Marie and Glenn Nader's Witcher Creek Ranch
An inspiring transformation at Witcher Creek Ranch is thanks to Marie and Glenn Nader’s willingness to think big and bold.
Marie, Glenn, and their son, Alan, are dedicated to promoting water conservation and soil health on a working cattle ranch. They credit state and federal conservation-focused programs and grants with helping them make dramatic changes on their 2,880 acres of Modoc County.
After buying the ranch in 1999, they developed a plan to work with nature by melding wildlife habitat with resilient grazing pastures. They consulted with several organizations on how to best preserve and improve the ranch’s natural resources.
The Naders introduced strategic rotational grazing of their cattle as a tool to improve the ecosystem. Fencing subdivided pastures into small sections for high-intensity, but short duration grazing, which is timed to optimize weed control and wildlife management.
The ranch’s location in northeast California is critically important to migratory birds who depend on wet meadows for stopover habitat. Therefore, wetlands are not grazed during waterfowl nesting season, and enough dry grass is left behind to provide nesting material and cover.
Assistance from the federal Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) helped the Naders create cattle watering sites away from creeks, which reduced erosion, protected water quality and provided wildlife habitat. Three miles of single wire electrified fencing around riparian areas allow deer and antelope to migrate while keeping cattle out of the creek.
Water is the life blood of a cold desert environment. Replacing seven miles of irrigation ditches dug in the 1880s with an efficient system of underground pipelines allowed the Naders to better cope with two major droughts.
In addition to cattle grazing, the ranch’s other income stream is hay production. Since transitioning to organic hay production in 2014, the Naders have produced a bountiful crop on nutrient-rich soils without fertilizer. Hay production increased and labor costs decreased after a wheel line irrigation system was replaced with a pivot irrigation and piping system. Increased yield and revenue from organic hay made it easier to give 800 acres of wildlife-rich wetlands a three-year rest from grazing.
Working with nature means that while many landowners tried to get beavers out of their ditches and creeks, the Naders recruited them. Beaver dams are restoring the hydrological function of their creek, while raising the water table of a nearby meadow. The Naders also quantified their land improvements through bird monitoring. Using bird data gave them insight as to which stretches of a two-mile creek restoration needed more attention.
The Naders also opened their stream to wildlife researchers interested in the viability of reintroducing a threatened species of trout. Thermal data loggers collected hourly stream temperature data over a three-year period. Over time it was shown that their conservation practices are making progress in reducing the stream’s temperatures. It’s just one example of how the Naders have collected data for feedback on the progress of their conservation plans.
Whether it’s stream temperature data collection, soil sampling, or forage testing, the Naders consult with a variety of organizations on extensive monitoring programs. Just as restored streambanks and lush meadows would indicate, data provides conclusive evidence that their conservation practices are making an impact.