Montana ranch honored for stewardship efforts
American Fork Ranch of Two Dot, Mont., was honored with one of seven regional Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP) awards. The honorees, announced during the 2015 Cattle Industry Summer Conference, were recognized for their outstanding stewardship practices. This year’s regional winners will compete for the national award, which will be announced during the 25th anniversary celebration in January 2016.
ESAP is sponsored by Dow AgroSciences, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the National Cattlemen’s Foundation, and is presented to farmers and ranchers who demonstrate a commitment to protecting the farm and ranch land in their care.
“The American Fork Ranch is a part of Montana history, established in 1882 and dating back to days of the Montana Territory. The Stevens family has owned the ranch since 1945 and currently has the fifth generation actively involved in ranch operations and the community,” said Jay Bodner, Montana Stockgrowers Association director of natural resources. “Under the management of Jed and Annie Evjene, the American Fork Ranch has experienced a transformation in sustainability, stewardship and conservation through a number of public and private partnerships. Through a dedication to long-term stewardship, the American Fork Ranch continuously works to improve their cattle operation to benefit their environment, wildlife, resources, community and employees.”
At American Fork Ranch, they’ve found that what’s good for cattle production is also good for the wildlife – and by improving their pastures through cross fencing and adding an extensive system of waterlines, the work has also improved habitat for the native animals.
In 2008, American Fork Ranch embarked upon an ambitious, multi-tiered program to wholly rejuvenate the ranch’s native prairies. To do this, the Evjenes worked in partnership with the NRCS and its Environmental Quality Incentives Program. This program helped them to cross-fence, develop water, complete range assessment of the ranch, collect soil samples, and develop a formal and intricate rotational grazing program. Specifically, the largest implementation was the addition of 25 miles of interior cross fencing. This divided 23 pastures that were once very large into more efficient average sizes of 350 acres, creating 49 efficient grazing pastures.
Grazing each pasture for seven days has allowed the ranch to keep forage in front of the livestock and increase weaning weights on the calves, while increasing overall herd health. Pasture start times are adjusted so that each pasture is not used at the same times each year. Resting each pasture for 45 days between rotation cycles has allowed them to clearly monitor the growing and sustained health of the range as the native plants and wildlife mature and flourish.
Some of the dominant wildlife species that share the open spaces of the ranch and its riparian corridors include antelope, whitetail deer, mule deer, elk, moose, black bear, mountain lion, bobcat, coyotes, ducks, geese, sandhill cranes, eastern brook trout, along with several other wildlife species.
“Being able to walk out here or drive here and see good healthy livestock, good healthy wildlife, clear running water and lots of grass. Knowing that we as a team worked together to succeed in this is very rewarding for all of us here on the ranch,” said Jed Evjene. “We wouldn’t have it any other way.”