Otter Creek on the ranch
Otter Creek, restored
The Twin Platte Natural Resources District presented its 2012 grassland conservation award Tuesday to the Otter Creek Ranch. The award was presented to owners Don and Joyce Tisdall and manager K.C. Peterson. at the Figure Four Traditions Event Center on the Haythorn Ranch in Keith County.
The Otter Creek Ranch is named after the meandering stream that springs up in the Sandhills five miles north of Lake McConaughy in northwest Keith County.
. Otter Creek is one of very few streams in Nebraska capable of supporting trout populations in the cool, pure water that surfaces from the ground and flows over a gravel creek bed.
Don and Joyce Tisdall purchased the ranch with the headwaters of Otter Creek in January 2000, and later, some adjacent grassland.
According to the award presentation, Don and ranch manager K.C. Peterson worked promptly to make improvements to enhance their ability to manage grazing for years to come, as well as improve the natural function of a rare watershed.
Don and K.C. worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service staff at Ogallala, along with other grassland conservation professionals. They found that USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program and a partnership with the Sandhills Task Force would help them meet ranch goals, including a planned grazing system that is still in use.
The new management approach, in conjunction with improvements, such as additional livestock water sources, has allowed ranch grasslands to improve.
Fence was installed on both sides of Otter Creek, which limited the time and season in which cattle could graze the stream banks. Prior to fencing out the stream, cattle would drink there and not travel far to graze, leaving the stream bank subject to erosion as grass near the stream became depleted. This also left upland parts of the pasture under-utilized since the cattle had little motivation to climb very far up the hills.
After the fence was installed, tall native vegetation grew back to protect the stream corridor as a buffer strip.
The vegetation stabilized the stream banks and improved the water quality for fish and other wildlife, as well as for cattle that use the area on a limited, managed basis.
When the stream was fenced, a new livestock water pipeline was installed to provide more watering locations in pastures above the creek. The new water sources, as well as some cross fencing, allowed for better grazing management in the hilly creek pastures than ever before.
Another part of the creek corridor project involved the removal of volunteer Cedar and Russian olive trees. Their removal was a proactive effort to reduce the spread of those woody invaders and prevent them from taking over the grassland riparian area.
Beyond the Otter Creek pastures, additional improvements have been made to enhance the ranch’s ability to successfully manage grasslands farther from the creek. Several thousand feet of livestock water pipeline and new watering locations helped improve grazing distribution over those pastures and aid in the ranch’s livestock management.
The ranch was one of many burned in the summer wildfires and grass was lost on a portion of the ranch. Grazing deferment is planned for the burned pastures as recovery will take some time, due to drought.
However, the grassland management at the Otter Creek Ranch prior to these natural processes will help the pastures stay resilient and recover faster than if they had not been managed so well, according to the Natural Resources Conservation District.
The award was sponsored this year by Adams Bank and Trust, which was represented at the banquet by Bruce Luehrs.
The award consists of two plaques and an outdoor sign for the ranch.