Water, Cattle and Conservation on a Desert Ranch
Southwest of Elko, Nevada, the Maggie Creek Ranch is a green gem of a cattle operation in the high desert. The 200,000-acre ranch is home to 2,000 brood cows, 1,500 stocker cattle and dozens of wildlife species, some of which are of conservation concern. The ranch functions with the primary purpose of supporting cattle, fish and wildlife, and the people that care about these values.
Nevada receives the least amount of rain annually of any state in the country, making water conservation and management crucial when raising cattle and supporting fish and wildlife populations. To do so, the people living at Maggie Creek Ranch and their partners work particularly hard to maintain healthy creeks, riparian areas and natural springs.
Maggie and Susie Creeks both run through the private and public portions of the ranch operation. Over a third of the ranch is comprised of permitted grazing leases on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Species found in the rangeland associated with the creeks include Sandhill Cranes, Egrets, Great Blue Heron, Golden Eagles, Greater Sage-grouse, and sagebrush obligate songbirds. In addition to the rangeland, the ranch’s headquarters hosts irrigated hay fields and a pond that attracts Bald Eagles, Barn Owls, Long-billed Curlew, White Pelicans, White-faced Ibis, and Black-necked Stilts
Since the early 1990s, Maggie Creek Ranch has been a key partner in a collaborative effort to improve rangeland and riparian conditions within the Susie and Maggie Creek watersheds with the goal of reestablishing Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. Rather than being constrained by harboring an Endangered Species Act listed species, Maggie Creek Ranch embraced the opportunity to create and improve habitat for the cutthroat trout, which, in turn, has been good for their cattle operation. One project involved working with the BLM Elko District, Trout Unlimited and local mines to replace a dam with a new structure designed to provide for both upstream and downstream passage of fish, while still allowing for the irrigation needs of the ranch.
“It’s important that they (Lahontan Cutthroat Trout) are able to move up and down the creek,” said Jon Griggs, Ranch Manager at Maggie Creek Ranch. “I’m proud of the fact that we were able to collaborate with partners to put in a structure that works well for all of us.”
In other areas, riparian pastures are constructed in order to manage cattle in a way that protects sensitive ground from hoof action. The ranch develops solar wells and water distribution tanks to prevent the cattle from damaging the wet meadows and stream banks. Over 25 miles of Susie Creek and its tributary streams have been improved through a combination of fencing projects and use of prescriptive grazing practices.
“I forget sometimes that we are even on private lands," said Carol Evans, Fisheries Biologist for BLM. "We have a common vision about how the land should look; nevermind the land boundaries. We just work for what's best for the watershed."
These management and restoration practices are good for cattle and the cutthroat trout as well as birds because improved vegetation conditions provide habitat for migrating shorebirds, brood rearing Greater Sage Grouse, as well as nesting for waterbirds.
"Maggie Creek Ranch has proved you can have healthy fisheries and wildlife habitat along with a sustainable ranching industry," Evans said.
In July 2015, Maggie Creek Ranch was recognized as a regional winner of the Environmental Stewardship Program. This program is led by the National Cattlemen’s Association and a number of other sponsors. Click here to learn more about this award or click here to watch a video about the ranch’s dedication to conservation.