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Preserve expands grazing program

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By Roger Snodgrass

ALBUQUERQUE – The Valles Caldera National Preserve has selected Gary Morton, a cattle grower from Las Vegas, N.M., for a contract to manage its 2008 grazing programThe announcement made during the regular board meeting Friday followed a discussion of the summer forage capacity that underpinned a decision to quadruple the number of cattle on the preserve this summer.Preserve scientist Bob Parmenter gave a presentation that indicated record levels of capacity in category after category of grass species and microenvironments.Applying a relatively simple, but lengthy, formula, which divides the amount of grass conservatively available by the amount of grass a cow would eat, along with a few other fudge factors, Parmenter calculated a carrying capacity of 2,115 steers for the season that will start in the spring.An interim grazing program was started in 2003, three year’s after the federal government acquired the former Baca Ranch. In 2007, the grazing program involved 530 yearlings.“In the five years, we’ve been here, the preserve has never had more forage or more water available for herbivores than it has this year,” he said.A heavier than usual snowpack still covers much of the 89 million acre preserve, 20 miles west of Los Alamos.Based on six proposals received, preserve manager Dennis Trujillo said. Review criteria that rated economic factors highest, followed by livestock management, resource protection and other factors rated Morton highest.“We consider it a privilege and we’ll be good stewards,” said Morton, who attended the meeting.A brief discussion later in the meeting focused on potential impacts of cattle on stream banks and fishing.Trustee Jim Range said the trust had relied on the advice of experts on riparian grazing and expected that the contractor would provide “personnel to move cows and inspect shoreline and usage going on there.”Trust chairman Bill Kelleher said, “They are going to have riders working with the cattle to keep them where they should be.”Trujillo said preserve staff would be sitting down with Morton soon to negotiate the contract and that further details on the plan would be available soon.Also, during a science report, Parmenter announced that the Jemez Mountain Symposium, which brought hundreds of scientists and students together from 1996-2004 to share new information, was held.Some 35 scientists and researchers will give 10-minute talks on topics like groundwater, soil, climate and wildlife. This year, the meeting will take place March 28 at the Santa Fe Community College, room 216.