Sign of changing times: Hikers now roam where sheep grazed
A definitive sign of the changing West emerged Friday when the U.S. Forest Service eliminated 28 livestock grazing allotments in the White River National Forest, including five in the Aspen area.
The allotments hadn’t been used for years – some of them for decades – so they were considered “vacant” in Forest Service parlance. Closing or eliminating the allotment means they won’t be available for cattle or sheep grazing any longer, according to Wayne Nelson, range land management specialist in the forest supervisor’s office.
“It’s a sign of the times,” said Nelson. Areas around some parts of the sprawling forest have been transformed from ranches to trophy houses. Urbanization has made recreation king of much of the forest rather than ranching.
In the Aspen Ranger District, grazing allotments were closed in areas south of Independence Pass like the Grizzly, Tabor and Independence drainages. Some of those high valleys haven’t had cattle or sheep run up into them for the summer since the mid-1960s, Nelson said.
In most cases the return of the grazing permits back to the government by ranchers was based on economic considerations and difficulties managing livestock in high-recreation areas.
Other closed allotments include the Conundrum drainage and East Snowmass Creek. Sheep were a common sight for hikers in the East Snowmass Creek Valley into the 1990s. That allotment was last used in 1994, Nelson said.
Grazing in many of those areas likely goes back to Aspen’s founding as a silver-mining town, Nelson said. Ranchers raised livestock to feed the town and used the grass of the high valleys to fatten their cows and sheep.
Allotments were created around 1905 when forest reserves were formally created. The Forest Service began to regulate use of federal lands for grazing to try to prevent damage.
One allotment was only partially closed in the Aspen District and three were retained. The No Name allotment north of Highway 82 along Independence Pass was partially closed. The Hunter/Midway, Red Mountain and Woody Creek allotments were retained because of their potential grazing value, not because of recent use, according to Nelson.
The Hunter/Midvalley allotment, between the upper Hunter Creek Valley and Midway Lake area, hasn’t been used since 1966. Red Mountain hasn’t been used since 1979. Woody Creek has been vacant since 1980.
Hikers and mountain bikers now roam where cattle and sheep grazed.
“The probability of demand [for grazing] is low,” Nelson acknowledged. But the Forest Service likes to keep its options open. Grazing allotments are still used in many parts of Carbondale’s Sopris Ranger District, like the Dinkle Lake and Hay Park areas at the base of Mount Sopris, north of McClure Pass, around Marble and the Capitol Creek drainage.
Other parts of the forest that are remaining “very rural” continue to see allotments used. Those tend to be around Meeker, on the Flat Tops and other areas north of Interstate 70.
Grazing allotments were closed in other areas where resort development has been rampant, such as Summit County and eastern Eagle County.
An evaluation of 51 vacant livestock grazing allotments was initiated in 1996, as part of the White River National Forest revision of the 1984 Land and Resource Management Plan. Of those 51 allotments, Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle decided to close 28 and partially close eight others.
The remaining 15 vacant allotments will remain that way as they provide flexibility in managing the forest. Some of these allotments are adjacent to active allotments and will be available in the off chance that demand for grazing increases. These allotments could also be used in the event of severe drought or to resolve conflicts with other uses, according to the supervisor’s office.
Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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