“You look at soil health… the tenets don't change, right? The tenets of those five things, will remain truthful, now, [and] in 10 years from now, I would hope, right? And that's kind of how I try to approach my outreach.”
By Mike Cox
Pete Bauman is a Natural Resources and Wildlife Field Specialist for SDSU Extension. He is an expert in range, pasture, and grassland management with an emphasis on educating producers about how profitability and ecological balance are complimentary. Here he explains how all that happens.
Pete Bauman was born on a small farm near Delano, MN. His family moved seven miles South to Watertown where his father started farming. Mr. Bauman was an afternoon farmer; He worked at a Minneapolis Creamery from 4AM until 2PM, then went home and farmed his 80 acres.
“As I was growing up on that farm in the Prairie Forest border region of Minnesota Hill Country, I just fell in love with the land. I loved cattle. I loved wildlife and I loved the land, creeks, marshes. I worked at the Sportsman's club. And in that experience, I knew there was a great big world of conservation out there.”
Social time within Pete’s family was centered around work. His dad's hobbies weren't hunting and fishing, so Pete had to claw and scratch to get some exposure to that. “But what I did as a teenager is I did some of my own conservation projects. Duck boxes, feeding pheasants and things like that, anything you could scratch out on a small 80-acre farm.”
Pete noticed even as a child that things like birds and insects were disappearing. No one’s fault, they were all farming the same way as they always had. But he felt like something was wrong. Things were changing.
Now, looking back almost fifty years, the swamps and creeks of his childhood have changed significantly. “We had migratory waterfall coming through and shore birds. We had a gravel bottom creek that we would catch leeches and any number of Prairie fishes and in the spring run you'd have little perch and rock bass and frogs and toads and snakes and all of that stuff that kids search for.”
While attending college, Pete noticed the Western Range wars of the 80s weren't so much over sheep and cattle as it was over private land and government, differences on what's appropriate for private citizens, especially in the grazing industry.
Wildlife managers began to understand very clearly that there needed to be disturbance on public lands but in such a way that was beneficial, not destructive. Land managers experienced issues across the West with invasive species, diminishing soil quality and water issues.
After completing his bachelors and masters at SDSU, Pete started out as a Land Manager at Nature Conservancy; managing public lands in both Minnesota and South Dakota. “I was the Nature Conservancy hippie on the South Dakota side [where public lands were overutilized by grazing], whereas I go in and defend grazing in Minnesota [where public lands were underutilized by grazing], saying we needed more and all of a sudden now it's the cowboy that all I wanted to do was play with cows.”
This experience helped shape Pete’s current philosophy about land management, using grazing animals, fire and other management; some disturbance is necessary, but it needs to be managed properly and is always site-specific. “Any tool can be destructive. What we want is disturbance applied appropriately. Fire and grazing are the two primary examples, but both can by damaging if applied inappropriately.”
In his current position with SDSU, Pete has come Full Circle, in more than one way. He has physically moved from Watertown, MN, to Watertown, SD. His position has also remained the same yet changed drastically. At SDSU, Pete still works exclusively on prairie systems with ranchers and farmers.
Farm Extension was once a position where experts traveled their areas, taking research results and translating these into why and how producers may use and implement the research. In today’s Google World, producers often have access to overwhelming amounts of information from the web, and they may even have a good they want to do, but don’t always know how to get started. Pete sees his role as helping producers to work out what the next right thing to do would be. “Sound ecology is not a laundry list. It's just a few things and it starts with doing the next right thing. But do you know what the next right thing is? I teach this when I teach my fire classes and I think it actually isreally applicable to grazing science as well, and wildlife science, I think that we intuitively know what looks good, but we are not able to intuitively know how to get there. It actually has to be taught.”
For more on Pete Bauman, visit his profile at:
For More on what Pete has written, please see:
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