Refuge Seeks Tenant for Cooperative Grazing Program

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking a tenant for a Cooperative Grazing Program at Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge. The grazing tenant will have use of up to 6,800 acres of non-irrigated native prairie on portion of the refuge for a period of up to five years (2018-2022) with an annual work plan review during each of those years.


Background
Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge (refuge) was established in 1972 to provide habitat for one of the last populations of the critically endangered Attwater's prairie-chicken (APC). As its name implies, the APC depends on prairie grasslands to meet its life requisites, and the Refuge supports one of the largest remnants of native coastal prairie remaining in southeast Texas. Grazing has played an integral role in historical prairie management, and numerous studies have documented the beneficial impacts of carefully controlled grazing on APC habitat. The refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan (2012) specifies cattle grazing as a key strategy for achieving APC habitat management objectives. The Service has determined that cooperative grazing is an appropriate, compatible and necessary use of the refuge to meet these objectives.

The Proposed Cooperative Grazing Agreement
The selected tenant will operate under a Cooperative Grazing Agreement as a “cooperator” with the Service. Under this Agreement, the Service is proposing that the cooperator(s) will be responsible for implementing a grazing program on the Refuge as directed by refuge management for the purpose of providing habitat suitable for meeting life requisites of the endangered APC. This grazing program may require up to 450 animal units (cow-calf (to 6 months of age) equivalent) as habitat conditions dictate. Total stocking rates may change periodically to reflect changing range and habitat conditions. Individual pastures will be grazed as directed by refuge management. Livestock rotation dates and stock densities will be determined by refuge management with concurrence of the cooperator on an annual basis at minimum, but modifications may be made more frequently as habitat conditions warrant. Cooperators will be given as much lead time as possible to implement such modifications, but modifications should generally be implemented within 30 days of notice.

The cooperator may use and will assume responsibility for the proper maintenance of corrals, windmills, tanks, feeders, fences, cattle guards, and any other facility associated with the grazing program. The refuge may provide materials for major repair or replacement of such facilities as authorized by the Refuge Manager on a case-by-case basis. Livestock health is the responsibility of the cooperator, and will be maintained through accepted livestock management and veterinary practices to meet applicable laws and regulations.

Refuge management will be notified promptly of any disease issues, and dead cattle will be disposed of by burial. Locations for provision of supplemental feed and nutrients will be coordinated with refuge management.The majority of the Refuge consists of native coastal prairie dominated by little bluestem, big bluestem, Indiangrass, brownseed paspalum and switchgrass. Approximately 25% of Refuge grasslands were formerly cultivated, primarily for rice. These areas are in the process of being restored to native prairie.

Selecting a tenant
Grazing tenant(s) will be selected through an open, transparent and competitive process where applications will be scored and ranked by the following objective criteria:
  • Experience in managing large cattle operations in coastal Texas. Applicants with demonstrated experience in grazing native prairie will be given preference.
  • Demonstrated willingness/ability to work cooperatively with the Refuge to accomplish mutual objectives, including ability to adjust stock densities on short notice.
  • Ownership of livestock and necessary assets to support proposed grazing operation.
  • Ability/willingess to provide in-kind services to assist the Refuge in conducting a successful cooperative grazing program.
  • Ability to move livestock on and off the Refuge as conditions require. 
Applicants with ownership or lease of grazing land adjacent to or very nearby the Refuge will be given preference. The Refuge strives to increase landscape scale conservation through local partnerships with adjacent landowners. This may include management actions such as implementing rotational or seasonal grazing and invasive species control that will benefit both the Refuge and adjacent landowners.

Fees
Grazing fees will be calculated based on an average of comparable local grazing rates. In-kind services provided by tenant will be directly related to improving or maintaining the Refuge grazing program, and when approved by the Refuge Manager in advance, can be used to offset required grazing fees. Examples include major fence and grazing-related infrastructure repair (beyond routine maintenance) and assistance with Refuge invasive species management.

Applications
Interested agricultural operators are encouraged to apply. Applicants must fill out applicable portions of FWS Form 3-1383-C and must address in their application how the applicant will meet the objective criteria. To request an application form, list of special conditions, maps of the proposed cooperative grazing area and supplemental application instructions, contact Acting Refuge Manager John Magera at: 979-234-3021, ext. 223 or john_magera@fws.gov. Prospective applicants may also arrange a site visit to the grazing areas upon request.

Application Deadline
Completed applications will be accepted until March 31st, 2018.