Last week’s story about how our La Sal Mountains aspen are under stress this year from Marssonina fungus, recent years of drought, and decades of suppressing fire while conifers overtop the aspen, was informative (“Aspen trees in La Sals stricken with leaf blight,” Sept. 17-23, 2015 Moab Sun News). In the story, Moab-Monticello District Ranger Mike Diem of the Manti-La Sal National Forest noted the stress that climate change (a.k.a. global warming) is placing on the aspen.
The Forest Service throughout the West – its national forests awash in massive drought, fire, disease and insect events – is finally and regularly acknowledging the relevance of climate change to its management of forests, including aspen. However, the agency continues to remain silent about how increasing temperature, droughts, fires, invasive species spread, early spring melt and drying of springs might be interacting with livestock and big-game grazing throughout Western national forests.
For instance, the Moab-Monticello District is now going to pipe La Sal Mountain water to three new water troughs for cattle in Pinhook Valley adjacent to Castleton and the town of Castle Valley. The goal is to draw cattle into the areas of the new water troughs so the cattle will (hopefully) spend less time around the existing water troughs where exotic, fiercely invasive and fire-prone cheatgrass is now dominant, in part due to cattle concentrating there to access water. Pinhook Valley plants may be stressed by drought, but at least the cattle will have tubs of water to drink while they eat the stressed plants. However, the Environmental Assessment for this project denied the relevance of climate change to this management of cattle and water distribution. As the Moab-Monticello District put it, “Given the stochastic nature of climate-related events such as droughts, wildfire and floods, it would be highly remote and speculative to make management decisions based on such predictions.”
Now that our forests are heating up and drying out, it’s time for the Moab-Monticello District to start basing grazing management decisions on climate change measurements and predictions.