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Project WPLGAlbum

Page 5: Some Grazing Exclosures in Canyon Country and Central Utah
by: Christopher "Chris" Christie
January, 2001

Disclaimer: The locations of photographs in  this album have not been determined through survey. Due to the intermingled nature of land ownerships throughout much of the west, some photographs where the context or caption imply or otherwise indicate government ownership may actually be located on intermingled or adjoining private lands.

A person well acquainted with livestock grazing can sometimes be overheard grumbling: "I wonder what this sad and debilitated place looked like before the cows got a hold of it?" Of course that is very hard to know if there is no ungrazed similar piece of land in the immediate vicinity to compare it to - and there usually isn't - because, you know - we can't let good forage "go to waste." Thankfully, in the past, both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have initiated both formal and informal studies in the form of livestock exclosures to help measure the effects of livestock grazing and wildlife use on public land resources. Exclosures are designed to keep livestock out so that we can see how different plant communities develop in their absence. They don't often completely answer the question, but they do help give a person some idea of what the potential natural community might look like. 

The "Mud Spring Deer Study" (Picture 1) was "Established in 1943 to study the effects of livestock and deer grazing on crested wheatgrass plantings." Given proper maintenance, adequate size, and appropriate data collection, exclosures could and sometimes do provide valuable information about the effects of livestock grazing and wildlife use on the natural resources and processes in publicly held native ecosystems. Too often though, exclosures do not live up to their potential to provide valuable information because they are not properly planned or the public land agencies do not follow through with adequate maintenance and data collection. Cows frequently get into the exclosures and ruin much of their usefulness. There are also stories of ranchers sabotaging exclosures to either foil the study, let their livestock in to consume the "forage," or both.
The Mud Spring Deer[!!!] Study, on the Fishlake National Forest in the Fishlake Mountains of Sevier County, Utah, is an example of an exclosure that has been poorly maintained over the years (See picture 2, taken in 1995). As the photo shows, the fences are almost completely down in one section. Some livestock had negotiated the low fence and poles to enter the "deer use" portion of the exclosure that year, as evidenced by "cow pies" within that part of the exclosure. Over time, of course, this confuses the issue and makes it appear as if deer are responsible for the lowered production and ecological damage in that section, when in fact it was caused by livestock grazing.
None-the-less, exclosures often do provide useful information about the effects of livestock grazing on an ecosystem or at least on the local plant community. Picture three shows the fenceline down the west side of the portion of the Mud Spring exclosure that is intended to exclude both cattle and deer. As they do on most of the Fishlake National Forest, cattle have grazed heavily on the right, outside the exclosure, with the usual consequences. Over the years, even this grazing adapted, non-native crested wheatgrass planting, created to feed cows and hold the soil, has been eliminated by grazing outside of the fence. This is exactly what one would expect when commercially viable numbers of cattle graze arid western sagebrush/grass plant communities.
Aside from its effects on biodiversity, the excessive removal of ground cover and the compaction of the land by livestock grazing have resulted in massive floods, erosion and gully formation throughout the Fishlake National Forest. Picture 4 shows one example out of many that exist on the Fishlake.

Even high mountain plant communities receiving more precipitation do not fare well under Forest Service grazing management in Utah. The Boulder Creek Exclosure (Picture 5) is on the north side of Boulder Mountain, Dixie National Forest, Wayne County Utah. Sources tell me that a former Forest Ranger has a grazing permit in this area. The Roundup Flat Exclosure (Enclosure, take your pick - Picture # 6) is on the east side of Boulder Mountain that overlooks Capitol Reef National Park and the red rock canyon country. Note the bare soil and generally unprotected ground in the grazed foreground of both pictures.
Freeway fencing creates exclosures that can also provide some information on grazing damage. Pictures 7 and 8 each show one of the two sides of Interstate 70 looking east across BLM land and Sagebrush Bench on the San Rafael Swell of Utah's Emery County. A nearby freeway right-of-way marker listed the elevation at 3,658 feet and it was placed there in 1968. Guess which side of picture 7 the cows graze on. Even in the fall of a drought year, October (20th) 2000, the differences are clearly discernible.

Across the frontage road in picture 9 is the Sagebrush Bench Exclosure. The west half was created in 1937 and the eastern portion was fenced in 1961. There was little new growth inside the exclosure in the year the picture was taken (2000) due to drought, but because the cows have removed almost everything outside the exclosure, there is still good contrast, even from a distance. Note that the only shrubs and sagebrush left in this area of the bench are inside the exclosure, and that the exterior has been uniformly grazed down to the dirt far out onto the bench. As you can see, the land would be covered with a different plant community offering both greater diversity and far more protection if it were not for abusive cattle grazing. Good habitat for many species has been eliminated by cattle grazing on Sagebrush Bench and elsewhere in the west.
As with the situation described earlier on the Fishlake National Forest, grazing on the loose sandy soils of the San Raphael Swell has resulted in large scale erosion and gully formation. Pictures 10 & 11 are from grazed areas south of Interstate 70 and just west of Sagebrush Bench. Notice the cattle trail in picture number 11 crossing the gully. Trailing creates a channel for water to flow in during severe thunder storms. Because the vegetation and biological crusts have been removed on the trails (and most places in between), and the soil is sandy and loose, the water that becomes concentrated in these channels cuts down into the earth and helps create and expand lateral gullies and the removal of surface soils.

To the east of the Swell, cattle destructively scratch out a living on the BLM administered lands of the San Rafael Desert, which stretches eastward from the San Rafael Reef to the canyons of the Green and Colorado Rivers, including portions of Canyonlands National Park and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The cows in picture 12 are moving out of the Black Brush Exclosure alongside Utah State Highway 24, east of the San Rafael Reef that can be seen in the background. Two or three of the cows are still in the exclosure and a fence with only one functional strand of barbed wire is in the foreground. Sand dunes are said to have been expanding in the area over the last several years.
The last two pictures are of planted exclosures in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. They were created on old drill pad sites in the fall of 1984 and the spring of 1985 to determine the restoration potential of different planting and seeding methods. Picture 13, taken in 1995, shows the exclosure on the left and a severely "hammered" sagebrush community on the right. Picture 14, has an exclosure with many shrubs in the upper left. Both areas are in better shape today than they were in 1995. The Grand Canyon Trust recently facilitated the removal of the cows from the northwestern portion of the Recreation Area. The cows were being removed in October of 2000, when this last picture was taken. The removal, in a way, creates a very large, new exclosure, and will provide a good opportunity to see how well these arid lands and their fragile ecosystems can recover from decades of abusive cattle grazing.