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Bill Worf

Who is he and why is he involved with grazing issues in the South Warner Wilderness?


            Born in 1926 on a homestead in Eastern Montana I grew up on a ranch through the “big depression”. From 1929-1939 my family raised cattle and grain on a ranch South of Rosebud.  We (together with our neighbors) overgrazed the “open range” surrounding our place and I recall seeing the short grass prairie turn to sagebrush.  We blamed the drought, grasshoppers, sagebrush, cheat grass and prairie dogs for our problems and finally starved out and started a retail dairy near Forsyth.  In retrospect I know that the real problem was that we asked the land to produce more than it could sustain.

            World War II came along and I left high school to join the Marines.  I fought in the battle of Iwo Jima then went on to serve in the occupation of Japan.  After discharge from the Marines I went to the University of Montana under the GI bill and received a BS degree in Forestry/Range in 1950.

            In 1946, I married a ranch bred girl.  We raised 6 children and have 11 grandchildren and 1 great grandchild.  My wife's brother ran the family ranch until he retired in 2000.  He had built it into a very successful 18,000 acre Charolais breeding operation with about 600 head.

            I was employed by the US Forest Service  in 1950.  After 6 months on a range survey crew in Wyoming, I spent 12 years in Utah on the Uinta, Ashley and Fishlake National Forests as well as a two year stint in the Regional Office in Ogden.  A large part of my work during those years was involved with range/watershed studies and administration of livestock grazing permits.  From Utah I went back to Wyoming as Supervisor of the Bridger National Forest.  At that time only two other National Forests in the nation accommodated more animal months of grazing use than the Bridger NF.   When the Wilderness Act passed in 1964, I was sent to the FS National Office to head the development of Regulations and Policy for implementation of that Act.  In 1969, I was assigned to the Regional Office in Missoula, Mt. as Director for Wilderness, Recreation & Lands.  I retired from that position in November of 1981.

            I had the privilege of broadening my perspective through work in foreign countries.  In December of 1973 and January of 1974 I was assigned as a specialist in the outdoor recreation exhibit that was touring the Soviet Union.  My assignment was in the City of Yerevan, Armenia.  From 1978 through 1988 I served as a member of the Commission of Ecology (COE) for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  During that time I represented COE on the Commission for Parks and Protected Areas.  The work with IUCN took me to Australia (twice), Scotland, Holland, Brazil, New Zealand, Peru and Spain.  A large part of my work with IUCN revolved around the relationship between grazing (by both domestic and wild animals) and watershed health. 

            When I retired from the FS, many of my friends in the environmental community urged me to get involved in the struggle to get new lands designated as Wilderness.  By that time I was seeing disturbing signs that the wilderness character of lands already in the System was being allowed to degrade.  The major conservation organizations like the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society seemed to be so intent on adding new land that they had no time to take care of what was already designated.  It made no sense to me to keep putting land in the System if we were not willing to take the hard positions that would insure that the wild character of those already designated would endure.  I vowed to spend my remaining years doing my best to promote sound stewardship of these national treasures.  In March of 1989 I was one of three people who founded Wilderness Watch, a national non-profit organization established to focus strictly on promoting sound stewardship of the National Wilderness Preservation System and the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System.  Wilderness Watch does not get involved in efforts to get new lands designated.  We are headquartered in Missoula, MT. and funded by memberships and gifts.  We have a paid staff consisting of 3 fine professional.  I have served as a volunteer (unpaid) President of the governing board since that time.  I pay my own travel and telephone expenses.  The 1964 Wilderness Act provides that grazing by domestic livestock, where established prior to an areas designation as wilderness shall be permitted to continue subject to regulations which include those necessary to protect land values.  Because of my background in range/watershed management I have personally taken a strong role in issues involving grazing by both recreational and domestic stock grazing.


How did I get involved in the South Warner Wilderness?


            I first saw the South Warner Wilderness from the seat of a Cessna 182 in May of 1966.  We were preparing the first recommendation to Congress resulting from the  Primitive Area review mandated by the 1964 Act.  The San Rafael on the Los Padres was the subject.  I went to the Region to take a look and while there, Regional Forester Charlie Connaughton, arranged a five day aerial overview of the Region 5 Wildernesses and Primitive Areas.  I recall being intrigued by this little jewel tucked away in the remote NE corner of California.  Then I transferred to Montana in 1969.  Regional Forester Neal Rahm and Director of Timber Bob Cron had served together on the Modoc in the late 1950s - Neal as Supervisor and Bob as Timber Staff.  They both extolled the fishing, hunting and remoteness of the South Warner.  I had visions of a little bit of heaven where recreation use was very light and where there were no management problems but I never had a chance to visit it.

            About 1994 I began to receive word from people out of the Bay area in California who had discovered the So. Warner as a place where they could find solitude.  But they also found livestock grazing impacts that concerned them.  They told me that when they raised the concerns with the Forest Service they were informed that the Congressional Grazing Guidelines would not allow them to correct the situation.  One gentleman who makes a solo trip or two to the Wilderness each year told me “Bill, the use I saw may be legal but it is not right!”  A couple called to tell me how they cut a back-pack trip short because of sheep.  They had been enjoying a great trip and pitched camp one evening near a tiny aspen meadow.  They awoke the next morning to find their camp surrounded by sheep.  They watched in awe and horror while the sheep devoured everything in sight.  They reported the incident to the Cedarville office.  The response was one of helplessness.

            My wife and I drove to Modoc County in early May 1996 to talk with local folks about wilderness issues.  We missed seeing DR Asrow who was away.  We viewed the Wilderness from all sides and drove to the Clear Lake trailhead.  But the snow would not permit a walk into the Wilderness. 

            With that background I eagerly accepted an invitation from Supervisor Conroy to accompany him on a trip to the Wilderness in 1999.  I documented my observations in a letter to him dated  October 31, 1999.  I made a second visit to the Wilderness July 13-16, 2000.  That is documented in my letter to Supervisor Chisholm dated August 10, 2000.

            When I visited the Wilderness  I expected to see evidence of current heavy grazing use.  However, I was not prepared for the magnitude of the problem I’ve seen during my visits.    I saw a sick land that has been tortured by heavy domestic livestock grazing over more than a century.  Whole mountain-sides that once supported a diverse cover of grass and wild flowers now support only Sagebrush.  Aspen stands are dying!  Meadows in the bottom of Parker Creek have been gutted.  In my opinion, Mill Creek meadow is in extreme danger of being ripped apart as well.  Livestock use has been substantially reduced over the past 70 years.  For example, use on the Henderson Meadow Allotment was reduced 40 % in the 1930s, 25 % in 1950 and another 31 % in 1967.  Never-the -less it appears to me that the downward spiral continues.  Because of the fortunate accidents of climate and geology, this land retains the capacity to recover.

            The Forest Service must set things right.  The time for doing that is now!  It is my hope that we can provide the basis for a solution this week.



Bill Worf

July 29, 2001