Wyoming’s Tom and Nikki Lohse honored with 2012 Society for Range Management Excellence in Grazing Award
Buffalo, Wyoming ranchers Tom and Nikki Lohse were awarded the International Society for Range Management (SRM) 2012 Excellence in Rangeland Management Award during the SRM’s annual meeting in early February for their efforts in rangeland management for both livestock and wildlife.
“This award honors exemplary rangeland management and recognizes the “best of the best” from Section Excellence in Rangeland Management Award winners. The objective of the award is to demonstrate and publicize to the public, and other range managers, outstanding examples of management that results in long-term health of the range resource while providing efficient production of livestock, wood products, water, supporting wildlife, esthetic values, and other non-commodity values,” explained 2012 SRM awards committee chair, Melissa Teague.
To be eligible, participants must be nominated for an SRM Section (local) Award in Excellence of Rangeland Management. Winners at the section level advance to the national competition, which is based on a poster that explains the issues or problems that existed, and what management strategies were implemented to correct those issues.
Teague explained that posters are judged on several categories. These include; environmental stewardship practices, accomplishments and goals, documentation of special or innovative practices, and documentation of community, professional and commodity group association activities. She added that the ability to communicate those areas of interest on the actual poster weighs an important role also.
“We have a cow-calf operation on 40,000 plus acres of intermixed private, federal and state lands, we have coordinated with all those agencies in our efforts to implement a grazing plan that works for our livestock and is beneficial to wildlife, and their habitat, as well,” said Nikki Lohse, of she and Tom’s efforts to improve their entire operation, which lead to their being nominated for the award.
“We were nominated by Phil Gonzales, who was with the Buffalo, WY Natural Resources and Conservation Services (NRCS) until his recent retirement,” added Tom. “It started when Phil approached us about trying out a sage grouse program in 2004. I was very hesitant, and like any new program there were several bugs to work out, and at that time there were some things that I didn’t think would work for our operation. Between Phil and myself, we tweaked some things over the first couple years, and were able to split some pastures and put in an extensive pipeline and water tank systems, that all added to better grazing strategies for our operation and for wildlife.”
The Lohse’s conducted initial resource, present day, and wildlife inventories on their ranch to better understand the areas of wildlife use during particular times of year.
This information was used in developing a new grazing plan that stayed out of areas crucial to the sage grouse during key times of the year, such as brooding and nesting. They also enhanced sage grouse habitat by inter-seeding forbs and shrubs favored by sage grouse, and monitoring continues on the operation today.
Furthermore, Tom and Nikki worked extensively with local NRCS and Conservation District personnel to implement a more effective, and extensive water system, which includes miles of underground pipe and over 30 water tanks.
“I can turn tanks on and off in certain areas to keep cows grazing where they will best utilize the grass. We can also graze an area earlier in the growing season, for a shorter duration of time, and move on. That has made a big difference through allowing rest and recovery for the grasses during the growing season, which leaves understory for sage grouse and other wildlife,” noted Tom.
Nikki added that in addition to helping manage the livestock, the tanks are all also equipped with escape ramps for wildlife to use and are effective in decreasing wildlife mortality rates.
“We were also just starting to come out of a drought, which was another added aspect we didn’t plan on when we started this project, and that lead to me cutting back my numbers quite a bit. Then we had methane drilling on our place, which just added another piece to the puzzle. But, things just kept rolling for us. We had a decent cattle market at the time, and I could try things that I normally would be extremely hesitant to do,” noted Tom.
Nikki explained that there were also several educational aspects of the sage grouse project she and Tom were involved in. These included implementing rangeland monitoring through the Grazing Response Index (GRI), and working with the local NRCS office and Conservation District in informing other producers about the benefits of the project.
“You have to be open minded when you participate in programs that can impact the agricultural business of livestock management. I can honestly say that I was very hesitant, but as things went on I could see the benefits to the entire operation. A lot of good things have come from it, such as increased calf weights, better cow performance, ranch profitability and decreased expense inputs,” said Tom.
“The SRM is proud to recognize people that are doing an outstanding job in the area of rangeland management. It’s very evident the Lohse’s have a real, personal connection to their place, and made it a personal goal to make it better, not for any prize, just because they knew it needed to be done,” said Teague.
“We are totally shocked, and honored they even considered us, let alone us winning at the international level. I just couldn’t believe it because there were some other very worthy projects. We were very surprised and pleased to be recognized with such an award by the professional resource community,” added Tom.