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Articles from 2005 In March


What Will It Take To Patch A Fractured Industry?

I've always enjoyed my local, state and national cattlemen's meetings more when there's a contentious issue on the agenda. Of course, that was in the days when we knew that once debate was finished, we'd all slap each other on the back and have some laughs.

My, how times have changed. The trade issue has become so bitter that folks not only question the other side's intelligence but their integrity. We don't lay all the facts on the table so both sides have an opportunity for give and take. We no longer take the time to understand the multitude of unintended consequences that always occur with complex issues. And, we no longer share the spirit that, even in disagreement, we all have the industry's best interest at heart.

Today, it's "us vs. them." The focus is simply on winning, at any cost in some cases. Instead of honestly considering issues, we wage a war of sound bites.

The industry has paid a high price for all the infighting, especially as it relates to our influence in Washington, D.C. We've learned that without a unified voice the result is weightlessness and plenty of political posturing but very little actual results.

Common sense tells us our true concerns should be the activist groups that seek our demise, the competing proteins trying to usurp beef's position in the center of the plate, legislative threats to our business climate, and our foreign competition. The reality is that the biggest battle that will affect the future of our industry is internal.

We need to get this war resolved. We must demand our leading universities and economists present the facts on trade and its impact both positively and negatively so we have a basis for our decisions. Then we must force the two sides to present their visions of the future, then truly scrutinize and discuss them. No one-sided diatribes; just true dialogue.

Perhaps a majority of cattlemen can find common ground, perhaps not. But at the least we'll be able to say we listened, debated and agreed on a course of action given what we thought was in the industry's best interest. Then, the only ones to blame or praise will be ourselves.

After The Gold Rush

Politicians and cattlemen were bouncing around like those Russian squat dancers after a Montana judge stiff-armed USDA's planned March 7 opening of the Canadian border. The border, set to swing open to imports of Canadian cattle less than 30 months of age, was rebolted March 2 by Judge Richard Cebull's decision to prevent the "serious irreparable harm that will occur when Canadian cattle and meat enter the U.S. and commingle with the U.S. meat supply."

Beyond a bunch of hippies trying to burn the Stars and Stripes outside a Grange meeting, there's likely never been an issue as emotional as this border issue. The situation is reminiscent of one of those old Miller Lite commercials where two sides of a stadium face off with shouts of "Tastes Great" and "Less Filling."

Those in favor of keeping the border closed have pulled out all stops in portraying the campaign as a crusade to protect the American consumer. R-CALF even took out an ad in the March 15 issue of the Washington Post invoking the words "mad cow," and using words and phrases like "fatal disease" and "high-risk."

Gulp!

As Agribusiness Freedom Foundation (www.agribusinessfreedom.org) executive director Steve Dittmer points out, the ad was: " the latest effort to scare consumers about BSE -- bought, paid for and placed on purpose in a nationally circulated newspaper published in the city that sets national policy."

There's no doubt, however, that the real motive is protecting the robust U.S. cattle market that has roughly coincided with the May 2003 closure of the border to Canadian cattle. After all, if Canadian cattle are so dangerous, where's the conscience of R-CALF members who reportedly have invested in Canadian cattle since the Canadian BSE discoveries? How can these folks sleep at night as convinced as they are that Canadian cattle will kill consumers? Is it okay to kill Canadian consumers but not American consumers?

And, R-CALF's claim that U.S. consumers will turn away from all beef if Canadian product is allowed into the U.S. ignores the fact Canadian beef muscle products have been available in the U.S. since September 2003. If such a crisis of consumer confidence actually exists, it's one R-CALF (along with its anti-globalist, anti-beef cohorts) has whipped up with its two years of bleating about the issue.

Like it or not, this is a North American cattle industry and the Canadian and U.S. systems are largely the same, including their BSE prevention and surveillance strategies. Once R-CALF has helped "consumer" groups the likes of Ralph Nader's Public Citizen, Carol Tucker Foreman's Consumer Federation Of America, and the Consumer Union dispense with Canada, what's to prevent these anti-meat groups from going after the domestic beef industry. After all, the seeds of consumer doubt on beef safety and USDA's watchdog role already have been well-planted and nurtured -- with R-CALF's help.

