Bison are back, and that benefits many other species on the Great Plains — The Conversation

From The Conversation (Matthew D. Moran):

Near extinction

It was not always certain that bison could rebound. Once numbering in the tens of millions, they dominated the Great Plains landscape until the late 1800s, anchoring a remarkable ecosystem that contained perhaps the greatest concentration of mammals on Earth. That abundance was wiped out as settlers and the U.S. government engaged in a brutally effective campaign to eradicate the ecosystem and the native cultures that relied on it.

Bison were shot by the millions, sometimes for “sport,” sometimes for profit, and ultimately to deprive Native Americans of vital resources. By 1890 fewer than 1,000 bison were left, and the outlook for them was bleak. Two small wild populations remained, in Yellowstone National Park and northern Alberta, Canada; and a few individuals survived in zoos and on private ranches.

Recovery

Remarkably, a movement developed to save the bison and ultimately became a conservation success story. Some former bison hunters, including prominent figures like William “Buffalo Bill” Cody and future President Theodore Roosevelt, gathered the few surviving animals, promoted captive breeding and eventually reintroduced them to the natural landscape.

With the establishment of additional populations on public and private lands across the Great Plains, the species was saved from immediate extinction. By 1920 it numbered about 12,000.

Bison remained out of sight and out of mind for most Americans over the next half-century, but in the 1960s diverse groups began to consider the species’ place on the landscape. Native Americans wanted bison back on their ancestral lands. Conservationists wanted to restore parts of the Plains ecosystems. And ranchers started to view bison as an alternative to cattle production.

More ranches began raising bison, and Native American tribes started their own herds. Federal, state, tribal and private organizations established new conservation areas focusing in part on bison restoration, a process that continues today in locations such as the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas and the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana.

By the early 2000s, the total North American population had expanded to 500,000, with about 90 percent being raised as livestock – but often in relatively natural conditions – and the rest in public parks and preserves. For scientists, this process has been an opportunity to learn how bison interact with their habitat.

Improving prairie landscapes

Bison feed almost exclusively on grasses, which, because they grow rapidly, tend to out-compete other plants. Bison’s selective grazing behavior produces higher biodiversity because it helps plants that normally are dominated by grasses to coexist.

Because they tend to graze intensively on recently burned zones and leave other areas relatively untouched, bison create a diverse mosaic of habitats. They also like to move, spreading their impacts over large areas. The variety they produce is key to the survival of imperiled species such as the greater prairie chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) that prefer to use different patches for different behaviors, such as mating and nesting.

Bison impacts don’t stop there. They often kill woody vegetation by rubbing their bodies and horns on it. And by digesting vegetation and excreting their waste across large areas, they spread nutrients over the landscape. This can produce higher-quality vegetation that benefits other animals.

“The first thing is listening” — Kate Greenberg

Colorado’s diverse landscape has a rich natural and agricultural heritage that fuels the economy. Photo: Michael Menefee

From The Montrose Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

“The first thing is listening,” Greenberg said Friday, as Week 1 of her new role drew to a close.

“I’m planning to get out into the field as much as possible to understand what people are up against and to build out our game plan. I see this work as being highly collaborative. It’s my role to bring as many people together as possible to come up with what we need to do down the road.”

Greenberg, appointed by Gov. Jared Polis, oversees the state ag department’s daily operations and its divisions: animal health, brand inspection, Colorado State Fair, conservation services, inspection and consumer services, laboratory services, markets and plant industry.

She is no stranger to the Western Slope and its agri-issues, having served as the western program director for the National Young Farmers Coalition in Durango. Her duties there entailed working with basin roundtables, working on the state’s water plan and Colorado River basin water policy…

“I am excited about Western Slope agriculture. I see so much creativity and perseverance from folks doing it for generations and people coming in now and starting their own businesses…

“With Western Colorado being so rural, and a vast majority of people being on the Front Range and the vast majority of water on the Western Slope, we are going to depend on that creativity to keep agriculture thriving out there and rural agriculture alive.”

[…]

Water is the lifeblood for the entire state and that creates challenges for all producers.

“I think producers know that better than anyone, in terms of how precious water is and how important it is that we find solutions that allow agriculture to continue to thrive in Colorado,” Greenberg said.

Montrose’s upcoming Western Food and Farm Forum helps grow agriculture by connecting producers, indicated Greenberg, who is set to address the conference on Jan. 26. She previously helped organize the annual forum and worked with steering committees.

From The Fence Post (Rachel Gabel):

Greenberg, in her first media interview as commissioner, said she grew up split between Minneapolis and in Minnesota’s farm country near Mankato, before moving to Washington where she began farming, working on small-scale, mixed vegetable operations that direct marketed to consumers. Her day job during that time, she said, involved visiting operations of all sizes and types across the West. She said her work has woven between agriculture and conservation, two worlds she said that are one in the same.

Greenberg has spent the past six years based in Durango, Colo., with the National Young Farmers Coalition, building the organization’s staff and the membership. She traveled throughout the intermountain West, including Colorado, working with farmers and ranchers to help young producers return to the land.

“I worked finding ways, through policy, through business services, and through network building to get more young people out in ag,” she said.

To this end, she said she worked with farmers of all ages on the issue of succession, their options to keep operations in business, and working with the next generation. Her other concentration has been getting elected officials onto farms and ranches to give policymakers a better understanding of the challenges agriculture producers face. She said this is meant to ensure policymakers are making decisions based on practice rather than theory after seeing the boots on the ground. Working to give farmers a seat at the table, she said, is vital for agriculture in Colorado.

“Since coming to Colorado to Durango, I have been serving in the role of advocate for farmers and ranchers, connecting producers with their policymakers and ensuring that we have folks standing up for family ag in Colorado,” she said.

From intern to Denver Water pipe saver – News on TAP

Antonio Flori embraced career opportunities to grow into his current role as a corrosion control engineer.

Source: From intern to Denver Water pipe saver – News on TAP

Denver Water construction project to generate $405 million in economic benefit – News on TAP

Hundreds of workers will help build new treatment plant and water pipeline as part of water system upgrade.

Source: Denver Water construction project to generate $405 million in economic benefit – News on TAP