“Lawnmower of the prairie”

Roaring Springs Ranch

Which eats more forage on the North American prairie, cattle or sheep?

Neither, according to entomologist Helmuth Rogg:

The grasshopper plague probably will hit its stride in August as summertime heat parches Western croplands and open ranges. Grasshoppers often consume their own weight in forage and crops in a day. Eight grasshoppers per square yard are enough to cause economic damage, Rogg said.

“They are the lawnmower of the prairie,” he said. “The biggest biomass consumers on the North American prairie are grasshoppers — not cattle, not bison, not antelope.”

The pests can reduce rangeland forage by 80 percent in areas as large as 2,000 square miles […]

Oregon, along with much of the American West, is bracing for a blizzard of grasshoppers this summer. The most common method of battling them is to spray the infested landscape with toxic Malathion, because it’s much easier than the alternative — which is to hunt down egg beds and apply a small, targeted dose of Dimilin to the eggs. Dimilin is a growth regulator that kills grasshoppers just after they hatch.

Stacy Davies, foreman of the million-acre Roaring Springs Ranch in Oregon, is not about to wait for a controllable problem to become a plague.

He and a crew of buckaroos will begin searching for egg beds on horseback, ATVs and on foot as soon as the ranch gets some warmer weather, he said. Roaring Springs’ elevation is at 4,600 feet and the mercury tumbled into the low 20s several times in the past week, he said.

Treating the ranch’s egg beds with Dimilin probably will cost $4,000 and save 20,000 acres of grass, Davies said. That works better than battling clouds of mature hoppers later in the season with Malathion, a less environmentally friendly pesticide, that could cost $25,000 and leave the grass at greater risk, he said.

Successful Dimilin treatments in Oregon reduced the grasshopper infestation from 1 million acres in 2008 to 150,000 acres last year, Rogg said.

“All the other states went the other way” — and watched grasshopper populations multiply because they didn’t find and treat egg beds, he said. “They are all going to look forward to big outbreaks.”

Acting proactively rather than reactively…what an unusual concept. It’s also the management philosophy of Roaring Springs Ranch, which was chosen as one of seven Environmental Stewardship Award Program winners in 2007. The ranch’s owners believe that “a healthy resource is good economics.”

In a time when the news from our supposed environmental stewards is beyond awful, it’s nice to remember that there are people out there doing it right. For a 5-minute dose of good news, check out the ranch’s video on the ESAP page.

(Photo: Rounding up the cattle on Roaring Springs Ranch.)

0 thoughts on ““Lawnmower of the prairie””

  • It’s not really surprising about the Grasshoppers eating capacity when you see what a swarm of them can do. Mr. Davis and his staff are to be commended for their foresight and more sensible way of dealing with the problem rather than doing it, to my mind, the ass backwards way it’s usually done.

  • That’s it. Sustainability is perfectly possible and profitable. A little thinking and some changes, individually and within one’s community.

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