Analysis of Ground Cover in Forest Openings

 

in the

 

Bear Hodges Analysis Area

Little Bear Sheep Allotment

North Rich Cattle Allotment

 

Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Utah

 

October 27, 2000

 

By

 

John G. Carter, PhD

Ecologist

 

 


INTRODUCTION

 

This report is a summary of ground cover, soil and watershed observations and measurements in the Bear Hodges Analysis Area.   It includes data collected from both the North Rich Cattle Allotment and Little Bear Sheep Allotment.  A report (WCE, 1998)[1]was submitted to the Forest Service, Logan Ranger District in March, 1998 that summarized monitoring data for these areas collected through 1997.  This report reviews some of the information provided in that document and presents data collected since that time.  The data provided here includes current photographs of watershed and ground cover conditions as well as monitoring data for ground cover.

 

METHODS

 

Monitoring of ground cover at the long-term monitoring sites between 1991 and 1999 was performed at seven upland locations (Figure 1)[not included on web].  These are described in WCE (1998), and were located between 7000’ and 8000’ elevation.  Control sites were selected that have been ungrazed by livestock for several decades.  These areas were isolated from livestock either by fences or distance to water.  Grazed locations were located in forest openings at a reasonable distance from water to avoid effects of livestock concentration.  Because ground cover conditions were so radically different between grazed and ungrazed locations, collection of hundreds of data points was not deemed necessary and a visual estimation method was used.  This method employed a “hula hoop” approximately 1 meter in diameter.  A 100 meter transect was established and the “hula hoop” placed on the ground at approximate 10 meter intervals measured by pacing.  Ground cover parameters including rock, crust(moss or lichen), litter, forb, grass, shrub and bare ground were used.   At each of the ten points cover percent for each of these was visually estimated and recorded.

 

In Year 2000, a more detailed ground cover investigation was performed at locations in the North Rich Cattle Allotment because of the upcoming Environmental Impact Statement for the allotment as well as concerns over the creation of additional forest openings by logging in the Bear Hodges Analysis Area.  This monitoring occurred at 11 locations throughout the North Rich Cattle Allotment (Figure 1).  Locations monitored included 3 ungrazed control sites, 3 logged and grazed (logged/grazed) sites and 5 sites that are grazed without logging (grazed only). Each location was photographed and the latitude and longitude were read by a handheld GPS (Table 1).  The Forest Service method of ground cover measurement was used to record cover by rock, crust, grass, litter, forb, shrub and bare ground.  This consisted of locating a center point and establishing five radial transects.  We chose vectors bearing 72° apart.  Ground cover was measured using a nested frequency frame with eight points.  The frame was placed on the ground at five-foot intervals along each of the five radial transects and ground cover category recorded.  A total of 800 individual observations was thereby made at each site.

 

Table 1.  Site Descriptions and Locations for Year 2000 Ground Cover Measurements

Location/Description

Latitude

Longitude

Middle Sinks Control (same as long-term site)

41° 55.513’

111° 28.432’

Sinks Road Control

41° 55.242’

111° 28.717’

Hardware Ranch Control

41° 36.573’

111° 33.111’

Peter Sinks Road Logged and Grazed

41° 53.422’

111° 29.391

Upper Spawn Creek Logged and Grazed

41° 50.767’

111° 30.372’

Log Cabin Area Logged and Grazed

41° 49.147’

111° 28.265’

Hodges Trailhead Grazed (same as long-term site)

41° 54.275’

111° 28.707’

Peter Sinks Road Grazed

41° 53.598’

111° 29.583’

Upper Jebo Grazed

41° 51.872’

111° 29.886’

Temple Mountain Grazed

41° 49.356’

111° 30.135’

Saddle Creek Road Grazed

41° 45.953’

111° 28.605’

 

DATA FROM LONG TERM MONITORING SITES

 

Table 2 and Figure 2 present ground cover data for the long-term monitoring sites.  Ground cover includes the sum of all cover factors – rock, crust, grass, forb, litter and shrub.  The difference between total ground cover and 100% is the amount of bare ground at the site.  Mean ground cover in the ungrazed controls for the eight years was consistent, ranging between 92.3% and 93.7%, with a mean of 93% ground cover.  Bare ground area was correspondingly low at an average of  7%.  In comparison, forest openings grazed by livestock monitored during the same period had reduced ground cover.  Mean ground cover values for grazed forest openings ranged from 20.7% to 62.8% with an overall mean of 40.8%, corresponding to nearly 60% bare ground on average.

