traits the judges thought made it so outstanding.

American Fork Ranch, Two Dot, Mont.

This ranch is owned by the Dorothy Stevens family and is managed by Jed and Annie Evjene.

It dates to 1884 and has been in the same family’s ownership since 1945. Jed and Annie Evjene signed on as managers in 1998. The ranch covers nearly 26,000 acres in central Montana, of which 89 percent is deeded.

The herd consists of 600 cows and 100 replacement heifers, with expansion planned.

Between 2004 and 2014, the ranch reduced average cow weights from 1,702 pounds to 1,346 pounds. In the same time period, steer average weaning weights increased from 432 pounds to 608 pounds.

Here are some of the things the judges saw as positive environmental stewardship:

• Smaller cattle now stay on grass longer, saving 157 tons of hay per winter.

• In 2000, native prairie restoration started with range assessment, soil samples and a grazing plan.

• Cross-fencing and additional water sources created 49 grazing units from 350 to 6,743 acres each.

• Grazing units typically are grazed seven days and rested 45 days.

• Grazing management pulls cattle away from riparian areas to allow recovery.

• All stock tanks are fitted with wildlife ramps to allow wildlife use and escape.

• The ranch keeps extensive records, including photographs from nine monitoring points.

• New pastures were named for Stevens family members who help keep the records for their pasture.

• Weed management begun in 2000 has helped improve grass cover and native-plant communities.

 

• The ranch has welcomed college interns from Harvard to Chico State University.