With spring now underway, many ranchers in Summit County will be grazing their livestock on National Forest lands. As grazing on public lands became a controversial topic when Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy made news, one local rancher points to the benefits of grazing on public lands.
Woodland resident Bobbie Williams works with rancher Dan Muskero to run cattle in the Uinta Mountains and said this year's grazing season for them will begin on June 10. She said grazing on public lands has notable benefits.
"It's a benefit to the cattlemen to have them [in the National Forest] cost-wise, instead of having them buy hay, which is really expensive right now," Williams said.
Paul Cowley, forest natural resources staff officer at the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, said grazing occurs across most of the forest, which is split into numerous managed allotments. Livestock owners also rest and rotate their livestock from one allotment to another to allow vegetation to recover.
Grazing fees are paid by ranchers, which go back to the Forest Service to purchase materials and supplies such as fencing and water troughs for rangeland. The price per head of cattle per month is $1.35, while the price per head per month for sheep and goats is 27 cents, Cowley said.
Those prices can be a steal compared to private grazing land, Williams said, whose owners can charge up to $50 per head for a grazing season (about five months). She added that ranchers on the National Forest do have to spend more time maintaining infrastructure such as fencing and water troughs, however, grazing on public lands helps both ranchers and taxpayers.
"It's cost-efficient for the public to have cattle on the mountain. It also helps keep the foliage down for fires," Williams said, who pointed to the fact that cattle keep vegetation from becoming overgrown on trails. "For the benefit of the people, [grazing] is what's keeping a lot of trails open. Without cattle up there, you're not going to have half of the trails that are there."
Without much of the grazing infrastructure that is in place, Cowley said a lot of wildlife in the forest would be concentrated to certain areas. Thus, grazing helps to disperse wildlife throughout the forest.
A good amount of the grazing infrastructure is installed by the ranchers themselves, Cowley said, who added that the Forest Service appreciates its relationships with local livestock grazers.
"We really value the local grazing community -- we work very cooperatively with them," Cowley said. "We value the lifestyle and the challenges that come with it."
Williams said that both ranchers and Forest Service officials are judicious with how they treat public lands -- ranchers make sure that cattle do not overgraze areas and the Forest Service is effective in how it utilizes grazing fees to manage the land and infrastructure.
The grazing season can start as early as May and can run into October. Williams is looking forward to this season, especially since there will be average water table levels. Permits are available for certain areas depending on when the vegetation is ready, Cowley said, meaning grazing begins earlier on lower-elevation environments.
Williams emphasized that there is a long history of grazing cattle in the Uinta Mountains.
"It's part of our heritage," Williams said. "If you take [cattle] off the mountain, you're going to watch a lot of meat prices go up."