Pete Deal, Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service
Wetlands Extremely Valuable Drinking water for cattle and wildlife. Habitat for native plants and wildlife. Contribute to groundwater recharge. Filtration and cleansing of pollutants from surface waters Stormwater and flood control. Storing water in times of drought
Wetlands on Working Ranches Often well-preserved when managed on cattle operations. With proper management, these wetlands are better off with cattle than without. Studies at the MacArthur Agro-Ecology Research Center indicate that proper grazing may actually help control invasion of woody and shrub species and may also enhance plant species diversity. A California study indicated that grazing helped maintain native plant and aquatic diversity in wetlands. More information is needed on the effects of cattle on these wetlands.
Wetlands are Complex Ecosystems Provide a link between aquatic and terrestrial environments. Wetlands are areas that are inundated or saturated by surface water or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soils. Florida wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bayheads, bogs, cypress domes and strands, sloughs, wet prairies, riverine swamps, hydric seepage slopes, tidal marshes, mangrove swamps and other similar areas. Wetlands typically occur on low landform areas with seasonal or permanent standing water. Sometimes wetlands occur on slopes where a layer of rock or clay forces groundwater to the surface.
Wetlands are Dynamic Systems That change through time. Change is normal and expected. Change may occur so slowly that it appears unnoticeable. Natural processes are constantly at work. Ponds and lakes slowly fill up and become swamps. Swamps become bogs. Ultimately, they turn into beds of peat. When drained, they will go back to swamps and open water. Wetland protection is protecting them from changes caused by human actions. Protection is important so wetlands may continue to function as natural systems.
What can Ranchers do Implement the Water Quality BMPs. Implementing practical alternatives or modifications eliminate or reduce adverse impacts to wetlands. Adverse impacts to wetlands include: Drainage, Changes to the vegetation and Impacts to water quality.
Water Quality Best Management Practices for Florida Cow-calf Operations Manual Created by Florida Cattlemen for Florida Cattlemen. These Best Management Practices center on: Wetland protection Impact avoidance Water quality treatment and field discharges. The practices in the Manual were selected because they are effective and cost effective.
Protect Wetlands and Avoid Impacts Identify the wetlands or hydric soil types and/or other depressional frequently flooded areas on your ranches. Reference county soil survey maps. Work with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) NRCS is there to help you develop and implement plans that protect the Nation’s natural resources. Create your own soil survey of your ranch using the Web Soil Survey
Have a Plan A simple plan can be created using five basic steps. 1. Identify problems and/or opportunities. 2. Develop alternatives to address the problems or opportunities. 3. Evaluate the alternatives and select the ones that meet your goals and objectives. 4. Implement the selected alternatives. 5. Re-evaluate the plan and modify it as needed.
For Assistance Local Ag Extension Agent. Florida Dept. of Agriculture. Local USDA-NRCS office. Locate the local USDA-NRCS office at this website: You may be eligible for financial assistance through some of the USDA Conservation Programs. To find out more about the USDA Conservation Programs visit the 2014Farm Bill website at:
Use of Wetlands by Grazing Animals Perception that animals produce nutrients that pollute wetlands. Animals do not produce nutrients! Animals consume, excrete, move and retain nutrients. All nutrients excreted by animals come from natural or human sources. Humans who manage the ranch can manage the amount and location of nutrients livestock excrete. Reduce the amount of nutrients imported as feed or fertilizer. This will reduce the potential for nutrients to impair wetlands. Managing the time animals are in wetlands will reduce the potential for problems Refer to page 13 of the BMP Manual.
Animal Deposition Animals excrete most of the nutrients they consume. A small amount is retained as flesh, bone and blood. Remainder is excreted in proportion to the time an animal spends in a location. Animals that spend 100% percent of their time in or near wetlands will excrete all of their excess nutrients in or near wetlands. Animals that spend 25% of their in wetlands will only deposit 25% of the nutrients they excrete in wetlands.
Management That Works Use of alternative cattle water sources Strategically locate sources such as upland excavated ponds, artesian wells, watering troughs, and/or other surface water sources that provide adequate drinking water away from more sensitive areas. Use fences to manage the distribution of livestock and facilitate a managed grazing system. Properly located fences allow the manager to limit the time animals are in or near wetlands. Can reduce the amount of time animals spend loitering in wetlands. Allows time for the vegetation to recover between grazing events. Implement a nutrient management plan. Reduce the use of fertilizer. Basing fertilizer applications on soil test results. Sediment and erosion control measures should be implemented whenever there is a potential for erosion to occur.
Use Filter Strips or Buffers Maintain a foot vegetative buffer between wetlands and upland pastures or cropland. NRCS defines a buffer as a strip or area of herbaceous vegetation that removes contaminants from overland flow. Buffers should be designed based on the slope. Follow all stipulations regarding buffers prescribed in your water management district permit. Typically, filter/buffer strips are not fertilized. Fertilizer may be needed to promote vigorous vegetation. The purpose is to decrease the velocity of runoff water and remove sediment particles, organic material, nutrients and pesticides.
Get a Wetland Determination Always !!!! Get a wetland determination prior to conducting any activities in a wetland. Stiff penalties for digging in or filling wetlands. May be a fine for violating the Clean Water Act. May make you ineligible for USDA benefits. Contacting your local USDA NRCS office. Or use a qualified consultant. The bottom-line is: Don’t go digging up your wetland without talking to your NRCS folks.
Minimize the Potential for a Problem Water quality impacts to wetlands can be minimized by using practices such as: Nutrient management. Filter strips. Conservation buffers. Swales or holding water onsite. These can substantially reduce pollutants, especially suspended solids, and allow wetlands to more naturally assimilate nutrients.
Grazing Management Can minimize water quality impacts. Pasture systems require good management to achieve optimal productivity forages and utilization. Manage the livestock to benefit the vegetation and the livestock for optimum productivity. Correctly managed, a grazing system maintains the vegetation in good condition to supply ample feed and reduce erosion. Rotate livestock through the pastures at a pace that promotes herbaceous vegetation and provides an adequate recovery period between grazing events.
Source Reduction Limit the use of pesticides and fertilizers in and around wetlands. Avoid spray drift impacts. Use properly labeled herbicides when using herbicides in or near wetlands. Herbicides labelled for use in wetlands have been thoroughly tested. Properly labelled herbicides will generally not create water quality problems.
Cowboy up for Conservation. It can Save Your Grass! The bottom-line is: Know your ranch. Identify the problems. Develop a plan. Implement the appropriate Best Management Practices for your ranch.
For More information, Contact If you would like assistance from the Florida Agricultural Extension Service please contact: Bridget Carlisle, Livestock Forage Agent, (863) or If you would like to receive assistance from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service: Pete Deal, Rangeland Management Specialist, (407) ext. 107 or