By: Jeremiah Leibowitz, CLO Executive Director & Jose Manuel Perez, BRN Senior Fellow & CLO Director of Operations
Cuenca Los Ojos’ (CLO) founder, Valer Clark, has always believed that restoring CLO’s ecosystems would bring back wildlife and improve the biodiversity making our lands more resilient to climate changes. Our mission from the beginning has been to restore the biodiversity balance of CLO’s lands.
While inspecting CLO’s pastures last year, we ran into one of our neighbors and told him that 2020 was a very dry year and that it was the third bad year for us, to which he replied that it was not three bad years, but 18 very dry years. He was right, these changes have been in process for a long time. We then started evaluating our management practices to ensure we were preparing for continued climate changes. One of those strategies is our use of a high-intensity, rotational grazing program to restore grasslands.
Last year while touring a group of producers from Chihuahua throughout CLO, we inspected the Animas Valley pastures in the northeast corner of Sonora. These pastures represent grasslands that have been over rested. The group made several observations about the grassland’s health. First, the pastures were dying from the inside out and losing biodiversity. Second, the stem to leaf ratio showed a greater stem percentage. Third, the pastures were transitioning from permanent perennial species to annual and herbaceous species. Fourth, the distance between plants was increasing, which exposed more bare ground.
To combat this type of grassland degeneration, CLO, as part of our grassland restoration strategy, employs a high-intensity rotational grazing system. The purpose is to knock down undesirable and non-native grass and plant species, stimulate growth of native grass species, disturb the earth, apply manure and urine as fertilizer, and then give the land adequate rest time (18 to 20 months) so it can regenerate. We use electric fences and an aggressive rotation schedule moving the herd 3 to 4 times a day depending on pasture conditions. Each pasture is different and requires daily management so as not to overgraze the land.
Thus far, in areas where we have implemented this strategy, we are seeing the return of perennial plants, denser plant concentration, less bare soil, and greater organic matter distributed on the soil. These improved pasture conditions aid with water retention and infiltration when it does rain. We are also evaluating how these improved grasslands can work as a carbon sink for atmospheric carbon.
Another benefit of improved grassland health in this northeast region of Sonora has been an increase in wildlife populations. The increase in perennial pastures has expanded the diversity of different species, especially grassland birds, which use these pastures during their migration to feed and reproduce. In addition to birds, native and endangered animals live and migrate throughout these grasslands. As we observe drier climate conditions throughout the desert Southwest, we are encouraged that the proper employment of livestock as a grassland management tool has thus far improved soil quality and increased biodiversity improving the ecosystems’ resiliency to mitigate the challenges of a changing climate.
As we observe drier climate conditions throughout the desert Southwest, we are encouraged that the proper employment of livestock as a grassland management tool has thus far improved soil quality and increased biodiversity improving the ecosystems’ resiliency to mitigate the challenges of a changing climate.
Looking ahead, one of CLO’s long-term objectives is to use our rotational grazing grassland restoration practice as one model to bring desert pastures in northern Mexico, the southwestern United States, and other arid regions of the globe back to life.
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