The measurement of utilization and residual vegetation (stubble height) is a valuable tool in managing livestock disturbance but it is often improperly measured, and results misinterpreted. A common situation for these concerns is when stubble height protocols and rationales used for terrestrial areas are applied to riparian zones and the protection of fish habitat.
Protocols used to assess stubble height near streams and serve as a surrogate for fish habitat may differ from approaches used to protect upland plant vigor. Measurements of stubble height designed to protect fish habitat can include the measurement of all herbaceous vegetation along the greenline and should be evaluated following the removal of livestock and after the growing season ends.
In allotments with threatened salmonids or other at-risk aquatic species, stubble heights necessary to protect fish habitat may exceed what is necessary to maintain forage production for livestock. Properly determined and applied near stream stubble height standards can protect important fish habitats while providing accountability for grazing management. Consistent livestock management above standards will improve salmonid habitats and undermine arguments used by organizations that would like to limit livestock grazing on public lands.
If range conservationists and fisheries biologists work together to develop monitoring protocols for stubble height or other metrics that can be used to improve fish habitat, the application of proper standards to manage livestock disturbance near streams should benefit the fish, the land management agencies, and the ranchers that rely on grazing public lands.
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Vol. 42 • No. 3