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ND rangelands - battling back from juniper

ND rangelands - battling back from juniper

By Scout Nelson

The North Dakota Badlands face a silent invader: juniper trees. These evergreens, while scenic, crowd out native plants and reduce valuable grazing land for livestock and wildlife.

To combat this challenge, the North Dakota Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and partners recently hosted a tour showcasing innovative strategies for juniper control.

The tour, spanning Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, featured presentations by experts and visits to key areas.

Dr. Carissa Wonkka of the University of Florida highlighted the national scope of the problem, with a quarter of U.S. rangelands affected. Juniper encroachment not only reduces forage but also costs ranchers billions of dollars.

Fire emerged as a potential solution, particularly for non-sprouting junipers. Tour participants learned about the controlled burn at the "Donut Hole" in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the impact of the 2021 Medora Wildfire. While initially skeptical, rancher Ted Tescher acknowledged the fire's effectiveness in reducing juniper cover.

Beyond fire, mechanical mastication and manual removal were also explored. Mike Gerbig, NRCS representative, emphasized the importance of thorough removal, as even outlying branches can regenerate. He highlighted the role of NRCS in providing financial assistance through programs like the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP).

Financial support is crucial, as juniper control is a costly endeavor. Eric Rosenquist from the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust discussed cost-share programs and Outdoor Heritage Funds available to support these conservation efforts.

The tour concluded at Mike's Creek, where ongoing Forest Service juniper removal projects showcase collaboration between various entities.

Organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation, Mule Deer Foundation, and the U.S. Forest Service all play a vital role in maintaining healthy rangelands.

As Gerbig noted, the interest from ranchers is clear. With each new contract through EQIP, the fight against juniper encroachment gains momentum. This collaborative effort offers hope for the future of North Dakota's rangelands.

Photo Credit: gettyimages-minchen-liang-eyeem

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Categories: North Dakota, General

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