Upland and Pasture Management

AleutianPasture 512

Managed pastures provide excellent forage for Aleutian cackling geese, which graze on the nutritious green shoots of grass. When flooded, these pastures provide valuable habitat for numerous other species of wildlife, including tundra swans, wigeon, coots, and shorebirds.

Upland/Pasture Management

Most of the short grass pastures on the Refuge were established when the former land owners constructed dikes, drained salt marshes, and planted perennial grasses in order to graze cattle.  Over time these areas have subsided to elevations below mudflats in the bay, making salt marsh restoration extremely difficult and expensive.  However short grass pastures do have tremendous value to wildlife.

Aleutian cackling geese use short grass pasture as their preferred foraging habitat during wintering and spring staging.  With the latest population estimate over 120,000 birds, they can negatively impact pastures on privately owned dairy lands. To help alleviate these issues, the Refuge manages approximately 250 acres of short grass pasture to provide habitat for Aleutian Cackling geese, and numerous other species of wildlife such as tundra swans, wigeon, coots and shorebirds. 

Picture: This photo shows an unmanaged pasture (left) next to a managed pasture (right). Grazing and mowing reduces the amount of rank vegetation and thatch, stimulating the growth of grasses and forbs which are valuable food sources for many species of wildlife.

A combination of grazing and mowing are used to maintain short grass and clover, control undesirable species, and prevent the accumulation of rank vegetation and thatch.  Typically, a light stocking of cattle are grazed from April through October with mowing occurring in the fall to reduce noxious weeds like thistle species and bristly ox tongue. 

With the high amounts of rainfall we receive in the Humboldt Bay area, and the fact that pastures are located within the former Salmon Creek Delta, they often experience “sheet water” flooding.  This occurs when a thin (< 5 inches) “sheet” of water collects on pastures.  As flooding drives invertebrates out of the soil and seeds begin to float and become available, numerous species of waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds flock to these habitats.  The sporadic but regular flooding also makes small mammals such as voles and gophers available prey for many species of hawks and owls.  Depending on rainfall patterns these wetlands can remain for many weeks and provide valuable habitat for birds, amphibians, mammals, and invertebrates.