Tony and Diane Stobiecki partner with the Sage Grouse Initiative to improve habitat for wildlife and their ranch’s bottom line by putting in place projects that improve water delivery, riparian habitat, and rangeland forage.
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By Jesse Bussard
Marine veteran, Tony Stobiecki and his wife Diane, operate their Rockin’ TD Ranch in the heart of high desert sagebrush country in remote Washoe County of northwest Nevada. From the front porch view of their log home stretches an endless sea of sagebrush. Remnants of the small ghost town of Vya, vacant since the 1920s, lie a few miles away and cattle graze in the distance.
The Stobiecki’s ranching days began in 2003 when the couple first purchased property in Nevada. Previous to ranching, Tony’s life tells a varied and interesting story from growing up on a cattle ranch in Kenya until age 10 to a successful 20-plus year career in the U.S. Marines. He credits his veterinarian father and inspirational mother, both Polish refugees of the Soviet Invasion during World War II, for instilling the love of wildlife and the environment he sustains today.
Their 3,000-acre ranch, which lies within the state’s “core area” for greater sage-grouse habitat, is home to livestock as well as abundant wildlife, a fact the Stobieckis are especially proud of. Both supervisors on the board of the local Vya Conservation District, Tony and Diane maintain a strong land ethic and are committed to doing right by the environment they steward.
Since purchasing the Rockin’ TD Ranch in 2006, the Stobieckis have implemented multiple conservation improvements in partnership with the Natural Resource Conservation Service-led Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI). These projects include developing better access to water on their property and opening up more habitat for wildlife, especially sage grouse.
“Our largest success is really the number of sage grouse now located on the ranch,” says Tony.
According to Tony and Diane, numbers of the bird have increased quite a bit. Tony recalls a recent morning sighting where he witnessed nearly 36 sage grouse take flight from atop a ridge line en route to water at an adjacent spring. This is not something that would have happened at the ranch before conservation work began a little over six years ago, he said.
“Before we purchased the property, the ranch appeared to be overgrazed by cattle, and as a result, negatively impacted the wildlife,” says Tony. “Today, with NRCS conservation practices, it has improved allowing the land to better support wildlife with proper grazing.”
With the help of SGI, the Rockin’ TD Ranch has developed nearly a dozen springs and installed adjoining watering facilities, which have greatly restored vital riparian and meadow habitat and improved forages across the ranch. These spring restoration projects also included installation of wildlife-friendly fencing (where the bottom wire is smooth and at least 17 inches off the ground to allow antelope to easily pass beneath the fence) complete with fence reflective markers to improve visibility for low-flying sage grouse.
“It’s really improved the grazing distribution and the understory of the grasses,” says Bryon Hadwick, NRCS-District Conservationist with the Alturas, CA field office.
Tony concurs noting the addition of off-site watering troughs keep cattle away from these sensitive wet areas, allowing them to better serve as habitat for brooding sage grouse and other wildlife.
“This has been most exciting to watch,” says Tony. “The spring areas have experienced drastic changes as they return to a more natural state.”
SGI dollars also helped the Stobieckis remove nearly 800-acres of encroaching juniper, allowing for high-quality native forage to regenerate across the ranch. Plantings of other native grasses and forbs also add to the biological diversity of the landscape. Additionally, the ranch switched to prescribed grazing management and installed more pasture fencing to further enhance range recovery. These practices benefit their herd, as well as the sage grouse which depend upon healthy sagebrush habitat in Nevada.
Along with projects on their own ranch, the Stobieckis work across fence boundaries to encourage neighboring ranches to get involved in conservation practices. Firm believers in “leading by example,” Tony and Diane use successes on their ranch as evidence to sway skeptics. To date, they have helped three nearby landowners in Nevada and California put in place projects such as installing wildlife-friendly fencing and developing springs.
“When you can help your fellow ranchers develop their own ranches for both a wildlife- and livestock-friendly environment, you’re not only helping them be more profitable, you’re helping the wildlife as well,” says Tony.
Another of their neighbors is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). To expand on the Stobieckis’ successful sage-steppe restoration efforts, the BLM is also planning to cut encroaching junipers on an adjoining allotment. This will further expand vital sage grouse habitat into public lands surrounding the ranch.
The Stobiecki’s work on their own ranch and neighbors’ ranches goes to show they are truly champions for conservation.
“Cattle operations and wildlife habitat can be synergized to be one in the same, producing overall habitat range improvements which benefit everything,” says Tony.
Tony notes, however, not all projects will be as successful as you initially envision. The key to success is to plan, execute, and be patient. Nature has its own timetable.
Going forward, the Stobieckis plan to continue their focus on conservation. With another seven projects on the docket for completion this year, Tony and Diane are dedicated to making sure the future shines bright for sage grouse and wildlife on their ranch.