BCTS Silvo Ranch did Grass Seeded & Monitoring © Courtesy of Canada Beef
Werner and Jody Stump, Crystal Lake Ranch, earn the 2023 BCCA Ranch Sustainability Award
Ranching sustainably in the rugged and variable terrain of B.C.’s southern interior requires a willingness to adapt and change practices to ensure the land remains resilient as impacts from shifting climate patterns and extreme weather create new challenges for beef production.
At Werner and Jody Stump’s second-generation family ranch in Malakwa, B.C., continuous improvement to develop and maintain range, mitigate wildfire risk and diversify operations must balance with the environment, soil health, and water stewardship.
The Stumps involve their three children in land use strategies by teaching them how the projects being undertaken balance in the environment. Working with nature while maintaining a love and respect for the land are values the couple wishes to instill in their children and pass on to the next generation while also creating awareness of beneficial climate impact mitigation strategies for producers and other sectors.
“We know that things are always going to change over time,” said Werner. “I think of the changes that we’ve made in the last 20 years; in the next 20 years there’s going to be a lot more changes.”
Crystal Lake Ranch is a mix of deeded, leased, and Crown lands dotted with diverse ecosystems such as conifer and deciduous forests on wet belts and floodplains, riparian, wetlands and sensitive habitats for species at risk (SAR). In addition to beef cattle, the land supports grizzly bears, black bears, cougars, wolves, coyotes, raptors (eagles), ungulates, fish and SAR Lewis Woodpecker and Western Painted Turtle.
Wildfires have always existed in the area, but the risk has amplified in recent years, and fires have crept to the home range. The Stumps practice silvopasture—or the intentional management of timber and forage together on the same landscape—to develop and support two crops—forage for their beef herd and eventually timber.
Silvopasture mimics the naturally occurring open spaces once created by wildfires, which served to control the vegetation. Blending ranching and forestry practices has multiple benefits; the open spaces can act as a natural firebreak during wildfires and grow healthy forage for livestock and timber for harvest.
The practice also helps mitigate soil erosion. Two years ago, a timbered area on the ranch was harvested and de-stumped due to root disease. Forage and trees were planted on the land. The domestic grasses immediately stabilize the soil surface, reduce soil erosion, and stimulate the ecosystem’s productivity while the trees are starting to establish themselves, Werner explained.
Tree seedlings are planted adjacent to a large immovable object so the livestock are less likely to stand on them, he added. Eventually, the trees become more dominant, and the grasses recede, which benefits the ecosystem.
In the meantime, the forage grown to support cattle also supports wildlife. Stump said the crop is one of the first sources of high-quality forage in the spring for the grizzly and black bears and ungulates that frequent the ranch.
The Stumps grow other crops and feed all winter, primarily using round bales moved on a daily basis.
They limit traditional tilling to reduce soil erosion and loss of organic matter and microbes. Livestock grazing provides a natural broadcast of manure that enriches the soil. Introducing technology like drones for more accurate, safer and cost-effective grass seeding, mapping, crop damage monitoring/assessment, has benefitted the entire ranch.
The area’s high grizzly population is the main challenge to the corn crop. The ranch has experienced over 25 per cent crop loss to grizzly bears who trample down large areas as they raid mature cobs. The Stumps worked with specialists to create electric exclusion fencing, which reduced crop loss to about 6.5 per cent in just two years. Still, the strategy may need to be refined as two of the grizzlies figured out how to bypass the fence by digging under the bottom wire.
“Grizzlies don’t bother the cows so much, so it’s a matter of finding balance,” Werner said. The philosophy extends to predation. When wolf predation on calves became an issue, the Stumps changed their range use and calving times as a mitigation strategy.
For the Stumps, sustainability must have an economic foundation and make sense for the land, the family and the community. This extends to water quality. Werner notes that water quality doesn’t end at the property boundary; it’s what they provide to those downstream.
Water stewardship includes riverbank stabilization projects on the Eagle River to reduce erosion and nutrient input into the watershed. Vegetation reestablishment on historically eroded banks helped to further improve stabilization and reduce sediment. The multi-partner bank stabilization and riparian habitat restoration and protection
projects, which included riverbank stabilization, livestock control fencing and establishment of native vegetation, protect almost 2.2 km along Eagle River. These projects helped protect fish, waterfowl habitats, and other SAR and threatened species.
Project partners include the Farmland-Riparian Interface Stewardship Program (FRISP), Species At Risk Partnership on Agricultural Lands (SARPAL), Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Environmental Farm Plan (EFP), Shuswap Watershed Council (SWC), Splatsin First Nation and Crystal Lake Ranch.
An Environmental Farm Plan sets the stage for future grazing management and ranges health goals, improved management in riparian areas and projects to mitigate the impact of climate change. As always, the Stumps will continue working with the Ministries and Conservation Officers to ensure that wildlife is protected during ranching operations.
The Stumps say their efforts reflect the values of an industry that lives and breathes, taking care of the land and thinking about the next generation. “To be successful in the beef industry, you have to adapt and change and ensure everything is looked after in balance,” said Werner.
Pastures and grasslands used for beef cattle provide many ecosystem benefits. Stewardship of the land is essential to the families that raise beef cattle.