Bovine weedeaters

  Leigh Frederickson, a natural resources professor at the University of Missouri, has been testing whether cattle can hold down the spread of noxious weeds, particularly white top.

Last summer, the 14,186-acre Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado worked with five neighboring ranchers, who rented pasture with mixed results. "Depending on the moisture and the timing, the cows may hammer it over here and ignore it over there," said refuge manager Michael Blenden.

The experiment is one result of a 1992 lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by a coalition of conservation organizations. The groups said the agency allowed land uses that were incompatible with the purposes of refuges. "It was a myriad of things, like jet-skiing, water skiing, even military bombing ranges," said Blenden, "and grazing was one of them."

In the settlement, the federal agency agreed to study the management tools available and whether they achieve the goals of the refuge.

Frederickson says he concludes so far that "grazing won't solve all (weed) problems, but it could well be that grazing is an important tool."

Copyright 2000 HCN and Marcia Darnell

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