Many of Wisconsin's Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) have grassland habitats that are dependent on disturbance to maintain their diversity and productivity. Methods of disturbance include prescribed burning, mowing, haying and herbicide application. Conservation grazing, also referred to as managed grazing, is another tool that WMA managers can use to improve soil health, plant diversity and structural diversity. Conservation grazing is about getting the right kind and right number of animals to the right place at the right time, thus controlling the exposure of plants to grazing animals. Conservation grazing emphasizes the mutually beneficial relationships between livestock production and Wisconsin DNR's habitat goals.
The priority objective of conservation grazing is to use livestock as a wildlife habitat management tool to meet wildlife management goals. In addition, opening conservation land to grazing benefits local agricultural producers. Healthy soils and forage plants on conservation lands produce healthy livestock with weight gains compared to other pastures or grazed grasslands. Grazing is a flexible tool that can be customized to meet a variety of habitat objectives. By customizing stock rate, timing, density, duration, seasonality and return interval, wildlife managers have a powerful tool for manipulating and managing habitat.
Conservation grazing can help to reduce the quantity of invasive or exotic species, depending on the species of grazing animals and the particular plant species. Cattle will graze on invasive woody species, such as box elder, cottonwood and willow, which can help to slow their spread within grasslands. Cattle will also help to suppress certain herbaceous weeds, such as brome, bluegrass, reed canary and wild parsnip. Wildlife species that depend upon functional grasslands benefit from the reduction and spread of these unwanted species.
Conservation grazing projects are occurring at a number of WMAs across Wisconsin. The projects are monitored closely to measure the effects grazing has on wildlife populations, vegetation composition, structure, density and cost effectiveness. Most projects are developed through consultation with a certified grazing management plan writer to ensure management goals are met.