I guess it started with a column suggesting that Rocky Mountain goats in the alpine area of the La Sal Mountains are the wrong animal (exotic), in the wrong place (a Research Natural Area and the home of plants that grow only in the fragile alpine area of this small, desert-bounded mountain range) at the wrong time (amid climate change and drought; July 30, 2013).
Michael Dunlavey responded (Aug. 14) that cattle, not goats are “the” problem in the La Sal Mountains – and that there is “zero discussion” about the cattle grazing.
Brittney Tibbetts-Phetchamphone claimed (Oct. 9) that cattle provide numerous environmental benefits, are “highly regulated” by the Manti-La Sal National Forest, and “cattlemen” follow the regulations “with accuracy.”
And what do the La Sal Mountains say about the Rocky Mountain goats, cattle – and for that matter, the elk, deer, and sheep – who feed, breed, and otherwise use them?
Both Mr. Dunlavey and Ms. Tibbetts-Phetchamphone make the perfect suggestion: go into the La Sals and find out.
Dunlavey: “It doesn’t take a biology degree to observe what is happening . . .It only takes a pair of hiking boots.”
Tibbetts-Phetchamphone: “Protecting the land requires more observant humans.”
Another suggestion: report what you see to the forest service, which manages livestock grazing and alpine habitat in the La Sal Mountains. Send Rocky Mountain goat reports to the forest service as well as Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR), who inserted goats into this alpine area over the objection of the forest service.
Where do you see healthy, diverse, native vegetation? Where do you see trampled springs? Where do you see moist meadows pockmarked by hummocks, those mounds which form when cattle walk on spongy ground? Where do you see grasses grazed to an inch height? Where do you see alpine plants bitten off, or dusty wallows dug into the alpine slopes by Rocky Mountain goats? In fact, where do you see the Rocky Mountain goats? In the Mt. Peale Research Natural Area?
Note where you are, what you’re seeing, and take pictures.
You can make your reports matter. In 2014, the Manti-La Sal, Fishlake, and Dixie national forests in southern and central Utah will be amending their forest plans for how they manage livestock grazing for the first time in 28 years.
Livestock grazing is one of multiple uses on national forests and will continue to be so, but the forest service acknowledges certain problems have resulted from current management of livestock grazing, which is why they are undertaking this public amendment process and why your observations, reports, and proposals will be important.
For the past ten years, Grand Canyon Trust staff and volunteers have been photographing, measuring, and reporting some of the problems we see with current grazing management – and some of the benefits in the few areas not grazed by livestock – on all three national forests. When the forest plan amendment process opens, we’ll be urging three main changes: Include diverse stakeholders, not just permittees, in grazing decisions; consider more ecological impacts than grass consumption when rating each season’s cattle use; and make use of volunteered non-use to gain more areas where annual livestock grazing is not required.
Logging is another use on the national forest, but not everywhere; and motorized recreation is a use, but there are unroaded areas.
In contrast, the Manti-La Sal National Forest is almost completely covered by 302 allotments on its than 1.37 million acres. Livestock grazing is required on all but one – a 28,000 acre allotment in the Abajo Mountains. where livestock won’t be required for the next ten years.
But what about those Rocky Mountain goats (members of the cattle family) that were airlifted into the La Sal alpine area?
The Manti-La Sal National Forest is in the process of deciding what monitoring they need in 2014 to develop a management plan for these non-native animals. The plan must fulfill the agency’s commitment to protect the Mount Peale Research Natural Area and the sensitive plants. Again, your photographs, reports, and suggestions will help.
All multiple uses in the La Sal Mountains bear watching – whether uranium mining, mountain biking, or hiking in the fragile alpine area. But 2014 offers unique opportunities to speak up for the La Sal Mountains based on your first-hand observations of how livestock and Rocky Mountain goat s are being managed. The mountains will repay your effort.