The Overlook: Understanding Livestock Grazing in Wilderness Areas
Dec 16, 2020 at 9:04 pm #3689452Dondo .BPL Member
@dondoLocale: Colorado Rockies
As of 2009, most of Rocky Mountain National Park is a designated Wilderness Area. No cattle grazing there. ;-)Dec 17, 2020 at 10:06 am #3689504KarenBPL Member
Re management of wilderness areas… as a famous Alaskan once said, “we can’t let nature run wild!” Indeed, we don’t.Dec 18, 2020 at 10:36 pm #3689782
I found some answers to the question I asked above. Maybe it is my California experience of finding most of the Wilderness Areas I recreate in managed by the USFS, but I was surprised to find that the National Park Service manages more land protected under the Wilderness Act than any other agency.
The National Wilderness Preservation System:Area Administered by each Federal Agency (September 2014)
National Park Service 43,932,843 acres (17,778,991 ha) 56%
U.S. Forest Service 36,165,620 acres (14,635,710 ha) 18%
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 20,702,488 acres (8,378,000 ha) 22%
Bureau of Land Management 8,710,087 acres (3,524,847 ha) 2%
Total 109,511,038 acres (44,317,545 ha)
Always good to learn new things.Dec 18, 2020 at 10:38 pm #3689784Ryan JordanAdmin
@ryanLocale: Central Rockies
Great data and research @btolley! I had no idea. I would have guessed USFS #1, BLM #2, NPS #3, FWS #4.
Your find now has me digging for new places to explore…!Dec 19, 2020 at 7:58 am #3689806Luke SchmidtBPL Member
Wrangle St. Elias Park and Preserve is my backyard. I think the ATV trails there are a perfect example of unintended consequences.
Back in the “good ol” days it was pretty common to use horses for hunting here. A lot of Native men worked as packers, guides or outfitters in this business. Not completely traditional but it was a descent job that kept them in their traditional home land. Apparently when Wrangle St. Elias was created they created so much red tape and fees that many outfitters gave up running horses there. So then the Native guys in my area lost a good job opportunity. Outside the park/preserve it was pretty much a free for all with ATVs. So horse packing went out of style.
Now it is hard to be a serious moose hunter without either a ATV or a jet boat. Areas along ATV trails and rivers get a lot more use. Areas farther in are barely touched.
Long story but if the park had been more accommodating to horses the ATV trails would be less important and use would be more spread out.
Honestly I’m more frustrated by the lost jobs then the trails. The ATV trails in question go through an area that is almost all swamp. Very few people would hike there. Its really more of an aesthetic thing than an actual problem.Dec 19, 2020 at 9:21 am #3689818
So the grazing isn’t why there are ORV’s in a National Park wilderness in Alaska?
Still waiting to here where ORV’s are allowed in wilderness due to grazing.
Some studies have shown proper grazing increases carbon sequestration.
Bring back the Bison!Dec 19, 2020 at 10:12 am #3689821Chris RBPL Member
Unfortunately the land area being grazed “properly” is probably less than 5% of the area currently under grazing. Regenerative grazing requires that that the animals are frequently moved, that means people out on the land or some large predators to keep them in tight herds moving across the landscape. Bring back the prairie grizzly!Dec 19, 2020 at 10:47 am #3689824Luke SchmidtBPL Member
I don’t know of any situation in Alaska where ORVs are allowed in a wilderness area for livestock. They are grandfathered in for subsistence hunters who were already using the area when the park was established.
I’ve never heard of an ORV exception in the lower 48. All the livestock I’ve seen have been managed by people on horses.
I wish the entire conservative movement would be more careful of unintended consequences. The alternative to bickering with ranchers over wolves and grazing rights might be private ranch land becoming subdivisions. That could be way more damaging then a badly run grazing operation.Dec 19, 2020 at 2:22 pm #3689844
” private ranch land becoming subdivisions. That could be way more damaging then a badly run grazing operation.”
Ranch land become subdivisions. This is happening all over the west. Just in the last few months, I have seen ranches sold in Monterey County and San Mateo County not to mention the even more rural Carson Valley south of Carson City, NV.
In San Mateo County conservationists are working with family owned ranches and farms to fund and create “conservation easements” that allow ranch and farm land to remain ranch and farm land in perpetuity.
There was an open space initiative on the ballot in Carson Valley, NV to help fund conservation easements. I have not heard if it succeeded.
From the web “A conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. Also known as a conservation restriction or conservation agreement, a conservation easement is one option to protect a property for future generations.” http://www.conservationeasement.us
And yes I agree that folks need to work toward finding common ground between conservationists and the ranchers.Dec 19, 2020 at 5:30 pm #3689858
“Unfortunately the land area being grazed “properly” is probably less than 5% of the area currently under grazing. Regenerative grazing requires that that the animals are frequently moved, that means people out on the land or some large predators to keep them in tight herds moving across the landscape. Bring back the prairie grizzly!
