Water: River, Streams, Lakes, Springs, and Subsurface Reserves

Increase the amount and percent of “spring runoff” that goes into the ground and charges the ground water aquifer by:

  • Spreading it out so that the water can percolate into a larger surface and subsurface area using only gravity. Route small ditches at the maximum flood plain around the edges of the ancient meadow and let it fill the entire potential water column.
  • Hold water back as high as possible in the watershed early in the season so that water soaks in instead of running off over frozen ground
  • Increase the amount, diversity and quality of organic material in the soil, so that it will hold more moisture and hold it longer
  • Raise the creeks and streams to their optimum elevation, allowing for natural inundation of the prehistoric flood plains and thereby raising the water table and storing more water below the ground surface
  • Remove juniper from non-natural locations
  • Remove pines from non-natural locations
  • Thin pines to a natural density to allow biodiversity and decrease fire risk
  • Control overgrowth of shrubs that crowd out other species
  • Create new riparian areas and new wetlands in conjunction with annual short term livestock use to create multiplicity of habitats and biodiversity

Try to replicate natural processes

  • These areas must be used heavily, either by wildlife or livestock each year or the climax species soon dominate, resulting in less biodiversity and an unhealthy but stable plant and animal community
  • Try to encourage short term “mob” use and rotate times of use during the year so that all plants get an opportunity to reproduce – even if not every year – a natural phenomenon
  • Reintroduce beneficial native species that may no longer be present but are necessary for a fully functioning natural-like ecosystem (various native trees, shrubs, fish, etc.)
  • Raise culverts if any are present and consider replacing large bore culverts that act as drains (i.e. 3 feet diameter) with multiple, smaller culverts in order to raise the bottom of the culvert without the expense of a much higher road or weir. Spillways that are appropriately armored work every bit as well as culverts in weirs. Always provide for fish passage, even where fish are not yet present; our goal is to improve habitat and watershed so that fish can live in more places, even if it is only seasonal by a few species. Every species all the time is an unrealistic goal for many desert streams, but “no fish ever” is not acceptable where it is possible to change it.
  • If water is diverted into ditches or canals in order to spread it out and fill the water table, when time comes to turn it off – do so 25 percent per 12 hours, so that any fish present instinctively and naturally exit the “drying waterway.” Fish screens are nice where practical, but don’t work nearly as well as the programming that nature gives them over millions of years.
  • Put wood and root balls in the stream to create habitat for thousands of species from bacteria to fish and small mammals
  • Create habitat for beavers, freshwater clams, crawfish, and at least five native species/families of fish (trout, shiner, stickleback, minnow and chub)
  • Establish three-layer canopy over creeks and river in order to provide habitat for birds and small animals where they are safe from our plentiful raptors
  • Fence springs so that larger animals generally stay off the surrounding riparian areas and so they don’t pack clay or dirt into the spring itself, which plugs them up. Encourage tree and shrub growth in enclosures to act as a small mammal and bird refuge.
  • Re-establish tree diversity along creeks:
    • Coyote willows (dominant) – short
    • Red twig dogwood – very short
    • Elderberry – short
    • Hines willow – midsize
    • Blackburn willow – mid to tall
    • Alder – midsize
    • Aspen – tall
    • Cottonwood – tall
  • Build and mount bird and bat houses to provide artificial cavities because most large trees were removed long ago and no natural nesting sites exist for “cavity nesters.” Strong bird and bat populations provide insect controls, pollination and other benefits.
  • Ride horses instead of motorized ATVs, etc., to move cattle, check gates, survey creeks and wildlife when possible. Very low “carbon hoofprint” and easier on the environment.
  • Alternatively use tended goats or cattle to harvest forage and create biodiversity as appropriate for the particular environment and species
  • Create off-stream water troughs that stay open in the winter, which creates new habitat areas for wildlife. Wildlife and livestock prefer drinking from troughs where water is cleaner and easier to drink – and drinking more water is healthier for them. In addition, spring water is warmer in the winter than surface water, making it easier for animals to stay warm even if eating less (they don’t have to heat up 32-degree water to body temperature – most springs are 48-degrees).
Land

No artificial fertilizers; spring melts bring nutrients, but the melt water must get on and then under the meadows into the subsurface ground water aquifer – efforts should be made to do this as high in the watershed as possible. Unfortunately, in Silvies’ situation, the top of the watershed is owned by the Federal Government, which is generally a poor steward of the land because they don’t understand the natural processes and don’t invest any money to fix historic mistakes – they just blame cattle for it.