The Bible says: "The lion and the lamb shall lay down together." Woody Allen once reworked that to say: "The lion and the lamb will lay down together, but the lamb won't get much sleep." R-CALF not only has lain down with the lion but took a sleeping potion before nestling the industry's jugular into the lion's mouth.

What's more, R-CALF has set the stage for a real beef crisis in this country should a domestic case of BSE be discovered, which experts say is more likely than not. Having used hysteria reminiscent of what happened some 15 years ago when BSE was first discovered in Europe to whip up consumer and political support, what's their fallback position when a U.S. case is discovered? I doubt "just kidding" will suffice.

The long-accepted, almost sacrosanct, tenet of trade decisions is that they should be based on the best available science. In fact, in a mid January e-mail survey of BEEF magazine readers, 81% of respondents said that, as a general principle, the U.S. beef industry should always stand on the best available science in determining its positions on key industry issues.

Yet, of those same respondents, 68.9% said the National Cattlemen's Beef Association should insist U.S. beef trade be re-established with Japan and South Korea and expanded in Mexico before the U.S. border is reopened to Canadian cattle, even if it violates World Trade Organization rules. So much for science.

One can hardly blame folks for trying to lengthen the run of great prices they perceive as being the result of a closed border. Analysts say, however, that the prices aren't driven by supply but by the phenomenal domestic demand growth of the past few years. Thank the checkoff.

The reality is that the U.S. has set a dangerous precedent in departing from the "best science" principle. We've opened the door for trading partners to justify doing the same to us.

Perhaps It's Time To Step Back On Canadian Situation

A Double-Whammy For Canadian Cattle Imports

News spread like wildfire Wednesday of U.S District Judge Richard Cebull's decision in his Billings, MT, courtroom that USDA could not open the border to Canadian live cattle on Monday as scheduled. Then, yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed -- by a 52-46 margin -- a joint resolution of disapproval (JRD4) sending USDA the message that it also disagrees with proposals to reopen the Canadian border on March 7.

R-CALF-USA had asked Cebull to block USDA's plans to implement its final rule opening the border to feeder and fed cattle. R-CALF disputes USDA's claims that the threat of introduction of BSE to U.S. cattle and beef supplies from the Canadian cattle exports should be considered "minimal risk."

"The serious irreparable harm that will occur when Canadian cattle and meat enter the U.S. and commingle with the U.S. meat supply justifies the issuance of a preliminary injunction preventing the expansion of imports allowed under the final rule pending a review on the merits," Cebull said in his opinion.

Cebull also gave R-CALF and USDA attorneys 10 days to develop a timetable for a full trial on R-CALF's request for a permanent injunction prohibiting Canadian imports. Unless there's an appeal of Cebull's decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by USDA, speculation is that a trial on the issue of the safety of Canadian cattle might not be set until mid summer or early fall.

Authored by Kent Conrad (D-ND), JRD4 questioned whether Canada's BSE safeguards are adequate. If passed by the House and signed by President Bush, the "resolution of disagreement" would overturn USDA's rule to open the border to imports of Canadian cattle less then 30 months of age. Indications are that Bush will veto the measure, however.

Ag Secretary Mike Johanns says the Senate's action undermines the U.S. effort to promote science-based regulations, complicates U.S. negotiations to reopen foreign markets to U.S. beef and would perpetuate the economic disruption of the beef and cattle industry.

"USDA remains confident that the requirements of the minimal-risk rule, in combination with the animal and public health measures already in place in the U.S. and Canada, provide the utmost protection to both U.S. consumers and livestock," Johanns says. "We also remain fully confident in the underlying risk assessment, developed in accordance with the OIE guidelines, which determined Canada to be a minimal risk region."

He says he'll lobby House members against passage of the resolution, "which is strongly opposed by the Bush Administration, and continue our aggressive efforts to reopen international markets to U.S. beef."

Meanwhile, Bill Donald, a Melville, MT, producer and president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA), lauded Cebull's decision to delay the border reopening.

