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The Morton County Grazing Association

The Morton County Grazing Association
56 Years of Grazing in Kansas

"The Dirty Thirties"

Dust Storm over Elkhart, Kansas, in the early 1930s.
Dust Storm over Elkhart, Kansas sometime around the early 1930s.

"In the clutches of the dirty thirties homesteaders watched in powerless shock, heartstricken and dejected, their lives, dreams swept away as their 160 acres of dry dust and top soil continue to rage across the prairies in a black fury of sand blasting wind and dirt darkened sky that blotted out their sun and virtually flung all hope of livelihood to the winds."

Severe drought and poor management of rangelands led to the extreme land conditions of the Dust Bowl era. Many homesteaders in Morton County, Kansas, decided sell their lands to the Federal Government. Thus was born the "Land Utilization Project" administered by the Soil Conservation Service.

The monumental task of restoring these devastated lands began. In 1939 the Works Progress Administration (WPA) crews began tilling and seeding grass. The late 1930s and early 1940s brought rainfall to this drought stricken area. In 1943 the new grassland was established and opened for controlled grazing.

The Morton County Grazing Association was born. On April 7, 1943 the first meeting of the Morton County Grazing Association took place. There were sixteen applicants in attendance at that meeting. The initial grazing was to be on a temporary basis, 525 animal units for four months. The applications to grazing totaled 1,257 AUMs. The grazing fee the government charged was 35 cents per head. The association agreed that an additional 35 cents would be charged to the permittees. The additional fee would be used for salt, minor fence repair, windmill repair, and to employ a man to look after the cattle, repair fences and windmills, and take care of salting.

56 Years Later

District Ranger and the Manager of the Morton County Grazing Association with his dog, Freckles, on the Cimarron National Grassland
District Ranger Joe Hartman visiting with Bill Barnes, Manager of the Morton County Grazing Association with his dog "Freckles" on the Cimarron National Grassland, May 1995.

The Morton County Grazing Association is the only grazing permittee of the Cimarron National Grassland administered by the USDA Forest Service. The current organization of Grazing Association consists of 100 members, a Board of Directors (a president, and two board members), and a manager, three range riders and a secretary hired by the association. The manager works closely with Forest Service personnel on the administration of the Grazing Agreement. The grazing fee charged to each member includes the government fee and a grazing association fee to cover the cost of the manager, riders and secretary.

The Forest Service gives the association the numbers of animals that will be allowed to graze on the grassland each grazing season. The manager then reviews the applications from the members and distributes the cattle throughout the 29 allotments of the grassland. During the grazing season the range riders move the cattle throughout the rotation schedules established by the Forest Service. The riders and manager are responsible for the salting, maintenance and repair of fences and water developments.

On the average 5200 animal units grazing during the grazing season (34,000 HMs) which runs from May 1 - October 31. There are close to 250 water developments (windmills, water wells, submersible pumps, stock ponds and tanks), and 500 miles of fence that are maintained by the manager and riders.

Cattle grazing in the Cimarron River Corridor
Cattle grazing in the Cimarron River Corridor. During the spring of 1999, a record flood occurred. This event only caused minor damage to the riparian and some damage to the roads and improvements along the corridor.

The relationship the Morton County Grazing Association has had with the federal government for the last 56 years has produced a healthy rangeland ecosystem for multiple resources. The continuous vegetative cover is home to a diverse plant community that benefits the abundant wildlife populations found on the grasslands. Through the cooperation of the Grazing Association the riparian areas have improved to well functioning systems that support increasing numbers of cottonwood and willows while still supporting the ground cover to protect from the scouring effects of flooding. This was evidence by the flood of May 1999, in which a record volume of water flowed through the channels with little or no effect upon the riparian bottom.

Throughout the years, Morton County Grazing Association continues to serve as a critical stakeholder in the management of the Cimarron National Grassland. For further information on the Morton County Grazing Association contact Joe Hartman or Nancy Brewer at (316) 697-4621.

US Forest Service, RGE
1400 Independence Ave., SW, Mailstop Code: 1103
Washington DC 20250-1103

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Last modified: Thursday, 28-Mar-2013 15:56:27 CDT