 

Table 3, Figures 3a and 3b present data for soil nutrients  and salts for these same locations.  Values for total nitrogen  at control locations ranged from 0.415% to 0.505% with a mean of 0.46%.  Total nitrogen in soils for grazed locations ranged between 0.21% and 0.365% with a mean of 0.25%.  Soil nitrate values reflected a similar pattern except for the Big Clearing location.  That location has been excluded from means for both total nitrogen and nitrate because of the evidence of salting in the area, leading to a concentration of livestock and possibly accumulation of high concentrations of nitrogen compounds from urine.  This is supported by the data for extractable potassium which was correspondingly high for the Big Clearing location (Table 3).  Nitrate in ungrazed control locations ranged between 10.1 mg/kg and 12.4 mg/kg with a mean of 11.3 mg/kg. Nitrate in the grazed locations ranged between 4.3 mg/kg and 8.2 mg/kg with a mean of 6.4 mg/kg.

 

YEAR 2000 GROUND COVER DATA

 

Results of ground cover monitoring at these eleven sites are tabulated in Tables 4, 5 and Figure 4.  Photographs of monitoring locations and ground cover are provided in Figure 5 (ungrazed controls), Figure 6 (logged/grazed) and Figure 7, 8 (grazed only)[figures 5-8 not included on web].  Total ground cover for controls ranged from 93.1% to 95.3% with a mean of 94.4%.  Ground cover in asites logged/grazed ranged from 45.4% to 70.6% ground cover with a mean of 61.1%.  Sites grazed by livestock and not logged ranged from 8.1% to 60.4% ground cover with a mean of 41.9%.  The difference between grazed sites and those logged/grazed is principally a function of the amount of litter.  In logged/grazed sites, the woody debris left after logging was counted as litter and this was 18.2% higher than in the grazed sites resulting in higher ground cover values.  In terms of vegetation cover, grass cover averaged 38.8% in the ungrazed control sites, but was only 7.7% in logged/grazed sites.  In grazed only sites, grass was only 3.6% ground cover.  Forb cover in all sites grazed by livestock generally consisted of species unpalatable to livestock.

 

WATERSHED IMPLICATIONS

 

This study shows that forest openings within the Bear Hodges area, including portions of the North Rich Cattle Allotment and Little Bear Sheep Allotment suffer severely reduced ground cover, soil erosion, nutrient loss and generally degraded watershed condition from grazing of livestock.  Comparisons between ungrazed control sites, logged/grazed sites and sites grazed only show that grasses are markedly reduced in cover percent within grazed forest openings as well as in logged/grazed forest openings  when compared with controls.  The difference between grazed sites and logged/grazed sites was principally due to the amount of woody debris left in logged areas following logging.  Total herbaceous ground cover (forbs + grasses) in those two management types was nearly identical while total herbaceous ground cover in ungrazed controls was almost triple that of grazed areas, whether logged or not.