"Judge Cebull has indicated an understanding that this is a complicated issue that won't be resolved in four hours. We share his appreciation for the complexity of the issue and will utilize the time allowed by the delay to diligently pursue resolution of all issues potentially detrimental to ranchers," Donald said.

MSGA has demanded that a series of strict criteria be met before cattle trade is resumed with Canada.

"These are all purely economic concerns to ensure we protect our cattle ranchers and industry in the U.S. first," Donald says. "We're confident in the safety of all beef purveyed to U.S. consumers."

Limousin breeders improve temperament

All breeds have bloodlines known to be nervous.There's no doubt that calmer cattle are more desirable than nervous ones. They're easier to handle and safer to be around. They're also associated with higher gains in the feedlot and more desirable meat quality.

If you're a commercial cattle producer who has concerns about disposition and how the Limousin breed has addressed it, read on.

No other breed has made greater strides toward improving docility than Limousin. Thanks to the diligence of Limousin breeders across the country, not only do New Century Limousin have superior muscle and unmatched yield and efficiency, they're calmer now than ever before.

A little over a decade ago, Limousin breeders identified improving disposition as the number-one breed priority. Limousin breeders took their mission to improve this trait seriously. First, the North American Limousin Foundation developed a temperament scoring system. Then, the breed developed the industry's first temperament or docility (DOC) EPD.

Using docility EPDs to drive selection and cull problem animals, Limousin breeders put strong selection pressure on disposition and made remarkable gains to improve docility. Rapid genetic progress was possible given the strong heritability of .40, estimated for the Limousin breed.

By today's count, Limousin breeders have collected docility scores on nearly 160,000 animals. Scores range from 1 to 6, where 1 represents the calmest, most docile temperament and 6 the most aggressive. Table 1 explains the scoring system in more detail and also gives the distribution of scores across the breed. Further analysis of the Limousin docility database has shown a marked increase in the proportion of calm animals (scored as 1 or 2) over the past decade - from 75% in 1994 to 90% in 2004.

Docility scores are used to compute docility EPDs. Docility EPDs indicate genetic differences in the likelihood that offspring will inherit genes for calm, acceptable behavior. The higher the EPD, the greater the opportunity of producing calm progeny. On the flip side, the lower the EPD, the more nervous the expected behavior. As an example, consider the following two sires of comparable accuracy and their docility EPDs:

Docility (DOC)EPD
Sire A +25%
Sire B +5%
Difference +20%

When sire A and sire B are mated to similar sets of females, we would expect sire A to have a 20 percent (the difference between +25 and +5 percent) greater chance of producing calm progeny than sire B. Said a little differently, we'd expect 20 percent more of sire A's progeny to be calm than sire B's progeny.

Just like EPDs for other traits, docility EPDs can be used to rank animals. Table 2 gives some information as to where animals rank genetically in the Limousin breed according to their docility EPD.

In the Spring 2005 Limousin genetic evaluation, docility EPDs range from -22 to +42, with +12 representing the average of active sires.

Accuracy values associated with docility (DOC) EPDs range from “P”, which stands for pedigree estimate (calculated by averaging the EPDs of the parents) to a high accuracy of .99. The higher the accuracy, the more individual or progeny data gathered, and the greater the reliability of the EPD. Commercial cattle producers may want to check accuracy values for docility EPDs of sires of young bulls they purchase to assure the prospective sire is from a proven pedigree for calm behavior. All EPD and pedigree information may be accessed free of charge, 24/7 using the EPD lookup tool at www.nalf.org.

Limousin breeders have been using docility EPDs since 1998, when the first genetic evaluation for docility was published. By placing a strong emphasis on selection for calmer cattle in their breeding programs, they have dramatically improved the temperament of Limousin cattle in the last seven years.

Take a look at Figure 1, which shows the genetic trend in docility as measured by average docility EPD for Limousin cattle born from 1980 through 2004. The graph shows that cattle born in 1990 have an average docility EPD of about +1, but those born in 2004 average +13. That's an increase of about +12 in 14 years, almost +1 per year, which is quite remarkable given that tools for genetically improving temperament have only been around since 1998.

