Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Happy Pasture Photo Contest

We’re having a photo contest! We’re looking for photos of healthy local pastures with good mud and manure management practices and buffers. As your Baykeeper Team, we work to protect marine and nearshore habitats of Whatcom and Skagit Counties. Good water quality in our streams is paramount to protecting the nearshore, and essential to keeping our waters clean enough for all of us to use. We realize that stream buffers are sometimes a source of controversy, and we are actively working towards finding common ground with members of our local agricultural community.

To this end, we’re looking for photos of healthy stream buffers, and we want to hear from you. If you want to participate, send us your pictures and describe why features of the pastures help protect water quality. Only a couple of rules apply: each photo must show large animals, a pasture, and a stream or river. The photos must be yours. A description is helpful, but not required. The prize is yet to be determined, but a minimum, we will feature your photo in an article! Send your entry to me at Here are some examples…

In the photo featured above, cattle meander along Joe Leary Slough, a stream in Skagit County. If this photo were entered in our contest, it would not be a winner. Why? Healthy pastures have a vegetated buffer, allowing more space between the grazed area and the water than is present here. Buffers can be narrow bands of planted shrubs and trees, known as hedgerows, or simply multi-layered native vegetation shading the water. Buffers help prevent mud and manure from getting into the water, and the vegetation helps absorb nutrients. Vegetation keeps the water shaded, cool, and clean, and it provides habitat for insects and wildlife. This band is too narrow, and no shade is afforded. When I look at this photo, I see a lot of potential. If this pasture had a willow thicket along the edge of the slough, it could be beautiful.

Next, a hobby farm along a tributary of Jordan Creek, in Whatcom County. The animals are separated from the creek by an eroding narrow band of vegetation. Like many pastures in Western Washington, this one slopes towards a creek, and has short grass. This time of year, our soils are saturated – so with every heavy rain, all the manure from this little herd gets washed into the creek. Even though only a few animals are pastured here, they could have a BIG impact to water quality (a cow is capable of generating up to 150 pounds of manure per day). This photo won’t win our contest, either, but it could be made into a winner by widening the buffer and planting native willows or similar shrubs. Native shrubs would be terrific here, because their deep roots will help prevent erosion. The good news is that last time I rode my bike past this place, the landowner had moved the fence a few feet up the hill, keeping the animals a little further from the stream.

And last, these cows live in a national park in Berchtesgaden, Germany. There are some similarities between Whatcom County and Germany that are surprising. Germany is the key meat producing country in Europe, and dairy farming is the pillar of German agriculture. Livestock density in Germany is very high - 79.0 units per 100 hectares. Germany has over 13,035,000 cattle. Dairy farming is very important to Whatcom county, with over 100,000 cattle, 125 dairies, and about 2 cows per acre.

Although Germany has its share of factory farming, water quality is highly regulated and has improved significantly in the last decade. Germany had severe water pollution in past decades, but now has strict water quality laws. Perhaps we can learn how they did it.

Check out the grass these cows lounge in! But the bad news is this: this photo doesn’t include a river or stream, so it doesn’t qualify for the contest.

We hope you participate, and thanks for reading!

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