Lyle T. Stoltman
Small Farms Program Manager
Livestock owners with creeks or streams running through their property are faced with special management problems. Without realizing it, they may be contributing to reduced salmon runs!
When livestock congregate around watering areas, they can cause serious damage. Most of the damage may be seen as trampled stream banks, loss of vegetation, soil compaction, inputs of urine and manure, and increased sedimentation.
Stirred up silt in riparian areas where livestock congregate may be the outcome that most adversely affects the spawning and survival of young fish. It deposits settle over eggs, or are deposited in a spawning site, ( aka redd), numbers of returning salmon are lowered.
The female salmon prepares a redd by "sweeping" the area clean with her tail tin. The excess amounts of sediment may cause the female to be too exhausted to spawn, especially after getting past the many obstacles an the journey back from salt water. The desire to feed is decreased, also contributing to this weakened state.
Sedimentation interferes with salmon eggs too. The depositing silt and fine sediments over eggs can actually suffocate the eggs. If young sac try do hatch, they still may not survive the swim up through the sediments.
Allowing livestock to congregate around riparian areas also causes other problems. These types of problems impact the landowner as well as salmon populations. here are a few examples:
Riparian areas get overgrazed leaving other areas undergrazed. The undergrazed grasses can get long and stemmy and set seed heads, becoming unpalatable. The overgrazed grasses continue to put out tender new growth which is preferred by livestock. The livestock stay in that area longer, preventing recovery.
The overgrazed areas turn into unattractive mud holes during the winter. This provides little vegetation and eliminates any buttering capacity, thus increasing the potential for erosion.
All livestock wastes go directly into the water system at higher concentrations. No nutrients are filtered out or utilized by beneficial grasses. This causes the algae to thrive, decreasing the oxygen available for fish.
Less fertilizer benefit is available for the pastures and commercial fertilizers may have to be purchased and applied.
Weeds and other undesirable plants which livestock do not prefer to eat invade and become established.
Livestock owners can reduce these problems by moving livestock away from the sensitive areas. They will stay there most of the day if they are not forced to move around. Scaring them away from these sites a few times a day or excluding them with a temporary fence can really help.
Livestock will choose a riparian area over others because there is usually more shade, and protection from wind and rain is generally better. Establishing trees or building run-ins to provide shade and cover in other pasture locations will help take the pressure off of these areas. Another alternative is to provide watering facilities away from the problem areas. This will help those areas heal themselves.
Restricting livestock from streams and creeks will help to improve Washington's declining salmon runs.
The King CD and the SCS can help with the plans and have already designed some in the county. It may not be easy or seem economical to try methods like these but in the long run it can help your operation.
For more information on fencing, alternative watering sites, or pasture management please call your local Conservation District or Soil Conservation Service.