 

The Final Environmental Impact Statement Rangeland Health (USDA, 1995)[2] stated that “Effective ground cover will be at least 85% of the potential for each cover type.”  Based on data from control locations monitored in this study, ground cover in undisturbed forest openings is greater than 90%.  In fact, our observations in wilderness areas where livestock grazing has been absent for long periods indicate ground cover potential is near 100%.  However, if one applies this 85% criterion to the lowest value found in our ungrazed controls, ground cover should be maintained above 79%.  It is evident from our data that Forest Service management is far from meeting even this arbitrary criterion.  USDA (1995) further states that ground cover is necessary to protect the soil from erosion and to maintain infiltration into the soil to maintain water balance.   Research by the Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station (Packer, 1998)[3] and others has shown that at ground cover values lower than potential, runoff and soil erosion increases.  This research shows that for subalpine-herbaceous range in limestone-dominated soils such as those occurring in the Bear Hodges area, soil erosion in a control plot with ground cover at potential (>90%) and rainfall of 1.5”/20 minutes was less than 1000 pounds per acre.  In areas with ground cover similar to the values found in the grazed and logged/grazed forest openings, soil erosion could exceed 20,000 pounds per acre.

 

Figure 9 [not included on web] illustrates the long-term effects of combining logging and livestock grazing in these sensitive watersheds.  The location is a 30 year-old clearcut in the upper Spawn Creek watershed.  Here the forest has been unable to regenerate, ground cover is limited to 45.5% with nearly total loss of topsoil.  Herbaceous ground cover mainly consists of unpalatable or weedy species and gully erosion is occuring.  The result is not only loss of the topsoil and plant community, but the sediment moving down the watershed buries substrate, reducing spawning habitat and food availability for the Bonneville Cutthroat Trout, a sensitive species.

 

Figures 10, 11, 12 and 13 [figures 10-13 not included on web] illustrate more effects of livestock on forest resources.  Figure 10 shows the removal of soil stabilizing vegetation, erosion from livestock grazing on slopes and the inability of abandoned roads to recover.  Figure 11 shows the loss of aspen regeneration and understory vegetation by livestock.  Figure 12 shows the failure of vegetation to re-establish following a fire in the mid-1980’s.  Figure 13 shows the destruction of a spring and wetland and domination by tarweed, a major problem in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest.   Figure 14 shows [not included on web] current understory conditions in the designated Old Growth Forest proposed for clearcutting and thinning under the Bear Hodges Project.  The understory is barren and dry, lacking vegetation.  Soil pedestaling and erosion are evident.  Figure 15 [not included on web] shows forest openings in Slideout canyon.  These forest openings lack vegetative cover and are barren and dry, exhibiting soil erosion.  The clearcut (<5 years old) has little vegetation, yet the Forest Service argues this method opens up the forest and promotes growth of herbaceous plants, forage and cover for wildlife.  These figures illustrate conditions found across the broad landscape of the Bear Hodges Analysis Area.

 

SENSTIVE AND THREATENED SPECIES

 

The Environmental Assessment for the Bear Hodges Analysis Area (WCNF, 1999)[4]  listed eleven sensitive wildlife species including Northern Goshawk, Boreal Owl, Flammulated Owl, Great Gray Owl, Northern Three-toed Woodpecker, Spotted Bat, Townsend’s Big-eared Bat, Canada Lynx, Wolverine, Spotted Frog and Bonneville Cutthroat Trout.  The Canada Lynx has since been listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act.  In addition, suitable habitat was stated to occur for sensitive plant species including Brownie Ladyslipper, Starvling Milkvetch and Logan Buckwheat.

 

The presumption in the EA was that the proposed project would enhance habitat for many of these species.  But, where is the forage for the prey base for Goshawk, Boreal Owl, Great Gray Owl and Lynx?  Where is the habitat for Spotted Frog? And, of course, soil erosion from these degraded watersheds provides sediment to Big Creek, Blacksmith Fork, Logan River, Little Bear Creek, Spawn Creek, Temple Fork, West Hodges Creek which are all listed in (Lentsch et al, 1997)[5]as streams important to the conservation of Bonneville Cutthroat Trout.  The EA notes that surveys for sensitive plant species including Brownie Ladyslipper and Starvling Milkvetch have failed to find any populations in the Bear Hodges Analysis Area.  Since these are associated with forest openings including sagebrush-grasslands, when you consider the condition of these areas reported here, is it any wonder none have been found?  These issues will be addressed in a subsequent report.