Saw a calf with a leg dangling from a thread after being chewed on by something in the Kettle Crest range and a wild horse with the same in the Steens. Aren’t wilderness areas where the most predators live?
I think the North American Cheetah would be pretty cool. I wish we still had salmon and bison in quantity.Dec 19, 2020 at 8:00 pm #3689871Roger CaffinBPL Member
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Aren’t wilderness areas where the most predators live?
No, that is places like . . . Washington.
CheersDec 19, 2020 at 9:06 pm #3689875Chris RBPL Member
No link but that was what I was told by a couple of guys promoting regenerative agriculture to farmers in the prairies. They put the estimate at 3% so I was being generous. I work for an organization that promotes and funds best practices in land management so get involved with a lot of this stuff. I have no doubt that correctly managed grazing has the potential to store carbon and promote soil health but it involves a lot of work to move animals before they have overgrazed an area and to then ensure an area is not regrazed for several months. Unfortunately the majority ( by number of cattle if not by area) of grazing is not done this way and often it’s a case of putting a large number of cattle in a really big field and keeping them there until everything is grazed down to soil level.Dec 20, 2020 at 12:24 pm #3689932svetBPL Member
When I was a kid I spent several summers tending cattle in the high Alps. This article reminded me of the drama that happened when tourists managed to somehow find trouble with them. I suspect they secretly recognize and enjoy spooking people that don’t realize they’re just big chicken.Dec 20, 2020 at 12:30 pm #3689933Kevin RBPL Member
As some others have pointed out, I think the risks of “cattle encounters” in the woods are exaggerated in this article. I farmed growing up, and never felt unsafe around livestock. I generally treat cows on the trail like black bears- if they’re in your way, make some noise, wave your arms to look big and gradually enter into their personal bubble to move them out of the way. Historically, I’ve found dogs to be more bothersome and occasionally danderous- there’s the slight risk of a bite, but more often it’s the dog off or on a leash that runs between your legs, gets tangled in your trekking poles, etc. Speaking of ecologically extravagant animals that are foreign to wilderness areas…
There is a lot of work that could and should be done to address water quality issues with livestock, so I would be interested in learning some more about the current state of affairs in regards to that. However, I was surprised that there was no mention of the use of livestock to limit fuel loading. I’d be interested in hearing arguments for or against that strategy, but the reality is that it is an issue that must be addressed somehow to reduce wildfire risk. (I’m referring more to non wilderness areas, as the general philosophy for wilderness is to not engage in active management. However, with increasingly complex wilderness-urban interface, it seems wise to be more reflective on how much and where we establish new, unmanaged wilderness).Dec 21, 2020 at 9:17 am #3690061HkNewmanBPL Member
@hknewmanLocale: Western US
Heard of very rare incidents of cows charging humans but very rare. I’ve been in backpacking parties where a fellow hiker hated cattle to the point of wanting to shoot them (jeez talk about overreacting) but think it’s more about hikers passing cattle who peacefully munching grass, all while hoping they didn’t ruin any nearby water sources.
…private ranch land becoming subdivisions. That could be way more damaging then a badly run grazing operation
It’s been said that land is the ranchers 401k (retirement plan) and a new suburb will not be amenable to hiking (the PCT has to track around one just north of IH-10), but think mostly the “metro“ areas will keep expanding. There’s a host of issues such as healthcare providers consolidating to more fun and profitable areas, how close an airport is for long trips, shopping, entertainment, etc… Smaller cities and bigger towns vie for retirees but even there, the emphasis seems to be senior apartments with a nearby walkable downtown/arts district (interrupted by COVID but will be resurgent as more take the vaccine).Dec 21, 2020 at 9:37 am #3690063Walter WBPL Member
I have learned a lot from this series of post. I have never hiked in the western parts of the US. But I have hiked around Peru’s Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash. They are heavily populated with some very tough cows. I have seen them up to about 16 to 17,000 feet walking on terrain that would give a mountain goat second thoughts.. The only benefits I see from them is that a lot of them die from something and they then provide a major food source for the many condors. Without the cows, I am not sure what the condors eat.Dec 21, 2020 at 1:36 pm #3690102
“Without the cows, I am not sure what the condors eat.”
Same in California with the condors living on the gut piles left from successful hunters and from cattle carcasses placed by condor rescue volunteers.
If a cattle herd felt threatening, I would treat them the same as I would a herd of elk, bison or a momma moose, give them a wide berth. I run across cows frequently locally as much of the forest is open range. Haven’t felt threatened. No bulls out and about tho.
