By MYRON MERZ
NRCS District Conservationist
In the real estate world you hear the words, “Location, location, location,” stressing that location has a direct relationship to the value of a property. When we look at rangelands we might say the most important thing to have would be “cover, cover, cover.”
What we mean by this is if we keep a grass cover and mulch on our rangeland more of the precious rainfall we receive will soak into the ground rather than running off, as it does on bare ground.
A healthy grass cover and mulch allow rainfall to soak into the ground like a sponge, which increases the quantity of water available to plants, protects the soil from erosion and allows water to filter naturally through the soil. This, in turn, helps out ground water quality and allows springs and streams to flow as mother nature intended. Additionally, this grass cover acts as insulation from the extremely hot summer months and as freeze protection in the winter months.
If we have bare ground and don’t have this protective “armor” layer, we have a situation where very little of the rain soaks into the ground. This leads to decreased production, less water getting into the soil profile, more sediment and pollutants in streams, soil temperatures that increase evaporation, increased soil erosion and desert-like conditions.
On bare ground or overgrazed rangeland, about 75 percent of rainfall runs off and doesn’t get into the soil profile. The portion that does go in the ground does not help with deep moisture and most of it stays within the top three inches of soil. Adding to this is evaporation in the warmer months, so the total amount of rainfall that makes it into the soil profile is very low in this situation.
It takes about 500 pounds of water to grow a pound of grass. If we can get this water to soak in, rather than run off, it will go toward growing more grass.