Even with this success, Limousin breeders continue to collect docility scores and select even more stringently for calm, acceptable behavior. They are committed to the commercial segment of the beef industry — providing quality genetics to commercial users of Limousin cattle.

Border merry-go-round continues

Barring legislative or legal action, it appears the border to Canada will open March 7 to live cattle younger than 30 months of age, while boxed beef from cattle under 30 months of age will continue as it has since September 2003.

If you believe in free markets and market efficiency, that's as it should be.

As this column was being prepared, USDA's trade team had found nothing to warrant a resumption delay. It should be noted, however, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns did delay the effective date of allowing boxed beef from cattle older than 30 months of age as proposed in USDA's original rule.

Likewise, a fact-finding team of producers and advisors sent to Canada by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) last month returned to say, “Based on our observations and discussions it appears the Canadian feed industry is complying with the feed ban… From what we've seen, this is not a food safety concern.”

Even so, members of NCBA passed an 11-point directive last month calling for Canadian trade resumption to be tied to, among other things, the Bush Administration reaching an agreement to re-establish beef and beef by-product trade with Japan, South Korea and Mexico, applying economic sanctions if necessary.

An emotional issue

Making resumed Canadian cattle trade contingent upon re-established beef exports to Japan is emotionally popular. But it's akin to saying you refuse to sell your cattle until a certain price is achieved, even though there's no way of knowing when, if ever, the market will arrive at that price.

Despite hopeful reports, the fact is no one has any idea when Japan will open. In the meantime, tight supplies here that could be helped with Canadian imports continue to pressure the market infrastructure, even as Canada continues to expand its own harvest capacity.

Then, of course, you still have the Chicken Littles who think the whole mess is a dairy problem since the BSE case discovered in the U.S. was in a dairy cow. You also have those who feel Canadians should be punished because the infected dairy cow was of Canadian origin. Ludicrous.

Looking at the facts

When the border does open, NCBA's fact-finding team has done as well as anyone thus far in outlining the potential impact. The team's report includes:

  • Can-Fax and Cattle-Fax believe USDA's economic analysis of the rule missed the mark on fed cattle imports because the agency didn't fully account for the 22% increase in Canadian slaughter capacity between 2003 and 2004. Can-Fax (a Canadian market analysis organization) estimates there are about 900,000 head of Canadian cattle available for export — 600,000-700,000 head of fed cattle and 200,000-300,000 head of feeder cattle.

  • Canadian slaughter capacity is expected to grow 18% this year, 4% in 2006 and 8% in 2007.

  • Based on analysis and flyovers of Alberta feedlots where 71% of that nation's cattle are fed, feedlot occupancy is estimated at 65-70% of capacity. The mix of heifers is as high as 50%, and there's a low percentage of yearling cattle on feed.

    Combine that with the fact Canadian harvest facilities continue to process cattle at optimum yield and quality grades, and the NCBA team concluded the cattle feeding industry in Canada is current.

  • Canada's increased slaughter capacity, lower cost of gain compared to the U.S., and the weakness of the U.S. dollar could contribute to fewer live cattle exports than otherwise expected.

  • Stronger prices and a more certain U.S. market could contribute to more cattle than expected coming this way, especially if the USDA rule ultimately limits live cattle exports to cattle 30 months and younger, while allowing beef from cattle 30 months and older.

  • The Canadian government's proposed rule to ban all specified risk materials (SRMs) from animal feed could significantly impact the U.S. cattle business. It could devalue Canadian fed cattle due to a loss in drop credit based on the additional cost associated with SRM disposal. Under certain circumstances, this could result in more movement of Canadian cattle into the U.S. to recoup the lost value.

“Depending on how an SRM ban is defined, this issue could create a trade disparity in which beef export markets require this measure of all exporting countries,” the NCBA group reports. “Given the U.S. industry is 10 times larger than Canada's, banning SRMs from feed in the U.S. would present enormous economic and environmental (disposal) challenges with little to no benefit to ruminant animal health and no benefit to human health.”

Best as anyone can tell, those are the facts. Ultimately, that's what the market will respond to, despite hopes, fears or any number of resolutions and lawsuits folks want to concoct.

