Cattle make mess for Capitol Creek hikers
Hikers headed up Capitol Creek Trail these days find themselves slogging through a mile of what might be politely termed “bovine excrement” before they reach cleaner pastures farther up the creek.
In other words, they’re having a crappy time.
Grazing cattle in the otherwise pristine area have deposited voluminous manure on the trail, trampled stream banks and attracted flies. All are cause for complaint by trail users, but the situation isn’t likely to change soon, a Forest Service expert says.
Valley resident David Floria said he took his family for a hike up Capitol Creek last weekend, and found it a rather unsatisfactory experience, especially for his three-year-old son, who is now old enough to hike in his white tennis shoes. Floria said he’s been hiking up Capitol Creek for more than 15 years, because the country around Capitol Lake is some of the most beautiful around.
But, he said, he’s always been disgusted and shocked by the effect cattle have on the lower part of the valley.
“It’s senseless and inexcusable to have this sort of thing in a wilderness area,” Floria said. The edges of Capitol Creek are trampled and the stream is muddied and contaminated, he said.
Aspen Times Editor-in-Chief Andy Stone said he experienced much of the same unpleasantness on a recent hike, and that he and his wife talked to several hikers during the day who were also disgusted by the mess. “This is criminal,” one hiker told Stone.
Floria said he understands that grazing has been allowed in the Capitol Creek valley since before the Wilderness Act became law in 1964, but he said perhaps that situation should be re-evaluated.
“We need to have another look at what’s appropriate,” he said. “You can get a $50 fine for having a dog off a leash, but cows? Come on. These things cause more damage than you can imagine.”
U.S. Forest Service Range Technician Wayne Ives said three grazing permits exist for the Capitol Creek grazing allotment. The allotment includes the Capitol Creek drainage, neighboring Nicholson Creek and Hunter Creek, which flows into Snowmass Creek.
Ranchers Walt Wieben, Bob Perry and James Otis hold the permits, Ives said. Currently, the ranchers pay the federal government $1.35 per “unit” per month to graze cattle on the allotment, Ives said. A unit is one cow and one calf.
The permits allow a total of 280 units, or 560 animals, but this season only 476 animals are on the land, because Otis isn’t using the allotment. The grazing season on the allotment runs from July 1 to Oct. 10.
Ives said the Wilderness Act probably wouldn’t exist if grazing hadn’t been allowed under some circumstances. Politically expedient compromises were made to get the act approved in Congress, he said.
Permits last for 10 years, Ives said, and are renewed automatically unless there’s a problem with abuse of resources. Permits may be transferred or inherited.
All grazing allotments must be reviewed by the Forest Service within a 15-year period, Ives said. The review includes the comments of the public. The Capitol Creek allotment received such a review in 1995, he said, and probably won’t be reviewed again for about 10 years.
Dottie Fox, chairwoman of the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, said she’s torn between supporting the ranchers and advocating getting cattle out of wilderness areas. Ranchers serve as the stewards of a lot of the undeveloped land that remains in the Roaring Fork Valley, she noted, and should be encouraged to continue ranching.
“I wish that somehow there was a way to keep the impacts down in the riparian areas,” Fox said.
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