A ewe-nique partnership between Audubon Dakota and Harvest Hope Farm has successfully grazed a path to an ordinance allowing sheep within Moorhead, MN city limits under a pilot urban land management project to take place at Oakport Prairie.
Yup, you read that right. And yes, this is an Audubon article.
But….why are “the bird people” of Audubon Dakota involved in the passing of an ordinance for sheep? Well, for the health of grassland bird habitat in Oakport Prairie! Owned by Buffalo Red River Watershed District, Oakport Prairie is 113 acres of riparian and restored prairie habitat in Moorhead that has been enrolled in Audubon Dakota’s Urban Woods and Prairies (UWP) Initiative since 2015. Restoration efforts to date include native seeding, targeted invasive species control, and prescribed burning. While these practices are individually beneficial, prairie management is most effective using a combination of practices that also include grazing. Prairie evolved to thrive under the pressures of roaming bison herds and other large herbivores; so, the restoration progress already underway is augmented by mimicking this activity with intense rotational grazing of livestock - like cattle or sheep. There’s just one small problem: Audubon Dakota doesn’t have livestock. Luckily, a chance encounter connected us with Harvest Hope Farm, a nearby nonprofit interested in forage opportunities for their sheep. Jackpot! We have plenty of that!
Jason and Lynn Kotrba of Harvest Hope Farm first approached Audubon Dakota in the summer of 2020 to discuss the possibility of grazing sheep at Oakport Prairie. Sharing a common vision of educating the community about the intersection of agriculture, land management, and conservation, a natural partnership and project plan developed. Now, lamb-me tell you: grazing livestock as a tool to manage grasslands in an urban context raises a few eyebrows. Months of meetings and planning between Audubon Dakota, Harvest Hope Farm, Buffalo Red River Watershed District, and the City of Moorhead determined the favorable feasibility of a pilot sheep grazing project. However, Oakport Prairie is located within city limits which, as is common in municipal ordinances, prohibits the presence of livestock. With invaluable guidance and feedback, stakeholders drafted…and edited…and revised….an ordinance that outlines specific parameters and permitting requirements for this pilot project. Receiving majority support from Oakport area neighbors, the Planning Commission, and City Council, the ordinance passed October 12, 2021. Harvest Hope Farm is now in the process of applying for the project permit and exploring fundraising and grant opportunities to assist with the cost of permanent and temporary fencing.
The multi-dimensional pilot project of sheep grazing Oakport Prairie is expected to yield a vast assortment of direct and indirect outcomes. From increasing the health and biodiversity of the habitat to providing nutrient-dense forage for the sheep of Harvest Hope Farm to expanding educational programming opportunities – this is a win for everything and everyone, sky to soil. We hope you continue following the flocks of Audubon Dakota and Harvest Hope Farm as we “herd” on over to Moorhead!