Walker’s family raised him on a dairy farm, and he naturally took a liking to
cows. When he grew up, he met the daughter of a cattle rancher in Montana.
Later, they moved to North Dakota to pursue the rich grassland. Steve and his
wife Tana began a dream of starting a ranch of their own in the heart of the
Coteau region of North Dakota, a landscape dotted with sloping hills and
search of more grass, the family discovered a property owned by another family.
The land had been enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which helps
farmers convert highly erodible cropland to grass. However, the CRP contract
for the land recently expired and the owner had a choice: he could leave it
idle, convert it back to cropland or lease it for cattle grazing. The Walker
family expressed interest in leasing the land to graze cows, but the property
wasn’t set up for cattle. The owner referred the Walkers to Ducks Unlimited to
see if there was an option available to them. That’s when Steve Walker learned about the Working Grasslands Partnership
Program through Ducks Unlimited.
The Working Grasslands Partnership Program is funded by a North Dakota Outdoor Heritage Fund
(OHF) grant. Established in 2013, OHF provides
grants to state agencies, tribal governments, political subdivisions and
nonprofit organizations for qualified conservation efforts. Ducks Unlimited connects
with partners to develop effective programs that will maximize both landowner
opportunities and wildlife habitat conservation. DU and its partners then help landowners
apply for program funding.
The Walkers worked with Ducks Unlimited biologists to draw up
a plan to prepare the land for long-term, healthy grasslands and cattle management.
A rotational grazing system was plotted, and with OHF funds and DU’s grasslands
planning, the Walker family installed 8 ½ miles of fence and two solar-powered
water wells. Now, the family has almost 6 dozen head of cattle grazing on their 300+ acres. The land is divided into sections, or ‘cells’, to enable the herd to
graze one section of the land while another section grows and recovers before
the herd is moved into a new section. This process of rotational grazing
ensures maximum use of the grassland for cattle and healthy management of the
grassland for wildlife. The ranch land is
thick with grass and dotted with wildflowers and wetlands. Song birds perch on
the new fence line and the cattle can be heard lowing in the distance.
Walker’s youngest son, Ridge, wants to continue the family legacy and had a
large role in preparing the property for cattle. He worked with his friends to
install the fence lines and gates. The boys love their ranch work and joke with
each other as they hop onto an ATV to check water pumps and set up a new gate.
Steve Walker hopes the opportunities afforded by OHF and organizations, such as
DU, will continue to help his son prepare for a ranching life. This property is
just the start of a life-long dream.
property is enrolled in Private Lands Open to Sportsmen (PLOTS) program. The
North Dakota Game and Fish (NDGF) P.L.O.T.S. program pays landowners a fee to
allow public access to the land for outdoor recreation. Combining the PLOTS
program with the Working Grassland program ensures these properties are
maximized and wildlife can flourish. What’s more, outdoor enthusiasts including hunters and birdwatchers can enjoy
the majestic sweeping prairie and thick natural grassland as well.
Partners include the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust, Partners For Fish
and Wildlife, Landowners, DU, Pheasants Forever, NDGF, North Dakota Association
of Soil Conservation Districts, and OHF.
Tanner Gue, conservation biologist at DU
says, “The Working Grassland Partnership Program is currently one of our most
popular programs available to farmers and ranchers in North Dakota. It’s also one
of many great examples of our working-lands programs that help farmers and
ranchers achieve their operational goals while enhancing and conserving
important wildlife habitat. It’s a pleasure to work with folks like the Walkers."