 

CONCLUSIONS

 

The Environmental Assessment (WCNF, 1997) stated that “It appears these ecological systems are ‘functioning at risk’, putting them at risk to degradation beyond the point of resiliency and sustainability.  A long history of fire suppression, grazing and logging has created an imbalance in the variety in forest and plant communities across the landscape.”  The EA went on to exclude livestock grazing and fire suppression from consideration, proposed additional logging and arrived at a Finding of No Significant Impact.

 

Forest Health in the 134 million acres of National Forests in the interior west has declined  during the past several decades leaving millions of acres susceptible to catastrophic wildfires at great risk to human safety and watershed health (GAO, 1999)[6]. The principal causes of this decline in Forest Health are livestock grazing, logging and fire suppression.  Forest Service scientists have documented a 60% decline of aspen in the forests of the Intermountain Region which lies in Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming (Bartos and Campbell, 1998a)[7] as a result of these factors.  Aspen habitats are second in importance only to riparian areas in biodiversity and enhance watershed function, allowing 7 times more water storage than the habitats such as conifers that are replacing them (Bartos and Campbell, 1998b)[8].  Recent review articles by Belsky and Blumenthal (1997)[9], Belsky et al (1999)[10] and Fleishner (1994)[11] have documented the loss of biodiversity, declining forest health and loss of ecosystem resiliency and sustainability that is resulting from livestock grazing.    The Forest Service approach to these problems is narrow in focus, addressing tree stand status while ignoring declining species, habitat, watershed conditions and bioregional conservation planning issues including biodiversity, connectivity and population viability.  Their plans only address use of prescribed burns or mechanical harvesting of timber to reduce tree density.  GAO estimates the cost of these practices at $12 billion over 15 years, concludes they will not cure the problem and will lead to damage to soils, watersheds, air quality and water quality.

 

Our study and observations over the course of many years have repeatedly pointed out watershed and habitat problems due to livestock grazing and livestock grazing in combination with other factors.  The Forest Service has ignored this input and continued to extract resources in spite of their own observations that ecosystem health is threatened.  The data and information provided in this report show the terribly degraded condition of the watersheds and ecosystems in the Bear Hodges Analysis Area forests and forest openings.  These impacts include loss of  herbaceous ground cover, loss of forage for wildlife, soil nutrient loss and erosion.  Cumulative impacts from these conditions include loss of wildlife, siltation of streams and reduced water quality.

 

 

 

 

Table 2.  End of Season Ground Cover Percent North Rich and Little Bear Allotments

Year

Sinks Road Control

Middle Sinks Control

Hodges Trailhead

Richardson

Peter Sinks

Big Clearing

Upper Spawn

1991

96.3

 

48.6

19.4

33.1

23.1

 

1992

92.5

89.5

63.7

21.5

36

37.7

65.7

1993

92.4

92.7

67.7

21.2

42.5

24.9

53.6

1994

92.4

93.3

50.3

17.1

36.9

46

54.6

1995

94.6

95.7

43.5

17.6

60.5

18

64.8

1996

90.8

90.4

40.9

22.1

50

24.6

62.3

1997

93.8

90.2

56.7

27.2

31.1

29.9

75.5

1999

96.7

94.2

29.3

19.6

 

 

 

Mean

93.7

92.3

50.1

20.7

41.4

29.2

62.8

 

Table 3.  Soil Chemistry for North Rich and Little Bear Allotments - 1996

 

Sinks Road Control

Middle Sinks Control

Hodges Trailhead

Richardson

Peter Sinks

Big Clearing

Upper Spawn

Nitrate, mg/kg

10.1

12.4

7

8.2

6.2

101

4.3

Total Nitrogen %

0.415

0.505

0.365

0.22

0.22

0.305

0.21

Ext. Potassium mg/kg

590

412

343

289

279

1260

326

 

