Oklahoma Ranchers Benefit from Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative

 

We visit a couple ranchers in the Oklahoma panhandle who are participating in the NRCS Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative. Jordan Shearer, a Slapout rancher, talks about how participation in the Initiative has given him technical expertise on range management and helped improve his grassland, even following exceptional drought in 2010-2012. Loren Sizelove ranches near Shearer, and he’s the Beaver County Extension Agent. The drought took its toll on Sizelove’s herd, and he had to disperse 60 percent of his herd. His participation in the Initiative has resulted in payments for deferring grazing, and deferring calving.

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This is Playa Country — a weekly look at the wildlife, wetlands and prairies of the western Great Plains, and the people who manage them — brought to you by Playa Lakes Joint Venture, an organization dedicated to conserving birds and bird habitat.

The topic is the listing of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken as a threatened species, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative and its underlying proposition that range management practices that are good for the bird also are good for ranching, and lead to improved rangeland health. This time, we visit a couple ranchers in the Oklahoma panhandle who are participating in the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative.

“A lot of people want to say this is a prairie-chicken program, but I don’t think that’s the right way to look at it.” Meet Jordan Shearer, a rancher at Slapout Oklahoma. “A prairie-chicken is an indicator species of a healthy landscape, and I think that’s the goal. Good stewardship will inevitably create good wildlife habitat. And if the soil is healthy, I guarantee you the wildlife are going to be healthy, and the cattle are going to be healthy.”

Shearer’s operation includes about 65 momma cows. He also grows some wheat and livestock forage and runs stocker cattle when he can. We can’t talk much about ranching in this region without at least mentioning the horrific two to three year drought of 2010, 2011 and 2012. Shearer’s participation in the NRCS Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative meant some income from deferred grazing — which he says has helped a lot.

“The prescribed grazing component, for me, with cash rent for most of my acres is very beneficial. I want to see the wildlife flourish, and that’s one of my goals, but it’s hard to get there, financially, sometimes.”

. . . so those payments for grazing deferment help offset his lease payments.

“Furthermore, there are increased incentives under the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative for invasive species removal. We actually had some mesquite trees that we’ve treated and we’re also battling the eastern red cedar.”

Loren Sizelove ranches about eight miles away from Jordan Shearer. Sizelove brings an interesting perspective to the discussion. He’s the county extension agent for Beaver County.

“I’ve been in this position a little over a year. I’ve been ranching 30+ years. I’m in this job because of the drought. In 2011, we saw pretty heavy drought. I said, it’s either spend a lot of money to try and maintain, or hunker down in defensive mode — and that’s what I chose to do.

He depopulated his herd by two-thirds.

“After that process, our county agent chose to move. I kicked it around a little bit and finally decided this is an opportunity that won’t come around very often.”

His participation in the NRCS Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative has resulted in payments for deferring grazing, and for deferring calving. You know, for a rancher, having to say goodbye to two-thirds of your herd. . . that’s tough.

“Are you a genetics guy? Did it just break your heart to have to disperse the cows, or not so much?”

“Well, you know, I didn’t think it would, but it did. We’d done some pretty intensive work in the late 1900s, early 2000s, and had improved, I felt like, our cow herd greatly. It is tough. You work all these years and you have to make the choice. What do you do now? Do you take a risk and try to, hopefully, get rain in the near future? Or if it doesn’t, it may put you in a position that, financially, makes life very, very difficult.”

Through these opportunities, working as the county extension agent, and participating in the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative, Sizelove has been able to continue doing what he loves — ranching.

Playa Country is a weekly show about the wildlife, people and landscapes of the western Great Plains. Made possible by the Playa Lakes and Rainwater Basin Joint Ventures, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Original broadcast: November 2014

Posted: November 23, 2014
Topics: Grazing Management, Landowner Stories, Lesser Prairie-Chicken