Ranching for Rivers

Ranching for Rivers is a new approach to managing livestock within riparian areas.
This program promotes the use of “riparian pastures” as an alternative to complete exclusion of the riparian area to livestock, for improvement of fisheries habitat, in-stream flows, and cottonwood establishment. A riparian pasture is a relatively small pasture that can still be grazed for a portion of the year. Benefits of riparian pastures include improved management flexibility, the ability to use livestock grazing to manage weeds and overgrown vegetation, improved access for wildlife to stream areas, and less maintenance costs of fencing and off-stream water resources.This is a lead text and needs your attention.

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About the Project

The purpose of the program is to provide landowners along the greater Missouri River corridor with the needed resources to voluntarily construct fences and/or other infrastructure (crossings, water gaps, offsite water, etc.) that enable them to better manage the riparian resources on their land. To accomplish this purpose, SWCDM has secured a grant that provides $36,000 (total) in cost-share for landowners to construct riparian pastures to benefit their operation and its natural resources. The cost-share is designed to cover up to 50% of the cost of fence, other riparian pasture-related infrastructure, and construction costs. These funds can be paired with other funding sources to further reduce the out-of-pocket cost to landowners, and landowners do not have to financially qualify for the assistance.

Unlike complete exclusion, riparian pastures are intended to be grazed during some portion of the year, which can provide a number of benefits to the rancher, water resource, and riparian habitat alike. Common benefits of riparian pastures, to name just a few, include improved management flexibility, shelter for animals, increased riparian habitat diversity (including cottonwoods and other woody plants important for stabilizing stream banks), improved fisheries habitat and water quality, improved management of weeds and overgrown vegetation through grazing, and greater wildlife access to streams.

Benefits of Managed Riparian Pasture

Fisheries Improvement
In-Stream Flows
Cottonwood Establishment

2016 Pilot Program Figures

Landowners Helped
Total 2016 Cost Share
Miles of Fence Installed

Succes Story: Iversens

In 2016, SWCDM partnered with the Missouri River Conservation Districts Council to launch a pilot program called Ranching for Rivers which helps ranchers develop riparian pastures on their lands by providing 50% cost-share for riparian fencing and related infrastructure (water gaps, off-site tanks, etc) projects.

Five projects were funded through this pilot program, which together resulted in over 10 miles of riparian pasture/fencing projects on the Missouri and Milk Rivers. 

One of the program participants was Dick and Connie Iversen, Richland County ranchers near Culbertson.

When the floods of 2011 hit the Iversen’s place on the Missouri River, they lost a lot of land to either erosion or sand deposition. But they noticed two things after the floods: first, the banks with trees fared much better and had less erosion than the banks without trees; and, second, the areas that flooded the worst were sprouting up a lot of new cottonwood seedlings. Dick estimates that there are over 200 acres of new cottonwoods that he is now trying to manage.

To protect both his streambanks and these cottonwood regeneration areas, Dick decided to install new fences (and replace those lost) along the river pastures in order to better control grazing in his riparian areas. In some places, the fences are to keep cattle out of regeneration areas, and in others he will control grazing to manage for balanced regeneration. Dick also installed a water tank to help manage river access in these pasture areas.

In all, the Iversens have three to four miles of river frontage where grazing will be managed through riparian pastures. The entire project cost the Iversens upwards of $30,000, which was made much more affordable by the 50% cost-share provided by the Ranching for Rivers program.

Project Partners