Can cattle and prairie coexist? OSU researchers say yes. They grazed different numbers of cattle on part of the Zumwalt Prairie in northeastern Oregon to see how the cows impacted plants, insects, soil, ground-nesting birds—and each other. They watched each bite that the cows took and also examined the contents of their stomachs. The research found that at moderate numbers, similar to ranchers' current use (20 mother and calf pairs per 100 acres for six weeks), the flora and fauna didn't suffer, and the cows maintained a marketable weight.
The Zumwalt is the most extensive swath of Pacific Northwest bunchgrass prairie in North America and it's a haven for birds of prey. Spalding’s catchfly, a wildflower that is federally listed as threatened, blooms there. Snake River steelhead, also threatened, spawn in the prairie’s streams. About 50 species of butterflies flitter about, and elk, mule deer, and bobcats find shelter in the rolling fields and wooded slopes. A seasonal home for cattle since the area was homesteaded in the 19th century, about 10,000 cows now graze the prairie each summer.