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Impacts of Cattle Grazing on Local Riparian Wetlands

Specific Examples of Grazing Abuse

Buffalo Creek, in the Granite Mountain Allotment of Wyoming (on the North side of Sweetwater River), is a typical example of an abused stream. This stream is currently restricted too just a few free flowing stream segments that seldom exceed 400 yards - except during infrequent periods of high rainfall.

Unless change occurs, Buffalo Creek will likely attain an ephemeral status within a few years. riparian wetland forage will be reduced even further, water will be even more difficult for animals and birds to find, and cattle will be eliminated or will receive their water from wells (Figure 12).

Immigrant Spring, Green Mountain Common Allotment of Wyoming, must have provided a free flowing stream when settlers of the West were using the Seminole Trail (a branch of the Oregon Trail). The site was obviously a favored camping spot, and both an adequate supply of water and of forage would have been required for camping purposes. Now, the riparian wetlands immediately below the spring sources are incapable of providing anything but an intermittent stream flow (Figure 13.).

During the summer of 2001, flows of Immigrant spring sources diminished because of drought conditions in 2000, and an even worse drought in 2001. In the previous fall the riparian wetland immediately below the spring looked more like a billiard table then a riparian wetland because of overuse. Much of the riparian wetland vegetation was no more than one inch in height when the growing season was over around the middle of September. This riparian wetland is also in an area where snowfall provides a significant amount water retained by the riparian wetland. Based on earlier calculations, higher vegetation could have stopped up to 72 times as much snow.

As mentioned, the drought of 2000 was followed by the drought of 2001. Despite being grazed early in the season in 2001, only sedges in a short flowing stream section, and sedges in some hummock areas still supplying water, reached or exceeded four inches at the end of the growing season. More than 90 percent of the riparian wetland (now covered largely by upland grasses, not riparian wetland vegetation) had already matured and ceased growing by the middle of September, with vegetative heights of approximately 1 inches.

An abused private/public riparian wetland area in Green Mountain Common Allotment was fenced in 2000 by a private interest, and only lightly grazed in 2001. The riparian wetland had stubble heights at or exceeding 12 inches by late July of 2001. However, the riparian wetland still had not recovered from past abuse because humus and humic material replacement takes a prolonged interval of time. No water was being released downstream of the riparian wetland when visited in July. Rather than having a spacious "sponge" of humus and humic matter to release water downstream slowly, water was only present in the upper part of a riparian wetland. In time, the humus content should increase and water can be expected to pass downstream from the riparian wetland each summer.

Grazing requirements for the Green Mountain Common Allotment permittees were unusual in the years 2000 and 2001, as permittees were required to herd to keep cattle from over using riparian wetlands and riparian habitats. Data regarding effectiveness of herding efforts was gathered in both years. Nearly all of the riparian wetlands and riparian habitat were classified as having received either Severe or Heavy (over) grazing use in 2000. Use data for the eastern half of the GMCA, along with a small portion on the western half, is shown in Figure 14.

Cattle herding efforts during the 2000 grazing season were ineffective and did not prevent cattle from overusing riparian wetlands or riparian habitats based on grazing use information. A 2001 use map has yet to be completed. Nevertheless, if anything, results were even more dismal in 2001 based on sampling analyses to date.

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