The Ups, Downs and Ups Again of Habitat Building

Cattle drive up Slate Gulch. The steer on their way back to my section of the ranch.

I am just slow. Ok, no “over the hill” jokes since I revealed my age in the last post. This is not about age. It is about time and knowledge. I am not wealthy. I work for a living – so does my husband. In fact, his job is incredibly demanding from before he is technically on shift until after the time he is supposed to be off. Covid has slowed some things but accelerated others. Being in healthcare at this moment and a general do-gooder…volunteering to do whatever is needed, I am very busy too. I share this because there is a best time when things need to get done. For example, when weather is cooler, before cattle are around, when plants are starting – these are generally a good time to get things done for habitat protection. Some days, I just don’t have the time to start a large project, especially if I don’t know exactly what I am doing and after a full day of work.

On Saturday morning, the spring creek near my house where I intended to plant sites 6, 7 and 8 was filled with flowers and small butterflies eating from them. I rejoiced seeing that area teeming with life and such fragrance. Saturday evening, the cattle came north. By Sunday morning, the creek had been mostly stripped of all the flowers and lush grasses. I knew this was going to happen, but I just didn’t have the time or ready expertise to move quickly on building an electric fence.

Above is “before”. Below is “after”.

There are tremendous benefits to grazing, and then there are heartbreaks. If you do not have all your supplies or the know-how, it is good to start early. I did attempt to get all the supplies ordered in advance (covid makes popping by the ranch supply store difficult). Sometimes, there are barriers to progress. In my case, I tried to order two weeks ahead. I lost a weekend while waiting for an electric fence rep to get back to my local store. After losing two more days while the one guy who does special orders at my local place was off, I found out they could not supply all the items economically. Because they are not buying that kind of product in large enough quantity, some of the items were really expensive. This meant, I needed to go further away to get all the pieces I needed. That took time too. After I had the materials, we read that the electric unit needed to be charged for three days before use. That put my building timeline after the cattle came back. You see what can happen. Start earlier gathering what you need.

My husband and I can build fence. We have put up miles of regular ranch fencing. However, an electric fence has different requirements, and we had not built one previously. Fortunately, we have a really good cattleman to work with (more on him soon in another blog) who has been a good thought partner on many ranch decisions we’ve had to make. He has provided some good guidance on the fence.

When you care about something so much, it is an emotional ride. I am trying not to get too attached to anything. This is difficult. I came back from the spring creek on Sunday angry at myself for moving too slow. There have been a few “fails” on my part for which I take full responsibility – and they eat at me. My dad happened to call as I came back to the house with the pieces of my heart barely beating in my hands. He said, “One section at a time. It will come together nicely”. He is right. I can only do what I can do.

As I walked back home, I noticed a very unique plant that had previously been obscured by the grass, but was now visible after grazing. I took a picture to identify it. Yesterday, I spoke with Hillary Sardinas, Monarch Conservation Manager at the State Resource Conservation District (RCD) and Melinda Barrett, our local RCD director about the grant we had just secured. Hillary shared an article she had co-written. It happened to be about Asclepias californica – the rare California native milkweed that is the earliest to emerge of the milkweeds. It plays a critical role in providing habitat early in the monarchs’ migration after overwintering. Fortunately, there was a photo. It looked exactly like the unique plant I saw not too far from my home! I ran down the hill to the plant to double check. YES! It was indeed a. californica. A miracle occurred.

a. californica right down the hill from my house!

Not only was it this special plant, but there were eight of them! Seven were in bloom and one was still emerging from the soil. My heart pieced itself back together, and began to beat fully again. I had not planted this variety last year. The seeds must have remained dormant for years waiting for the right time, moisture, temperature, or whatever, to emerge. I had seen this plant before, but only one and in another location on the ranch. The beautiful smell it emits, however, was unmistakable. I have smelled it over the years in a variety of places in California. I know it must be around. Tomorrow, I will be going on an expedition over my neighbor’s and my ranches looking for these plants. They will be entered into the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper if I find any. We need to generate all the data possible to understand how they are adapting to the way we’ve changed their ecosystem so we can provide adapted solutions. Adapted solutions seems to be all we have. Humans, on a global level, even a regional level in California, don’t seem to be interested in changing their behavior so that the monarchs can be assured survival. We already know the real solution though, what is really needed. Can we change how we consume? How we think of all living things? Can we think of the planet as our relation rather than an inanimate object only valuable through exploitation?

The emotional rollercoaster continues. The Earth is healing herself as she gets this remarkable break from the frenetic behavior of humans. Maybe the monarchs will have more of a chance this year. Seeing a. californica, today ended on a high.

One thought on “The Ups, Downs and Ups Again of Habitat Building”

  1. Great story! (I am learning to dodge these ads that come along with it!). I need to come for another visit-someday! smile!


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