ASH CREEK CONSERVATION
Gary and Nancy Fisher are third and fourth generation livestock producers who grew up in rural Nebraska. In 1989 they purchased the 1800 acre Ash Creek Ranch in the Pine Ridge region of western Nebraska. Because of its location and its relatively small size, the ranch presented many challenges in making it a sustainable operation.
When the ranch was purchased, 320 acres of it had been traditionally strip-cropped into winter wheat and summer fallow. All of this farm ground has been planted back to native grasses. Even before these conservation efforts were in place, the ranch could not produce enough hay for the number of cattle it could run. Hay is still put up on the ranch, but in a limited quantity. To operate the ranch at its peak potential, the Fishers reluctantly sold their herd of brood cows and now take cattle in for summer pasture. From the day the cattle arrive until the day they leave, the cattle are closely monitored and managed, rotating pastures in keeping with good conservation practices.
Gary and Nancy have planted thousands of trees. choosing varieties of trees and shrubs that provide food and habitat for many species of birds and animals. More than three miles of shelterbelts have been planted on the ranch.
Two storage reservoirs stocked with fish have been built that provide year round sources of water for cattle and wildlife. The aquatic populations of plants and animals have attracted blue herons, kingfishers, ducks, and many other types of wildlife. Three natural springs have been restored and a series of small dams have been built in two drainages.
Although much of the heavily timbered areas of the ranch were selectively logged and thinned with a goal of developing a healthier, more fire resistant forest, the West Ash Creek Fire of 2012 burned over most of the ranch. Much of the timber was destroyed in spite of having been thinned. The grasses and shrubs have made a remarkable recovery, but it will be many years before the hillsides are again forested.
In addition to establishing a sustainable and profitable ranching situation, the Fishers have worked to develop a beneficial environment for wildlife. They have recognized that not allowing hunting as well as over-hunting can have a disastrous effect on most species. A limited number of turkeys, deer and varmints are harvested on the ranch each year.