Natural spring-flood irrigation, all with gravity – no pumps or energy used for irrigation

No loss of soil through farming. All fields are native meadows with sods that have never been plowed. Artificial beaver dams (and real ones) are placed to catch sediments that do occur and provide habitat for a myriad of species.

Both artificial and real beaver dams hold up water, allowing it to enter the aquifer and raise the water table. Water goes underground down the watershed, delaying drying, cooling stream flows and benefiting all downstream users (fish and farmers) and increasing biodiversity.

Pastures used sustainably, rested every 3-4 years, and used on different scientifically designed rotations on a year-to-year basis so that seeds from an ever more diverse spectrum of plants can reproduce and germinate. This favors native perennials over invasive annuals, so we by and large have vast fields of mostly native perennial grasses and forbs with a complete natural range of diversity.

Pasture health is assessed annually and each field has a management sustainability and improvement plan.

Where appropriate for the environment and wildlife, prescribed mosaic burns are used as indicated to increase biodiversity and multiple habitats.

Livestock serve the purpose of both making money to support land sustainability and improvement, and artificially replicating the natural action of large herds of ungulates that evolved with our varied habitats but are now gone. They cycle the plants, making valuable natural fertilizers, create footprints where seeds can germinate and eat the dominant species allowing for less dominate plants to also have a space in the ecosystem. In our grazing management process, livestock are limited to one area for an average of 7-10 days (with a maximum of 20 days) at a time. Water, salt, fencing and livestock species and classes are strategically chosen to achieve our land management objectives and to protect sensitive areas from unintentional over-use. Be aware that occasional (every 5-8 years in our plans) very heavy use by wild ungulates was natural and needs to be replicated to encourage increased biodiversity – this results in “natural plowing” that looks bad right after it occurs (unless you know how important it is), but is responsible for the healthy mix of diversity in subsequent years.

Weed and overgrowth by aggressive native shrubs and trees is controlled by the use of human herder managed goat herds and saws or other equipment when necessary.

Weed and exotic plant vigilance, our control methods include:

  • Healthy native plant communities in situ
  • Different management use/time of year variances
  • Goats
  • Hand removal
  • Prescribed fire
  • Mechanical removal
  • Salt application
  • Herbicides – very rarely used

Tree and shrub planting with our native varieties to increase wildlife habitat and stream bank stability.

  • Wildlife habitat development
  • Planting of desirable local native species near waterways, springs and other appropriate areas
  • Some planting of non-local (but native Northwest) species (such as some wild berries and fruits), primarily for bird and small mammal habitat enhancement.

Wildfire control components:

  • Proper grazing to remove excess fuel and manage plant diversity and burn ability
  • Proper thinning to remove excess fuel and encourage healthy, strong trees and shrubs
  • Fire breaks and strategically positioned roads to stop fires
  • Good quality roads for quick access to fires when they occur
  • Good firefighting equipment strategically placed and trained personnel stationed at the ranch at all times
  • Good communications equipment and systems to support those personnel
  • Lakes and ponds developed and filled with winter runoff so that water is readily available to use fighting fires in the area by ourselves and all agencies (given to BLM and Forest Service at no charge)
  • Water held subsurface higher in the watershed to keep plants green and non-burnable longer
  • Facilities like our long paved runway that is used by fire crews to get them closer to the fire and save timeManagement practices to prevent, then early control or fight fires

No hays or feeds brought to the ranch that might bring weed seeds

  • All visiting rigs washed
  • All equipment washed
  • All new livestock quarantined to minimize diseases, parasites, parasite eggs, and weed seeds

Mow road and highway shoulders for litter control, weed control, fire prevention, and early exotic weed identification

Put winter feedgrounds on very poor soil, so that the manure and other organic materials can improve the land over time.

