At the Bicknell Bottoms in Wayne County, southbound Utah Highway 24 turns west and passes through the Red Gate of the red rock Velvet Cliffs on the north and a toe of Boulder Mountain on the south. Here it enters the gorgeous Fremont River valley and the gateway communities to Capitol Reef National Park. I was at a gathering of friends and neighbors to celebrate the life and mourn the loss of the good man who built my home in the valley in Torrey. John came down from the city in the late 90’s to build my home, fell in love with the surroundings, and never left. Continue reading →
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.
In Desert Solitaire Abbey offers us a benediction: May your rivers flow . . . where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you — beyond that next turning of the canyon walls. In this video excerpt from Adventure Journal, surfer/adventurer Kepa Acero lives Abbey’s blessing like a master. Infectious, intoxicating . . . >>more
I like this idea of Kirk Johnson’s of the Green blog at the New York Times. The fragile Colorado Plateau acting as canary in the coal mine. It doesn’t take a dust storm in Arizona to notice that the air is always hazier on the Plateau than it was even 10 years ago. So few people live on the Plateau that man made haze here is a sign of illness elsewhere. …more>>
I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that the planet now has 7 billion people alive on it, all at the same time. I think just knowing the fact makes it seem more crowded. We are up from 6 billion souls in just 12 years. I wrote earlier about the latest epoch becoming known as the Anthropocene, the age of man. Here, Wired magazine has an essay with some jaw dropping perspectives to help make sense of 7 billion. . . . more>>
I want to keep track of this report and blogging on it is a handy way. Here in Utah our own congressman Rob Bishop and senator, Orrin Hatch are busy in a misguided way trying to create jobs via short term direct extraction at the expense long term expense of recreation. Recreation sounds trivial compared to drilling, mining, logging or grazing. It’s not. According to the Wilderness Society outdoor recreation, natural resource conservation, and historic preservation activities contribute a minimum of $1.06 trillion annually to the economy, support 9.4 million jobs and generate over $100 billion in federal, state and local taxes. Economics aren’t the only argument for sustaining an attactive natural environment, but it is an argument that tends to get traction. . . . more>>
I was at a star gazing party in southern Utah recently and met a businessman my age as he showed me around his telescope setup. As we got to know each other it turned out this guy, who seemed otherwise a lot like me, was a climate change denier. He told me his reasons and I listened. He was pretty sure of himself. The only notion that seemed to set him back was the observation that the air around Capitol Reef National Park, air that used to be so clear there were view point signs touting it (150 miles visibility used to be), is now almost always hazy. He had noticed that too. Here, William Anderson, chairman of the Moapa Band of Paiutes in southeastern Nevada, talks about the external cost of air pollution and benefits of clean air, that is the externalities that don’t show up on a balance sheet or income statement but are real none the less, in this concise entry from Writers on the Range. . . .more>>