The county recently approved funding of a program that has proven beneficial in providing information on ways to improve grazing.
The Reading the Range program has helped increase the chance for success for Gila County ranchers, while improving the environment impacted by public grazing.
Ashley Hall with the Gila County Cooperative Extension Service and Lori Brown, chair of the Tonto Natural Resource Conservation District, asked the Gila County Board of Supervisors for $30,000 to support the Reading the Range program at its March 2 meeting.
One of Hall’s major programming efforts is in administering the federally funded Reading the Range monitoring program, which is in place on more than 1 million acres on the Tonto National Forest.
Across the United States, nearly 3,000 Conservation Districts, almost one in every county, work directly with landowners to conserve and promote healthy soils, water, forests, and wildlife. The Tonto Natural Resource Conservation District (Tonto NRCD) is part of this broad network.
The Tonto NRCD is committed to ongoing education and leadership in conservation programs including stream bank stabilization, range improvement, watershed management, noxious weed control, forest health, the Northern Gila County Clean Water Program and drought relief administration. In supporting these conservation programs, Tonto NRCD promotes healthy, functioning watersheds, rangelands and croplands as well as protecting private and public resources.
The range monitoring program was introduced after the Forest Service ordered all livestock off the Tonto National Forest because of drought in 2000.
According to Dist. 3 Supervisor Woody Cline, the action was a mistake and when the Forest Service realized the economic impact, it came up with the core herd concept. With this, a rancher is allowed to maintain a certain number of cattle on their allotted grazing lands within the national forest as the range conditions warrant.
He said that decision has led to the Forest Service becoming a big partner in monitoring range conditions.
Additionally, Game and Fish saw a negative impact when livestock was removed from the forest, Cline said. There were not enough employees to haul in the water that wildlife depended on, so they saw a drop in numbers. The realization that efforts by ranchers in regard to keeping stock watered also helped the wildlife consequently made Game and Fish another partner in monitoring the range.
The monitoring process involves going out onto the grazing areas within the forest and checking the conditions of the soil, vegetation, etc. It employs extension staff, Forest Service personnel and the ranchers. The funds from the county will allow Hall to hire four staff to help with monitoring.
Hall said she is in the early stages of the monitoring season and despite the ongoing drought conditions has not seen a lot of plant mortality so far.
Tim Humphrey, Dist. 2 supervisor and BOS chair, asked what she has seen on the lands where the Bush Fire burned this past summer. She said it is coming back, but slowly.
Tonto NRCD also continues to support the Tonto Natural Resources Learning Center in activities such as school visits, grade school and high school environmental education, community environmental education, field trips, distribution of information, establishment of outdoor learning centers, and funds to equip those centers.
Brown shared some educational work of the Tonto NRCD.
Part of its work also involves educating youngsters about the resources. Brown, a longtime volunteer with 4-H, goes into the classroom to talk to fourth-grade students about ranching and farming — and in the Globe area, mining — and then hosts the classes on her ranch to give them a real-world experience. The program was established with seed money from the NRCD, which Tommie Martin, the late Dist. 1 supervisor, secured.
The supervisors approved preparation of an Intergovernmental Agreement between Gila County and the Tonto Natural Resources District that will allow the county to disburse $30,000 to the Tonto NRCD to assist in the money required to match the U.S. Forest Service monitoring funds for the continuation of the Reading the Range program for one year.
The program also receives funding from the University of Arizona and a Forest Service grant.