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Water Conservation for Restoration of Wildlife Habitats

Darrell N. Ueckert, Joseph L. Petersen

Healthy rangelands are relatively efficient at conserving rainfall, but they may become dysfunctional in this regard as vegetative cover diminishes and aggregation of the surface soil layer is destroyed by overgrazing, drought, and establishment of excessive densities of low-value or noxious brush and weeds. Special water conservation treatments, such as contour ripping, furrowing, pitting, reseeding, or brush and weed control, may be necessary for restoration of rangelands and wildlife habitats that have deteriorated beyond a critical threshold in the downward desertification spiral. This paper describes these technologies and gives details of their utility for restoration of dysfunctional rangelands in arid and semiarid regions. Contour ripping of a degraded clay loam range site near San Angelo, Texas facilitated penetration of water from convectional thunderstorms to a depth of 48 to 54 in. compared to only 4 to 5 in.on adjacent, untreated rangeland. Over a period of 4 to 5 years, total herbage production on ripped rangeland was 1700 lb/acre compared to only 490 lb/acre on adjacent, untreated rangeland. Ripping increased the carrying capacity of the clay loam range site from 8.2 animal unit years (AUY)/section to 28.7 AUY/section.

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