Golf Course

Our goal for Silvies’ Links is for it to set a new standard for the lowest carbon footprint per hole of any high quality, modern (post 1965) golf course in the United States for both construction and ongoing maintenance

  • Special features
    • The land had its own hidden golf course – our designer, Dan Hixson, simply found it. As a result, less than 20,000 yards of soil was moved to build both 18 hole courses (versus a typical amount of 1.5 million yards per course)
    • The course design of superimposing two courses on one space reuses the land, gravel, water and labor to create two 18-hole courses with a carbon footprint far less than one average 9-hole course.
    • The golf course was fitted into the natural environment and only five healthy trees were removed from the future greens or fairways and over 10,000 new trees were planted
    • Virtually all the gravel for the course for drainage, cart trails, fill, roads, etc., was produced on site. No energy was used to transport gravel to the site (average haul for other courses is 20 miles).
    • All the sand for greens, fairways and bunkers was produced on the ranch – no energy was used to haul it here! (average haul for other courses can be over 100 miles)
    • Waste wood and old stumps on the site were used in nearby creeks to create habitat for threatened species, Harney Basin Red Band Trout, and any extra was recycled into mulch for plantings
    • Only native species plants are used for plantings on the course. To date over 20 different species of trees and shrubs have been propagated using ranch derived genetic materials
    • The clubhouse is completely off the energy grid and uses primarily solar power and some propane for appliances
    • The water used on the course is minimal because of the selection of native plants and grass-blends with low water needs. Though adequate water rights for surface water use was available and free, it was decided against so that the water would stay in the fish habitat. Instead, a well was dug at the highest point on the course, which produces up to 900 gallons per minute from approximately 35 feet. It is pumped into a holding pond at the top of the course and then feeds the sprinkler system (primarily by gravity) to most of the course, saving a monumental amount of energy (energy efficient pumps and pressure reducer valves regulate the process for proper operation at all elevations).
    • All the equipment for the creation of the course is owned by the ranch, so energy wasn’t wasted hauling it to and from the course site as it was needed or not needed – it came and stayed, and will be sold when no longer needed.
    • Insect control is always an issue on golf courses and insecticides have a large carbon footprint for both their manufacture and application. At Silvies, we used surplus pine boards and surplus winter labor (lots of winter in Silvies) to build Audubon Society designed bird and bat houses. With over 3,500 of these houses on and around the course, our dayshift (birds) and nightshift (bats) do a great job taking care of unwanted insect guests.
    • Though the greens, bunkers, fairways and paths cover 92 acres for the two courses, the two courses are spread out over 700 acres, allowing for generous wildlife corridors and habitat for hundreds of species from Pronghorn antelope and eagles to shrews and hummingbirds.
Stream Processes

Stream degradation process

Beavers removed in 1820’s > Wood in dams rots and dam weakens > High water event washes out weakened dams > Without dams, the stream cuts down into native meadow > Water table falls > Surface aquifer drained > Organics in the soil decay and are lost > Meadow plants & trees cannot survive without water – they die; fish cannot live without the cooling effect of subsurface water storage and shading by plants – they decay or burn and are gone; sagebrush, juniper and pine invade because it’s now dry enough so they don’t drown – they are here! > Since all beaver food (aspen, cottonwood) is gone, beaver cannot re-colonize the stream and help in recovery. It is not a chicken or egg issue; you must have beaver food before you introduce beaver!

Stream recovery process (10-20 years)

Evaluation & Plan
(dependent upon existing conditions, plant community & stream gradient) > Create access > Find material for ABD (Artificial Beaver Dams) > Remove invasive trees (use in ABD’s?)> Construct ABD’s> Construct fencing or implement other plant rehabilitation plan > Restore rest of watershed away from stream: Small weirs on draws and wherever water can be held Develop off-stream water and springs Fence micro-refuges around springs Remove trees from non-tree areas Thin trees to appropriate distance and trim up limbs for fire resistance >
Plant beaver food (aspen & cottonwood) > Protect beaver food/maintain ABD’s > Soil accumulates organics, silt fills holes; biodiversity returns > Restore beavers > Beavers take over maintenance