Kirsten and I went up to the Fish Lake National Forest and camped on Thousand Lake Mountain in southern Utah for a couple of nights this last Thursday through Saturday August 16-18. This area is just north of Torrey and we like to get up there in the summer just to get out and to do a little volunteer assessment of the management practices on these public lands.
We came away glad to have been out but distressed at how the land is being over used particularly for grazing and logging. Working with Mary O’Brien of the Grand Canyon Trust we have become aware of how the open spaces of the public lands in the West are in a state of what Mary calls normalized degradation. I’m afraid she is right. The national forest above the Wasatch Front is managed for people. These dry desert mountains in southern Utah have a multiple use directive, but the use in fact is dominated by ranching. The contrasts are distinct. Wildflowers are hip deep all summer in the Wasatch. The southern meadows are grazed every year down to a 4″ stubble height. That’s the goal, it is usually worse. Riparian areas in particular take a beating. Because of pressure by environmentalists some small areas called “exclosures” have been set aside and somewhat protected from grazing. The ecological difference in these exclosures is tremendous. The cowboys obviously still let the cows into these protected spaces but not enough to erase the evidence of what these mountain meadows could be without public land grazing.
I have blogged about it more here and elsewhere, but the reasoning behind public land grazing defies common sense. It is not economic. The ranchers/livestock permittees depend heavily on subsidies for water, gates, fences, rangeland “treatments” and pasture control. Most of them make very little money all the same. Public land grazing is probably the number one source of public land degradation and yet the public subsidizes it. It is a story of a very narrow special interest taking advantage of the public’s clueless largesse. It has long been a problem and one that seems to be intractable. At $1.35 per AUM (Animal Unit Month – one cow and calf for a month of grazing) ranchers pay the same fee to graze as they did in 1966. Who gets such treatment today? One way out, the best one I can see, is to give ranchers a right they do not now have and allow them to accept grazing retirement buyouts. -Mark Bailey
Good to be out.
Then this guy bellows into camp.
Glad this big boy was on the other side of the road.
Cows somehow fenced IN the Elk Horn campground. Did they pay the fee?
Exclosure at Elk Horn campground.
Spring protected from grazing near Elk Horn campground.
Logger party. (notice cows at top)
Logged hillside on east slope of Thousand Lake Mountain. It’s hard to imagine showing less land ethic or a more utter disregard for the land than the Old West extractors do.
Inside and out
Thousand Lake Mountain exclosure
Protected from grazing – north slope of Thousand Lake Mountain
Exclosure on road to Elk Grove campground on Thousand Lake Mountain
Over grazing leads to erosion. The road to Fish Lake.
We haven’t seen the upper Fremont run dry before.
K inside exclosure.
Ungrazed willow and waist high grass — inside exclosure.
Inside U.M. Creek exclosure. Lovely.
Inside the exclosure. Notice the healthy stream banks. Trout love this coverage, stream stays deeper, cooler, narrower without cows in it.
Outside the exclosure. Notice the incised stream banks.
Exclosure U.M. Creek
Exclosure around U.M Creek in Water Flat. One of the best places in the forest to see what the forest could be without cows. Cows do get in here, maybe as they are moved between pastures. It could be even healthier.
Look close inside and see the cow pie. There is no reason for cows to ever be in this exclosure on U.M. Creek. K says if there is a gate in the fence that’s all you need to know.
We saw a couple of muskrat in here late last fall. Now a stockyard — but cows are supposed to be kept out of riparian areas. If there is a cowboy up there, as required, he was nowhere to be seen.
More public ranch
A large seep meadow, mostly dry now and before the cows arrive for the year. The spring here is not grazing protected. Is grazing drying it up?
Utilization cage. Cows haven’t been in this pasture yet this season.
Upper end of Right Fork U.M. Creek exclosure
Lower end of Right Fork U.M. Creek exclosure
Water Flat, U.M. Creek exclosure
Cathedral Valley on way down off of Thousand Lake Mountain. Not sure if cows get in here but glad they aren’t here now.