The equestrian community as a whole is steward of a tremendous amount of land. It is our responsibility to not only protect the humans and horses that call this land home, but also to protect the wildlife and resources that do the same. There are many ways we can be good stewards of our land. When it comes to focusing specifically on wildlife and habitat conservation, here are a few ideas:
Protect diverse natural habitats.
When planning your horse farm, try to leave as much wildlife habitat standing as possible. This can include forests, natural meadows, shrub, scrub land, streams and wetlands, and other types of habitat. Pastures do not have to be just grass. These other habitats can be incorporated into traditional grass pastures to provide a diversity of areas for your horse to explore (this does not include streams and wetlands). Many horses enjoy the shade provided by trees, so long as they have enough grass available to keep them occupied so they do not destroy the tree by eating the bark (girdling).
Buffer streams and wetlands.
Wetlands provide valuable filtration functions, keeping the water on your property and downstream clean. Streams often feed into human water supplies, and are home to a diverse array of aquatic critters. Therefore, horses should be fenced out of all streams and wetlands. Leave as big a buffer as you can – 30 feet is the minimum if you are using other best management; otherwise, try to leave 100 feet or more. Some areas have specific buffer regulations by which farms, including horse farms, must abide.
Consider a conservation easement.
A conservation easement is a flexible, voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a qualified organization (often a land trust) that is used to preserve land from future development. It is a great way for a landowner to ensure that his/her property will be protected in perpetuity. Establishing a conservation easement on your land can qualify you for valuable tax incentives, and in some cases, a land trust may even pay you for it.
There are a number of benefits to using native vegetation for your landscaping. Native plants have adapted to the area and require less watering and fertilizer to be healthy. Additionally, local birds, insects, and other important critters depend on native plants and vegetation for their survival.
There’s an incredible array of federal and state assistance programs designed to help landowners (farmers in particular) conserve their land. Additionally, federal conservation tax incentives can provide financial assistance for land conservation. For more information on these programs, and the ideas above, visit sustainablestables.com.