Always Improving

Ede Breitmeier runs a complicated operation. With multiple herds paired with certain prime bulls, there are a lot of moving parts that make this registered angus operation work. Add in complexities of Northern Montana weather, drought and severe winters, and a separate full-time job (other than ranching) it is enough to make anyone’s head spin. Yet, Ede is on top of it, continually working to improve her operation and improve habitat for wildlife at the same time.

I first started working with Ede setting up grazing monitoring points to help guide grazing management on the operation. Ede was already working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to transition expired CRP into a grazing system. With the help of NRCS she put in a watering system to effectively utilize all the grass she had. This was done to benefit her livestock performance and improve grass health and production.

During the first year of monitoring, it was apparent to me that Ede knew how to manage her grass sustainably. Units were rested and rotated annually, all to improve the health of her system. Abundant and healthy grass stands were proof of her good management. Yet, she was looking for ways to improve her grazing. Each fall we would go monitor each unit talking about how the grass looked and what the use was like, then each winter we would go to the drawing board – working together to find the best plan for using the grass to improve quality for livestock and wildlife habitat. During one of these monitoring days, Ede mentioned how she would like to add a little bit of water and some fence to help graze a couple pieces more efficiently. This, she felt, would further improve her livestock performance and plant health on her operation.

I took that idea to a community-based organization called the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance (RSA). RSA’s three pillars of work are ranching, conservation, and communities and this project was a good fit for RSA to fund through a grant they received from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). Through the help of RSA, we wrote up an agreement to cost-share a tank, pipeline, and fence to improve management. This agreement also helps ensure that wildlife habitat will stay intact for years to come. Ede’s desire to be a good manager is paying dividends for her operation and for wildlife in the area. Just this year, Ede excitedly told me how she saw Sage grouse for the first time in years out in her pasture!

Ede’s operation is in an incredible area for wildlife. The property adjoins large areas of native prairie on all sides. It represents prime habitat restoration potential for grassland songbird species of concern such as Sprague’s Pipit, McCown’s Longspur, Chestnut Collared Longspur and Baird’s Sparrow. The large blocks of native prairie immediately neighboring this property support strong populations of these species. Additionally, the property is in a priority area for Sage Grouse, has prime waterfowl habitat, and has great Sharp-tail Grouse habitat.

This project showcases how Pheasants Forever is utilizing partnerships in the area to help landowners reach their conservation goals and improve wildlife habitat. This project would not be possible without an amazing landowner, Ede Breitmeier, and a whole host of organizational support (Pheasants Forever, NRCS, NFWF, RSA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).

by Hunter VanDonsel, Pheasants Forever Partner Wildlife Biologist

Anne Johnson, DVM