NIAA heads to St. Paul

The 2005 annual meeting of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) is April 3-7 at the Radisson Riverfront Hotel in St. Paul, MN. NIAA's annual meeting brings together producers, veterinarians, business executives, scientists, academics, state and federal regulatory officials and other stakeholders in the animal food and fiber industry to discuss the latest issues in animal agriculture. To learn more, call 270/782-9798 or visit www.animal agriculture.org.

Crawford tapped for FDA

Lester M. Crawford is President Bush's pick to become Commissioner of Food and Drugs in the Department of Health and Human Services. The post has been vacant since March 2004 when Mark McClellan left to become administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Crawford, who currently serves as acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is a former Administrator of USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service and Deputy Commissioner of FDA. He's served as an advisor to the World Health Organization for nearly 20 years. He earned his veterinary degree at Auburn University and a PhD in pharmacology from the University of Georgia.

Montana education program

Montana MarketManager, in conjunction with the Montana Beef Network, will host a series of two interactive video conferences to be held in various locations across Montana on March 10 and March 21.

The first video conference will cover animal ID and country-of-origin labeling. The second will focus on getting ready for the cattle-breeding season, and will include discussion on the most effective and efficient ways to synchronize females.

Space is limited. To reserve a seat, contact Chris Labbe at 406/761-4596 or [email protected]. A schedule of locations is available at www.montanamarketmanager.org/st/education/lworkshops.html, under Education and Reference.

Cleaner Pastures

Mart McNutt knows what progress is in combating neonatal calf scours. The Tryon, NE, rancher has hacked calf death loss due to scours in his 800- to 900-head, March-calving, cow herd from a 1995-1999 average of 8-10% to zero in 2000-2004. In fact, the last calves he treated for scours in the system were four head back in 2000.

What's more, treatment expenses incurred during his past four calving seasons have averaged $128.83/year. That's just 4% of the $3,114.18/year his herd had averaged over the 1995-1999 calving seasons. McNutt estimates his change in calving management provides $40,000 to $50,000/year in added revenue by virtue of more weaned calves, better calf performance and reduced treatment expenses.

What's the secret? Healthier calves? Cleaner environment? Reduced disease load? Actually, it's a combination of all those factors, says Dave Smith, DVM.

Neonatal calf scours is a multifactorial disease, says the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Extension veterinarian. The ideal scenario for an outbreak is to have susceptible hosts (naïve calves) existing in an environment (infected communal calving area) that's conducive to the proliferation of (and continued exposure of the host to) the disease agent, be it E. coli, Salmonella, rotavirus, cryptosporidia, etc.

Smith says even the healthiest calf can fall prey — particularly in the wet, muddy conditions common to spring calving periods — if the pathogen load is high enough, or the exposure long enough, to overcome the passive immunity provided by the calf's mother.

And that's the idea behind the UNL-developed Sandhills Calving System (SCS). Named after the Sandhills area of north-central Nebraska where it was tested, SCS is a system that utilizes a series of calving pastures to minimize newborn calves' contact with disease agents. The idea is to minimize both the disease load and newborns' exposure to the disease agents until their immune systems have sufficiently matured to better withstand them.

“We're trying to recreate the conditions of the first week of calving season during each of the remaining weeks of the calving season. We want a clean calving area without the presence of older calves that may be shedding pathogens,” Smith says. “I like to say we're creating eight, one-week seasons rather than one, eight-week season.”

Adopted in 2000, SCS consists of a series of large contiguous pastures. Learn more about the SCS system at: http://vbms.unl.edu/extension/ext_beef.shtml. Here's how it works:

  • Cows are turned into the first calving pasture (see Figure 1 on page 84) as soon as the first calves are born, and calving continues for two weeks.

  • After two weeks, the cows that haven't calved are moved to Pasture 2, with cow-calf pairs remaining behind in Pasture 1.

  • After a week of calving in Pasture 2, the cows that haven't calved are moved to Pasture 3, and cow-calf pairs born in Pasture 2 remain in Pasture 2.

  • With each subsequent week, cows that haven't calved are moved to a new pasture, and pairs remain in their pasture of birth.