Some of the cows are now being put out on grazing allotments with their horns still attached so they have a better chance at defending their calves against wolves.Dec 22, 2020 at 12:04 am #3690205Sam FarringtonBPL Member
@scfhomeLocale: Chocorua NH, USA
At one time, at least, Ted Turner owned a large portion of the Phillips Brook area in northern NH, just east of and abutting the Nash Stream area, through which the Cohos Trail runs from the White Mountains to the Canadian border.
On another note, one time when leaving Colorado’s Zirkel Wilderness on the East side, we entered a clearing and ran into a small herd of cows, at least a couple of whom were very large bulls. Know this is not supposed to happen, but there we were. With me were two Shetland Sheep Dogs, on their leashes. We stood there, trying to think of a good way around them. The Bulls were looking very annoyed, and snorting at our slightest moves.
We almost tip-toed around on the best route, and I was very glad to be away from them. My grandfather was a farmer, among other things, and I got used to cows, but this was different. It may have been the presence of the two quiet sheep dogs that allowed us to make it around the herd unhampered.
I prefer to be as non-judgmental as possible when confronted with different ways of life, like the ranchers who owned these cows must have lived. NH is an amalgam of many ways of life, from Bostonians to north country people with a very conservative nature. But we get along and make room to live with each others’ differences.Dec 22, 2020 at 9:17 am #3690231
Damage of public (wilderness ) lands by cattle grazing would not go to the top of my list of things to fix.
The current outgoing administration in Washington has opened up all kinds of public land to mineral and petroleum extraction including very sensitive ecosystems inside the Alaskan wildlife refuge.
The land based oil lease rates have not increased for decades and the extraction industries enjoy all kinds of other government protections and tax advantages. My econ professor in college used to call it “welfare for the rich.”
We also need to distinguish between the small cattle outfits, the large agro businesses that run cattle on ranches, and the super rich folks like Ted Turner (and many Hollywood types) who run cattle on land they own to take losses to reduce income taxes.
My understanding is that many family owned farms and ranches are barely getting by even in good times. A generation ago, my wife’s family used to own a cattle ranch in Montana which they sold to the family of the foreman. The extended family still lives on and runs the ranch but all the wives work as school teachers or other non ranch jobs presumably because the ranch itself does not pay all the bills.Dec 22, 2020 at 10:25 am #3690244Mark WetheringtonBPL Member
@markwethLocale: Western Montana
Interesting topic. I read this book last year which is focused on grazing as well as other related issues, like feral horse management: “This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption Are Ruining the American West”
Well worth the time to read if you live in the West and are curious about the facts around grazing and public lands management.Dec 22, 2020 at 12:34 pm #3690273
The topic is grazing in Wilderness Areas. Other grazing has its own issues.
In Eastern Montana I been told by a relative there said it takes about 20 sections of land to support one family.Dec 24, 2020 at 8:06 am #3690685Ben KilbourneBPL Member
It’s pretty clear that the cow-dodging narrative was distracting and took away from the whole point of the piece. It was supposed to be entertaining, but it didn’t really end up working that way. Critique heard loud and clear! Should be easy to remedy this issue in upcoming articles. Thanks folks.Dec 24, 2020 at 9:41 am #3690695HkNewmanBPL Member
@hknewmanLocale: Western US
Grazing … I been told by a relative there said it takes about 20 sections of land to support one family.
It depends on the local environment which is fairly easy to measure (A&M type university range departments). Cattle require much more land to (properly) support in the arid Southwestern US vs east of the Mississippi River. The numbers going into the ‘90s and ‘00s had been run ad nauseum.
Then the West started getting hit with megadroughts which forced western cattle to get trucked further for good grazing. Even in 2019, some small ranching types I spoke with around Silver City NM lamented the area got rain again, but not the canyon they resided in.
Then it becomes a question of how much can a rancher get for selling the land? A ranching outfit facing mostly increasing water shortages will likely not fetch as much as one in a wetter part of the country (assuming other factors stay the same).Dec 25, 2020 at 3:53 pm #3690825P LevenBPL Member
It took some searching to find the election results pertaining to the Carson Valley, NV initiative to fund open space conservation easements. From https://www.carsonvalleynv.org/november-2020-election/, the ballot measure was identified as “County [Advisory] Question 3”, which appears to have failed (48.63% no, 45.87% yes) per the official election results posted on https://cltr.douglasnv.us/elections/.Dec 25, 2020 at 4:26 pm #3690827
@ P Leven
Thanks for the information. I tried a few google searches but could nto find the result.
The suburbs in Carson Valley including many gated communities (along the road between Genoa, NV and Woodford’s, CA) full of California license plates are spreading. If public policy does not change, I fear Carson Valley will end up looking like the suburbs of Las Vegas (or Sacramento).
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