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Hanging Rock Canyon Lands Restored

Rancher and conservation agency make land productive again
H&N Correspondent

Hanging Rock Canyon
ABOVE: Rancher Stu Brown, center, shows, from left, John Erquiaga, Valerie Lantz, Jim Gifford and Carol Sharp a spring box, designed by Tom Hill of the Natural Resource Conservation Service, that distributes water downstream. Before the installation of the box, the spring would dry up each year, and no vegetation would grow around the spring. Now the riparian area extends miles downstream, where before it was a dry canyon.

HANGING ROCK CANYON, Nev. — When Stu Brown purchased Hanging Rock Canyon and some other ranches east of Cedarville in 1996 the property was overgrazed, choked with sagebrush, had little forage, eroding stream banks and dried-up springs.

Twelve years later, the ranch is an oasis in the desert. Streams and springs run down previously dry canyons, fields are lush with native grasses and stream banks are covered with vegetation. Trout inhabit the streams, sage grouse bring their chicks to feed on young grass shoots growing in lush meadows, and deer and wild horses roam with antelope and cattle.

Working with the help of the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Brown started by banning hunting from the ranch.

“With the increasing pressure from hunters, I believed the game needed a safe place, a sanctuary,” Brown told a group during a recent tour of his ranches, sponsored by the Vya Conservation District.

Brown implemented different ways to control the sagebrush, which was 6- to 8-feet tall in places and outcompeting native grasses.

By burning, cutting and, in some places, chemically treating the invasive brush, the land was cleared. Reseeding was done with native drought resistant grasses.

Careful rotation of grazing cattle clears dead grasses and encourages growth. Fencing the streams, piping water to troughs, and allowing access to water in controlled areas has stabilized the creek beds.

Solar pumps lift water onto the canyon walls and then the water is gravity fed to dry fields, lessening the impact on the stream.

“We installed spring boxes designed and built with the help of NRCS employee, Tom Hill. Before, the ground around the springs would be devoid of vegetation and trampled until the soil sealed the surface. The water would then go underground and the springs would dry up,” Brown explained.

After the spring box was installed and the main spring fenced off, a dam was built downstream and a pipe was installed from the spring to a watering trough on the hillside. Today the spring water runs year round and miles further down the canyon than before.

“I have found that having a water trough for the cattle helps their general health. That way they’re not going to the bathroom in the water they’re drinking.”

Downstream from Hanging Rock Canyon another dam holds water from the regenerated stream. The water is released several times a year to flood irrigate the meadows downstream.

Underlining the effectiveness of restoration efforts, Brown points to the ranch’s boundaries. The adjoining government land is choked with sagebrush and has very little forage.

Correspondent Jean Bilodeaux covers Modoc County for the Herald and News. She may be reached by e-mail at jeanb@hdo.net.

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