The result, Smith says, is multiple pastures, each with calves within one week of age of each other. Cattle from different pastures can be commingled after the youngest calf is four weeks of age.

The segregation of calves by age prevents the transfer of pathogens from older to younger calves. In addition, moving pregnant cows to new calving pastures helps minimize the pathogen load in the environment, as well as a newborn calf's contact time with those pathogens.

“We had E. coli, crypto, coronavirus. We had it all. We put disease on top of disease in our old calving scheme,” McNutt says. “Then we stressed the calves even more by moving the day-old pairs to new pasture.

“With the Sandhills system, we're seeing a lot healthier calves. We're calving one week later than before but still branding at the same time in mid May and maintaining weights,” he says.

A Controlled grazing test

A second SCS trial was conducted on Gail Nason's rotational grazing operation, also near Tryon. She calves 400 cows in 60 days or less beginning in mid May as cows are moved through a series of pastures every two to four days. Both Nasons and McNutt's herds utilize the services of the same veterinarian, Tim Knott of the Sandhills Veterinary Clinic in Arthur, NE.

In the 1999 and 2000 calving seasons, prior to SCS adoption, Nason's herd posted a 6.5% death loss rate (28 deaths in 433 births), and 11.9% (48 deaths in 402 total births), respectively. Neonatal scours caused by rotavirus was found to be the main culprit (see Figure 2).

“I was at my wit's end,” Nason says. “Dr. Knott told me of the Sandhills system, and we brought Dr. Smith on board. Through trial and error, we developed our program. Since 2003 we've lost only one calf to scours. I'd never do anything else. It's the most beneficial practice I've ever seen.”

Nason says implementing SCS, not counting the labor and treatment savings, has probably meant an extra $10,000 in revenue just in the value of the calves saved.

To integrate SCS into her intensive pasture system, Nason continues to move groups of cattle throughout the calving season as necessary for proper forage utilization. However, every 10 days, or whenever 100 calves are born, she divides the herd by sorting out cows that haven't calved from the cow-calf pairs of the preceding group.

The result is that the number of calves in any pasture group never exceeds 100 and all calves within a group are within 10 days of age. The pasture groups are commingled after the youngest calf turns four weeks old.

While the application details of SCS differ between the two herds mentioned above, Smith says the key component is constant. That's the age segregation of calves and the movement to new pastures of cows that haven't calved rather than moving pairs.

“Segregating calves by age prevents the transfer of pathogens from older calves to younger calves,” Smith says. “Meanwhile, routinely moving heavy cows to new pastures prevents pathogen buildup in the calving environment over the course of the calving season, which would result in the exposure of the latest-born calves to an overwhelming dose load of pathogens.”

Widespread applicability

Smith has conducted a series of six SCS workshops for producers since January. He says the response has been very positive, with 55% of attendees in the first meeting indicating they intended to implement SCS in their herd “soon.”

Though the SCS concept hasn't been tested outside Nebraska, Smith says its applicability should be widespread. He knows of about a dozen operations in Nebraska and neighboring states that have practiced SCS for at least one year or more.

“The program was designed for beef operations typical of western Nebraska — larger herds on larger acreages,” Smith says. “But the age segregation of calves is the most important factor, not the number of acres and stocking density, so it should work for smaller herds on smaller acreages, as well.”

Implementing SCS isn't without its challenges, however, he points out. In some cases, cross-fencing is necessary. Making sure there's water access for the groups is another concern.

“Feed delivery in a spring-calving operation might entail more labor, as well,” Smith points out. “And, we like to encourage such producers to vary their feeding locations within any given pasture.”

And now, for the weather

For the 28th consecutive year, Art Douglas, Creighton University, presented his Cattle-Fax weather predictions for spring and summer 2005.

Douglas says things are looking better for areas of the U.S. suffering from drought in 2004.

“The drought area should shrink because of good precipitation coming in off Hawaii,” he says.

Looking to the spring and summer, Douglas predicts the temperature will remain 1-1.5° higher than normal throughout the Midwest and into the Northeast. The Southwest should see temps about 0.5° above normal.

“Getting into April and May though, it's likely to turn cooler and wetter for most of the Midwest, just like last year,” he says.

