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Contributing to the Recovery of the Golden Paintbrush

posted on

August 14, 2023

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Today we're celebrating the golden paintbrush and its official removal from the federal list of endangered and threatened plants. At the time the species was federally listed as threatened in 1997, golden paintbrush could only be found at just 10 locations, eight of which were in Washington. Through the efforts of conservation groups, government agencies, and private landowners, golden paintbrush now can be found in more than 48 populations in the region and is no longer considered threatened.

The South Puget Sound Prairies provide ideal habitat for golden paintbrush. In order to survive, the species needs open prairie soils like the habitat found on Colvin Ranch. Golden paintbrush doesn’t grow in shade from trees, shrubs, and non-native grasses, so some type of management is needed to ensure it will continue to propagate. 

At Colvin Ranch, we use conservation grazing practices to help ensure that native species on the ranch continue to grow and thrive. The ranch has been protected by a conservation easement since 2005, and in the following years we’ve had a chance to participate in sustainable agriculture studies that have shown just how much impact conservation grazing has on native and endangered species. 

One of those studies was the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension (SARE) Project with WSU Thurston County Extension, Center for Natural Lands Management, Ecostudies Institute, and others. The study evaluated the use of grazed prairies for critical species protection, and as a part of the study, golden paintbrush was established at Colvin Ranch. 

A win for native plants and endangered species

In a sample area, 10 species were seeded on native prairie ground at the ranch to see which would grow and how they could best be managed. Five species were successfully established, including the golden paintbrush. 

Using conservation grazing practices like deferred grazing (where animals are kept off of the native prairie areas during critical growing periods and graze there other times during the year), we found that native species richness increased by 35% over the three-year study.

In addition, the study found benefits for endangered species like the Mazama pocket gopher, with increased pocket gopher activity in areas managed by conservation grazing practices.

Conservation and sustainable agriculture working together

The only reason we’re able to undertake conservation projects like this on the ranch is because we’re able to manage the ranch as a viable business. Because we raise grass-fed, grass-finished beef, we rely on a healthy supply of forage for our cattle. A key finding from the study was that the conservation grazing practices did not reduce overall forage production. See the SARE 2022 final report for more details and all kinds of great data. 

Thanks to you

But what it all comes down to is the support of our customers who purchase beef from us, and make it possible for us to continue our work as stewards of the land. Thank you for caring about the work that we do. It’s milestones like this that make it clear what we’re doing really matters.

More from the blog

Silvopasture Field Walk

On Wednesday, June 12 we're offering an opportunity to get out on the back forested section of Colvin Ranch on an evening pasture walk with experts from NRCS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Riparian Projects at Colvin Ranch

When we have cattle in the meadows, we take steps to protect the creek banks and the water quality. One major project that was done nearly 20 years ago with the Thurston Conservation District was the Riparian Planting Project, which planted 1,900 trees along 5,250 feet of Scatter Creek at the ranch.