NOVEMBER 1, 1962 Ai _
m OF MONTANA
50TH YEAR OF PUBLICATION
MOST SECTIONS of Montana have en
joyed an abundance of rainfall this year,
marking the end of a prolonged drought.
And along with that moisture has come an
abundance of cheatgrass and some real
gully washers that carried millions of tons
of top soil down to the rivers.
Cheatgrass may indicate over-grazing.
However, where drought has been particu
larly severe, the desirable perennial grasses
may have become so weakened that they
couldn't get ahead of the cheat regardless
of how carefully the range was managed.
Bruce Orcutt, Custer County rancher isn't
concerned in the least with cheatgrass or
erosion. Sure, he's got them both on his
place, but they don't bother him.
Cheatgrass, he says, fits into nature's
plan to protect the soil. During periods of
drought the native grasses loose vigor.
Weaker plants die off. The plant popula
tion declines to a point where the cover
is in balance with the limited moisture, he
From 1933 to 1937 perennial grasses and
sedges at the U.S. Range Experiment Sta
tion at Miles dropped from 28 per cent
to 2 per cent because of drought and insect
damage, a loss of 92.8 per cent in a 5-year
This means there is a lot of bare ground.
True, there is an increase of cactus, snake
weed and other less palatable plants, but
the ground is essentially unprotected.
Then the rains came. The powder-dry
soil washed down from the hillsides and
into the creeks.
After the sun has been out for a few
days the range is covered with a beautiful,
green carpet. It looks real pretty, but its
feed value is rather limited. Stock may
nibble on it a little in the spring or in the
winter when it is "conditioned" by mois
ture and freezing and thawing, but any
cattleman knows the stuff is considered
worthless for cow feed.
Orcutt says this shallow-rooted cheatgrass
is nature's special way of providing a quick
cover to protect the land. It shades the
ground and reduces evaporation. Its short
roots skim off only the surface moisture
and help hold the soil.
As the deep-rooted perennial grasses
gain their vigor and get reestablished the
cheat won't be able to compete. And be
cause cheatgrass is relatively unpalatable,
cattle stay off of it and don't disturb the
forage grass seedlings. # ,
Even cactus has a place in nature s plam
It's probably the most drought resistant of
.all plants. It can easily endure prolonged
periods of extreme drought. Because of its
sharp spikes, cattle can't get close to it.
It protects the spears of grass that grow
among its prickly leaves and assures a
of seed for the desirable perennial
grasses. . ,
The range's amazing ability to respond
to moisture and recover from nearly total
destruction is illustrated by the situation
at Miles City. By 1944 the cover of peren
niai grasses and sedges was back up to tne
Now regarding that top soil that goes
cascading down the gullies after a heavy
rain: On most ranches these capillary
streams carry soil into the larger creeks
(Continued on page 4)
COVERS MONTA N A
Bruce Orcutt looks out across one of the meadows created by layers of sediment that settled out of runoff
waters. He's harvesting four tons of hay on land that years ago was eroded sagebrush range.
-4 \ NATURE'S BLESSINGS?
By RAY OZMON, Field Editor
- \ i
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' Æ 4/m
In the foreground is one of the dams
The resulting hay meadow is seen in the background.
that slows down and spreads the wajer, allowing the soil to settle.
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