Working lands have the potential to play a very important role in native prairie restoration and endangered species recovery in western Washington. Most ranch lands in this part of the state were established on remnant prairie and while they have been managed to support forage for cattle, many still hold pieces of the past with small populations of prairie plant species. The capacity of these landscapes to provide substantial habitat for rare species, while maintaining productive fields for cattle is currently unknown. Research from other U.S. grasslands suggests that grazing may be an effective management and restoration tool for native species.
To evaluate grazing effects on prairie habitat here in western Washington, we have initiated a grazing management study in south Thurston County. Funded by the Readiness and Environment Protection Integration through the Department of Defense, this is a collaborative project between Colvin Ranch, Washington State University Extension, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Center for Natural Lands Management with guidance from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The study will evaluate how a high intensity rotational grazing regime influences the establishment of native prairie species (including golden paintbrush) and, in return, how the native community supports the cattle. To do this, we established grazing exclosures as ungrazed ‘controls’ within six paddocks at the ranch and set up three paired plots within each exclosure and each grazed area.