Grasses for grazing livestock are making a comeback on Utah’s McCracken Mesa thanks to a project partnership among the Aneth Chapter of the Navajo Nation, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Known as the McCracken Mesa Rangeland Project, the Aneth Chapter is working to rehabilitate degraded land through a grass establishment project. McCracken Mesa rises 5,500 feet and covers 57,000 acres. An estimated 37,000 acres are intended for grazing livestock. But the mesa’s terrain, extreme weather and overgrazing from livestock have left much of the land bare.
The use of native grasses ensures a more sustainable ground cover for the mesa along with habitat for wildlife. Plants that are native to an area typically are the most suitable for restoration efforts because they boast advantages such as adaptability to the soil and have mastered surviving and thriving in the sometimes harsh environment.
NRCS funds supported a two phase rangeland project to manage existing brush and to reseed native grasses, such as Indian rice, blue grama, galleta and Western wheatgrass.
The first phase began on 750 acres in 2008 and was successful. Brush has been cleared, and native grasses can be seen growing across the rangeland. The second phase of the project has started on 1,000 acres. The conservation work on McCracken Mesa is a model for the Navajo Nation.
Bill Todachennie, vice president of the Aneth Chapter, said this project can serve as a guide for the Navajo Nation because it provides an opportunity for tribal members to see firsthand the successful rehabilitation of native rangelands. In turn, other land stewards of the Navajo Nation can work to implement the project’s successful conservation practices on their ranges.
Todachennie said chapter members look forward to the day when just like their ancestors, they too will see abundant tall grasses waving in the breeze and plenty of forage for grazing livestock.
“Back in my younger days when they talked about it, I couldn’t envision it. Now I do,” he said.
These efforts are part of USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative, a coordinated effort across the Department to increase economic opportunities and address the needs of rural communities experiencing persistent poverty. Currently, StrikeForce teams are working in twenty states. Since 2012, StrikeForce teams have overseen 400 projects and activities to address persistent poverty in Utah’s remote rural areas, including Indian Country.