Leopold Live! Chapter 2 Recap: Erosion Control

Lights, camera, action! We’re back with our latest episode of Leopold Live!: Chapter 2 at the Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve.  We spoke with Bamberger’s ranch manager, Steven Fulton, about erosion control methods and how you can implement these practices for the benefit of soil and wildlife on the land. We had a great time talking about this tool you can use to qualify for the wildlife tax valuation program here in Texas.

Steve started out by giving a bit a context to why erosion control is an important land stewardship practice, especially in areas where there is little topsoil. He specifically mentioned the Texas Hill Country has lost approximately two feet of soil over the last 100 years due to land use changes and poor management practices, including overgrazing. On the Bamberger Ranch they employ many different erosion control practices, but they all have a common theme of using vegetation cover and natural materials from the property.

The first method Steve showed us was a rock check dam placed in a drainage area. This is just one of many they have on the ranch as a part of their “project of 1,000 dams” that has been implemented over the past 50 years. These dams are relatively easy and inexpensive to construct. Steve gave us a few tips on how to properly construct them. He recommended the lowest point be in the middle to give it a concave structure, so water is funneled through instead of going around the dam. He also recommended to use loose stacked rock (not cemented together) as you want the water to be able to filter through it. If rocks are not plentiful on your property, don’t worry! Hay bales held down with stakes or rebar are another option.

These dams work by helping to slow down surface water as it moves across the landscape so the water is not able to erode soil as quickly as it would otherwise. They also help catch any debris and sediment that is picked up and carried with the water. This sediment will filter out of the water as it moves across the structure and will eventually build up on the dam to create a layer of soil for plants to grow.

Next, we went to Madrone Lake to talk about riparian erosion control options and how to mitigate soil erosion when constructing a man-made water body. Steve said the best way to reduce erosion is to try to get vegetative cover on the disturbed soil as quickly as possible. After Madrone Lake was constructed its banks were seeded with native plants, particularly switchgrass, buttonbush and baldcypress. Steve said this combination of plants is as good as solid rock due to their deep, strong root structures. In the meantime, silt fencing or cellulose coverings can be good options to help keep soil in place until your vegetation grows. Stay away from plastic options, like netting, as small wildlife can get caught in it and easily perish.

Another erosion control method they employ at the lake is a spillway. Steve explained the lake has a drawdown pipe so there is a constant water level, but when large rain events occur it does not have enough capacity to handle the extra water flow. This is where the spillway comes in to help. Spillways can be constructed out of many different materials, such as concrete, but here on the ranch they decided to make it all earthen. After construction it was seeded with coastal bermudagrass which forms mats that help curb erosion better than other vegetation types.

We rounded out our erosion control tour on a hillside by the ranch’s arboretum trail. Steve explained they have been doing brush work along the trail to clean up trees and anytime you do this kind of work there is a potential to disturb the soil and cause erosion. At this site, they took tree limbs and stacked them perpendicular to the slope to create windrow brush piles. These piles help slow water as it sheets down the hillside and catch any debris it brings with it. Over time these will collect sediment to create vegetated berms along the hillside that also help control erosion.

Steve mentioned that if you don’t want to create windrow brush piles, another good option is to mulch the brush and use it along walking trails. This mulch helps keep these areas from eroding by protecting the soil from foot traffic. Without proper maintenance trails can easily turn into long troughs, which are essentially stream channels, that can increase the rate of soil erosion in these areas.

We rounded the episode out with a short Q&A session with Steve.

What kinds of plants are best to stabilize the soil on my property?

Steve said it depends, but it is always good to stick to native plants, especially grasses. Two species he particularly recommends are sideoats grama and green sprangletop because they germinate readily and bind the soil quickly. If you’re doing soil work in the late summer or early fall, he recommends waiting till early spring to put out your native seed mix (particularly grasses). Until then he recommends planting cereal rye or common rye as a cover crop to protect the soil over the fall and winter. This is because it grows very quickly and is an annual, so it won’t outcompete the perennial native grasses. If you are in a riparian area, Steve recommends all the plants he mentioned earlier in the episode in addition to bushy bluestem and inland sea oats.

Are there certain types of soils that are more prone to erosion than others?

Steve says exposed soils! All soils can be eroded, even larger texture classes, if they’re exposed to a large rainfall event. In general, your finer soils, like silts and clays, will wash away more readily.

What information do I need to provide to my tax appraiser if I implement this practice on my property?

Steve said photographs are always welcome and if you’re unable to provide any, then a diagram or a short description of the project will work too. You should include the number of hours, materials put into it and receipts if possible. Every ten years you will need to implement another erosion control project to maintain this qualification under the wildlife tax valuation program.

Our crew can’t wait to share the next episode of Leopold Live! with you! Be sure to keep an eye on Facebook for all upcoming episodes.

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