Table 4.  Year 2000 Ground Cover Summary for Locations in the North Rich Cattle Allotment

Location

Crust

Litter

Grass

Forb

Shrub

Rock

Total

Middle Sinks Control

0.9

43.4

26.3

15.0

3.8

5.5

94.8

Sinks Road Control

0.0

48.4

30.0

12.6

3.4

0.9

95.3

Hardware Ranch Control

0.0

23.1

60.3

5.0

3.4

1.4

93.1

Peter Sinks Road Logged and Grazed

0.0

52.1

14.0

3.1

1.0

0.4

70.6

Upper Spawn Creek Logged and Grazed

0.1

22.9

5.4

16.0

0.1

0.9

45.4

Log Cabin Area Logged and Grazed

0.0

50.5

3.6

10.4

0.9

2.0

67.4

Hodges Trailhead Grazed

0.0

27.5

12.6

1.1

8.9

2.9

53.0

Peter Sinks Road Grazed

0.0

22.1

0.5

8.4

4.4

0.3

35.6

Upper Jebo Grazed

0.3

26.8

3.3

21.8

0.0

0.4

52.5

Temple Mountain Grazed

0.0

0.6

0.1

6.1

0.0

1.3

8.1

Saddle Creek Road Grazed

0.0

40.9

1.3

3.8

12.3

2.3

60.4

 

Table 5.  Summary of Ground Cover Measurements in the North Rich Cattle Allotment for Year 2000 by Management Type

Management Type

Crust

Litter

Grass

Forb

Shrub

Rock

Total

Control - Ungrazed and No Logging

0.3

38.3

38.8

10.9

3.5

2.6

94.4

Grazed and Logged

0.0

41.8

7.7

9.8

0.7

1.1

61.1

Grazed Only

0.1

23.6

3.6

8.2

5.1

1.4

41.9

 

 


 


 




 



[1] Willow Creek Ecology, Inc.  1998.  Investigation of Ground Cover, Soil Conditions, Riparian Areas and Forest Practices in the Little Bear Sheep and North Rich Cattle Allotments.

[2] USDA. 1995.  Final Environmental Impact Statement Rangeland Health.  United States Department of Agriculture Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

[3] Packer, Paul. 1998.  Requirements for watershed protection on western mountain rangelands.  Unpublished manuscript.  Dr. Packer is retired from the USDA Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Logan, Utah.

[4] Wasatch-Cache National Forest. 1999.  Environmental Assessment for the Bear Hodges Analysis Area.

[5] Lentsch, Leo; Yvette Converse and Jane Perkins.  1997.  Conservation Agreement and Strategy for Bonneville Cutthroat Trout (Onchorhynchus clarki utah) in the State of Utah.  Utah Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife Resources Publication No. 97-19.

 

[6]GAO. 1999. Western National Forests: A cohesive strategy is needed to address catastrophic wildfire threats.  United States General Accounting Office, Washington, D.C. 20548.

[7]Bartos, Dale L. and Robert B. Campbell, Jr. 1998a.  Decline of quaking aspen in the Interior West - examples from Utah.  Rangelands 20(1): 17-24.

[8]Bartos, Dale L. and Robert B. Campbell, Jr. 1998b.  Water depletion and other ecosystem values forfeited when conifer forests displace aspen communities.  Rangeland Management and Water Resources of American Water Works Association.  May 1998: 427-433.

[9]Belsky, A. Joy and Dana M. Blumenthal.  1997.  Effects of livestock grazing on stand dynamics and soils in upland forests of the Interior West.  Conservation Biology 11(2):315-327.

[10]Belsky, A. Joy, A. Matzke and S. Uselman.  1999.  Survey of livestock influences on stream and riparian ecosystems in the western United States.  Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. First Quarter 1999:419-431.

[11]Fleishner, Thomas L. 1994. Ecological costs of livestock grazing in western North America.  Conservation Biology 8(3):629-644.