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WWRC 93-25
Habitat Selection by Cattle Along an Ephemeral Channel


Cattle behavior, including distribution patterns, selection of habitats, and differential utilization of forage species. provides a basis for grazing management and range improvement planning. Cattle usually prefer perennial stream riparian zones over upland range sites because of available water and greater quality and abundance of forages. Increasing attention is being paid to grazing in riparian zones. Concerns about grazing effects on water quality and nonpoint pollution have intensified the need to understand these relationships.

Ephemeral channels cover more area and have less vegetative cover potential than perennial channels. Overgrazing has long been assumed to cause ephemeral channel alteration (Bryan 1925). Sediment yield from rangelands may be influenced more by grazing management along ephemeral channels than along perennial channels. We could find little information concerning grazing relationships with and impacts to ephemeral channels.

We studied seasonal habitat selection by cattle along an ephemeral channel and adjacent upland. Forage quality, standing crop, and utilization of vegetation were also determined. We used small seasonal pastures where distance to water was assumed to have a minor influence on grazing distribution and 2 replicate areas of a large allotment where water sources could be up to 4 miles distance away from potential grazing sites.

We assumed that ephemeral riparian zones would be preferred over uplands because of more and higher quality forages. However, water availability could modify the degree of preference expressed.

The study area and methods used are described in Smith et al. (1992). We determined the distribution of cattle by activity in channel, flood plain, and adjacent upland habitats in spring, summer, and fall for 3 years along the ephemeral 15-Mile Creek in the Big Horn Basin of northcentral Wyoming. The study site had three 28-acre small pastures, 1 used in each season, and a large surrounding allotment. Plant species occurrence, productivity, forage quality, and utilization by cattle was determined in the small pastures.

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