His precipitation forecasts call for normal to above normal rainfall, with areas in eastern Montana and North Dakota seeing some lingering dryness.

Summer temperature conditions should be above normal in the East and below normal in the West. This is typical of what to expect with a developing drought pattern coming into the U.S., he says.

“Expect dryness developing under the warm temperatures out of Arkansas, Mississippi, up through the Tennessee Valley and into the Northeast,” Douglas says.

Overall, he says the outlook shows good spring conditions, warmer than normal temperatures and adequate precipitation going into summer.

Filling The Canvas

“We shall delineate with correctness the great arteries of this great country: those who come after us will extend the ramifications as they become acquainted with them, and fill up the canvas we begin.” — President Thomas Jefferson to his friend, William Dunbar, May 25, 1805.

George Trischman is anxious to show the world why Jefferson should be smiling down on the canvas the third U.S. president started when he engineered one of the largest land acquisitions in world history — the Louisiana Purchase.

“We can demonstrate that what Thomas Jefferson was after in 1805 exists today,” explains Trischman, manager of Hamilton Ranches near Twin Bridges, MT. “We're living proof you can have sustainable ranching, agricultural communities and commerce — and still leave the land pretty much like it was when Lewis and Clark came through.”

This summer, 200 years will have passed since Jefferson's Corps of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and Capt. William Clark trudged through what is now Montana. Jefferson's aspiration was a great American agrarian culture stretching from coast to coast. His dreams of communities and commerce “acquainted” with the great rivers of the country were laced with an appreciation for the natural resources of the land — resources that could continually fuel an environment where people and nature could coexist.

Therefore, with the bicentennial of the Lewis & Clark Expedition comes opportunity and responsibility for Montanans of all walks of life.

Trischman is among dozens of ranchers participating in the Montana Undaunted Stewardship® program — a collaborative effort designed to demonstrate how “this great country” remains much as it was two centuries ago. And, he's willing to share the places that are significant to the history of the nation. On one unit of Hamilton Ranches, located between Dillon and Bannack, lies Carroll Hill, the place where the expedition met Sacagawea's tribe, the Shoshone, in early August 1805.

Given its size, it's not surprising Montana garners so much attention related to Jefferson's crowning glory and the Expedition. Lewis and Clark spent more time in present-day Montana than any other state during their trek across the continent.

That's why Undaunted Stewardship has become so important to Montana's cattle industry. As a cooperative program involving federal and state agencies working with private-sector organizations, its goal is to ensure the long-term environmental quality and economic productivity of privately owned, agricultural landscapes — with special attention to sites rich in history along the Lewis & Clark Trail.

A University of Montana Institute of Tourism and Recreation study in 2000 estimated the state could host up to 8.9 million more visitors over the four-year Expedition bicentennial period.

Tamara Beardsley, Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) communications coordinator in Helena, like others, thinks the figure high. But, she says, there's “no question” Montana will see an influx of visitors following in the Corps of Discovery's footsteps.

She says two of the 15 national Lewis & Clark Bicentennial signature events will be held in the state — an event near Pompey's Pillar in June and a July 4 festival at the Great Falls of the Missouri.

Historic site preservation

Trischman, with the blessing of ranch owner, Alan Hamilton, is one of at least nine Montana ranchers who have completed the Undaunted Land Steward Historic Site Preservation certification process. These ranchers agreed to preserve historic sites on private land and provide access for the public to view, enjoy and learn from them.

Each historic preservation site features a free, public interpretive display focused on the Lewis & Clark connections, ranch history and land stewardship. These places will be accessible by car.

“I really think this is a good program that let's us show the public we've done a good job in maintaining the integrity of these sites, as well as the environment around them,” he adds. “We'll be ready for them.”

The historic site certification involves 10-year lease agreements between the landowner and Montana State University-Bozeman (MSU), says Merrita Fraker-Marble, a research and Extension associate in MSU's College of Agriculture. “Certification is for five years, and then participants must recertify.”

