Finding Balance: Managing Ranches For Elk
As featured in Land Investor Magazine Vol. 1
There’s a secret that ranch owners know out in the Mountain West: Creating wildlife habitat isn’t just good for your morning view, it also raises the value of your land. “Ranches that are managed with a sustainable agricultural plan have the added benefit of attracting wildlife and this creates value not only for the current owner, but also increases resale value,” says Vinny Delgado, an agent with Fay Ranches. “Every ranch is different so a landowner has to be willing to go through a process of trial and error to find the right balance and management practices that promotes wildlife habitat as well as a healthy and robust cattle operation. If done thoughtfully, cows and wildlife can complement each other. If the ranch supports a healthy elk herd, it will support a variety of wildlife.”
WHY ENCOURAGE ELK
A ranch with quality wildlife habitat that supports a healthy elk and deer herd as well as a productive agricultural operation will increase the value of the ranch intrinsically. Ranches optimized for elk herds can provide a wonderful opportunity for owners and their families and friends to enjoy hunting and recreating together on their own property. “If an investor makes the decision to incorporate management practices that are beneficial to wildlife into their agricultural plan, that landscape is going to be healthier because of the balance,” says Delgado. “For many ranch owners, elk are considered a nuisance because of the damage they do to fences and the forage they consume, but there are things that can be done to minimize the negative effects of elk on a ranch.” However, elk are majestic, yet elusive animals, and managing them correctly is a science of its own. It takes commitment on behalf of the ranch owner to create a sustainable balance.
HOW TO CREATE THE BALANCE
Making a ranch more wildlife friendly can be as subtle as changing some of the ways the ranch is managed, from fences to grazing strategy. “Many ranchers are taking two cuts of alfalfa and leaving the regrowth for the wildlife instead of using it for fall pasture for their cows. This can be a valuable source of protein for deer and elk heading into the winter,” Delgado says. A grazing practice that is beneficial for both cows and wildlife and also contributes to healthy grass is rotational grazing, which ensures there is always forage available for wildlife. It can also be effective to pay attention to where the wildlife wants to be at what time of year and leave those pastures available. Furthermore, rotational grazing is effective for keeping grass healthy and providing more forage for the cattle operation. Controlling noxious weeds is very important for the health of a ranch and is beneficial to both livestock and wildlife. Finally, hunting as a management tool is important to the health of elk and deer herds. Keeping a balanced ratio between bull and cow elk, as well as does and bucks, is as important as providing good habitat. If the herds aren’t hunted, they run the risk of disease through overpopulation and the trophy quality is negatively impacted.
PICKING THE RIGHT PROPERTY
So you’ve decided you want to purchase property that can support a diversity of wildlife, but you don’t know where to start.
“Knowing where to look for and purchase a ranch is knowledge that a good land broker with boots on the ground can bring you,” says Delgado. “Different areas are more conducive to supporting wildlife, which is something you learn from spending time on the land. I’ve seen ranches that held very little wildlife when purchased, and, after changing the management practices, soon support a tremendous elk herd and are more productive agriculturally. There are also areas that simply won’t support quality herds of deer and elk no matter what you do from a management standpoint.” Elk are large mammals that can cover a lot of country, and it often takes a large piece of land to effectively manage an elk herd. However, once you’ve invested in the right ranch, established the balance, the habitat, and the year-round resources that a herd needs, the elk will flourish along with other wildlife.
Simply put, if you manage it, they will come and your ranch will be more valuable as a result.
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