A system approach to manage the land
Our goal is to maintain and foster biodiversity so that we not only increase the quality of life for the flora and fauna surrounding us but also benefit from the ecological services of a healthy system. We believe appropriate ranching practices can restore land health and how we use it today will determine the conditions of the land we pass to the next generation. As part of our land management, we have a variety of projects that include vegetation assessments, water management, riparian restoration, responsible grazing, and forestry.
Our work includes:
In a state characterized by its dry climate and where precipitation is limited, water is a crucial resource that we need to take care of and manage properly. At the ranch, our land managing actions take water into consideration (rainfall and groundwater). Our goal is to lose less water and get the most that we can. Always trying to be ready and prepared for when the rain comes.
At the ranch, the development and maintenance of non-paved roads are always with water movement in mind. Our dirt roads are shaped to shed water frequently, using that water to irrigate pastures and fill stock tanks that wildlife can use. Also, consistent monitoring of groundwater hydrology is part of the lad management. For this, studies to measure the groundwater table height are performed biannually. This data helps us to compare levels on a year-by-year basis.
Other practices we have used to control the flow of rainwater by creating more texture to our soil, by way of keyline design, which is a topographical property related to the natural flow of water. In practice, this means contouring the landscape through methods like keyline plowing, which can effectively minimize overland flows reducing erosion. This process allows for slower movement of water so it can sink into the ground and infiltrate water in upland areas.
Twin Willows Ranch has actively worked on the restoration of the Lefebre creek. Our purpose is to promote a healthy riparian ecosystem, reducing the disturbance of the area and encouraging wetland vegetation. We know that a well-vegetated riparian zone provides streambank stabilization, good ground and over-story cover for clean, cold water, and good wildlife habitat.
Following this, we have been applying certain practices like the removal of upland woody species such as ponderosa pine, fencing the area off from livestock grazing, building cages around some wetland species to prevent beavers from using them all, and speeding up the revegetation and recruitment of new wetland woody species. Additionally, applying the science of fluvial geomorphology, there have been creek crossings carefully installed to ensure the natural flow of the creek throughout the built infrastructure.
Since 2012, Twin Willows has been monitoring the vegetation species diversity of the ranch. For two consecutive years, the ranch was a site of the Denver Zoo biodiversity monitoring. Later, in 2016, building upon plot locations from those monitoring efforts, eleven modified Whittaker plots were established. Continuing with this methodology, two more plots were installed in 2018. Plots were in different soil and habitat types on the ranch, as both have a great deal to do with plant community composition. Each year, vegetation monitoring is performed by a scientist during spring and fall.
Based on these years of monitoring data, an extensive plant species list has been developed as well as annual reports. Currently, there have been 251 plant species from 50 different plant families identified at Twin Willows Ranch.
On days where there is a lot of controversy about cattle and its negative impacts on the environment due to traditional grazing practices and CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), we think that appropriate grazing management can be beneficial for the land. Our approach to cattle grazing is to use the animals to promote healthy and diverse rangeland.
We provide our livestock with pasture sections (paddocks) where they are allowed to graze for a short time, and then they are rotated to another paddock. We also ensure to stagger the paddocks, such that the same paddock is not grazed at the same time of the year, every year. All this allows the vegetation and soil to recover from the disturbance caused by the animals. We think that disturbance is not always a bad thing; in fact, this stimulates plant growth and maintains good ground cover which in the long run reduces excess runoff that causes erosion in our high desert landscapes.
In our rotational grazing program, we also make sure to exclude environmentally sensitive areas, like riparian ecosystems and highly erodible areas.
For several years, the ranch has been working on forest thinning. We battle a dry climate and the constant threat of fires because the forests are extremely dense and therefore highly flammable. This density occurred because of heavy logging in the 50s, after which all the trees grew back at the same age.
To combat this, the ranch is trying to encourage a more species diverse and multi-generational forest. One of our objectives is to reduce canopy cover to between 40 to 60%, depending on conditions, to allow light to reach the understory and promote a multilayer forest ecosystem. A multilayer forest ecosystem consists of a canopy layer, middle layer, shrub layer, and understory. We also focus on Aspen health and regeneration, as well as the restoration and maintenance of meadows to allow natural grassland ecosystems to thrive within the forest for grazers and small mammals.
We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.