To compensate for providing access to the historical sites, each landowner receives a one-time, $50,000 payment provided through a federal grant to Montana's Undaunted Stewardship program. At each site, a kiosk will be erected to commemorate the Ex-pedition. Interpretive displays by Helena writer Tom Daubert will tell visitors about each area's history, including past and current stewardship practices that helped keep them productive and natural looking.

Land steward certification

For ranchers without significant historical sites on their land, the Undaunted Stewardship Land Certification Program is a way to demonstrate they're preserving Montana's open space while using environmentally sustainable agricultural practices, Fraker-Marble says.

“We have 25 ranches with more than 400 square miles of rangeland certified,” she says. “We have 30 plus ranches in the certification process and more are interested and contacting us all the time.”

Ranchers who volunteer to participate in this land certification program agree to use state-of-the-science range management practices to maintain or enhance environmental values of grazing lands. They pledge to adhere to three stewardship standards:

  • A long-term commitment to a set of environmental management ethics and to respect all local, state and federal laws and regulations.

  • Assure that a written grazing management plan exists and is kept current.

  • Conduct annual land monitoring to assess the environmental impacts and effectiveness of grazing management practices.

To be eligible, farms and ranches must be classified as agricultural land by the State of Montana. Technical assistance from MSU is available to help participants meet their stewardship goals. Jeff Mosley, MSU Extension range management specialist, coordinates a range science team that visits and studies the ranches and helps the ranchers develop written grazing plans.

“The team also helps each rancher establish a range monitoring program to collect baseline data ranchers can use to judge, refine and continually improve their land management,” Mosley says.

More to the story

MSGA and MSU aren't working alone in Undaunted Stewardship. A guidance council representing 19 conservation organizations and agricultural groups, including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), helps oversee the multi-faceted program. BLM is an especially important player in resource management of the upper stretches of the Missouri River — the major artery of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.

One of the Undaunted Steward-ship historic site ranches is the Pavlovick Ranch, south of Big Sandy and located at an end-point for floaters of the Wild and Scenic Area portion of the Missouri River. The Pavlovick Ranch includes a documented campsite of the Expedition (May 28, 1805). One of two Undaunted Stewardship ranches with historic sites accessible only by boat, its 8,100 acres have been in continuous agricultural production since the 1890s.

While the program is designed to showcase the century-old legacy of environmentally sound ranching in the region, Undaunted Stewardship stems in large part from defensive posturing. The program was born in the wake of the Clinton administration's 2001 designation of the controversial Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument (see “Undaunted Stewards,” BEEF, January 2002).

Public interest in the Missouri Breaks — and the coming Lewis & Clark Bicentennial — had intensified following publication of Stephen Ambrose's book, “Undaunted Courage,” which chronicled the Expedition. In 1999, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt floated the river breaks with Ambrose, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and a cadre of environmental activists.

The Montana ranching community had long voiced opposition to monument designation. But, a furor erupted when it was learned the nearly half-million-acre monument area also included 81,000 acres of privately owned land.

“A lot of this stems from when Babbitt was in power and making monuments out of so many ranching areas of the West,” Trischman says. “We had to tell our side of the story, especially with the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial bringing so much attention to the state.”

Exploring a “vast wasteland”

What President Thomas Jefferson really wanted was to find an inland waterway to the Pacific Ocean. Finding the fabled “Northwest Passage” would not only crown the glory of his $15-million Louisiana Purchase, but also calm critics of what some claimed was a ridiculous investment in “a vast and howling wasteland.”

From Columbus' time, explorers had searched for an all-water route connecting East Asian trade routes to Old Europe. In 1804, the best bet was to check out the mighty Missouri River and see where it led.

Instead of a connection between the Missouri and Columbia rivers, the Corps of Discovery bumped into a massive mountain chain that split the continent near the Missouri headwaters at what today is Three Forks, MT.

As the dream of an easy trade route across America faded that summer of 1805, many of the other tasks assigned to leaders Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were fulfilled in grand fashion.

They succeeded in making mostly peaceful contact with native peoples, and their surveys of sites for trading outposts and forts served to outline many of the geo-political maps charting the region today. Their detailed descriptions of the land's plant and animal resources far exceeded Jefferson's hopes for the expedition and fueled further hope for the development of the region.