Monday, December 19, 2011

Not so home on the range

The Old West tradition of using national forest lands for grazing isn't completely dead in the Roaring Fork Valley, but it could be on its last gasp. For the first half of the 20th century, the Forest Service's primary duty in the Roaring Fork River basin was to manage the range for livestock grazing and, to a lesser extent, oversee timber sales. Now, instead of supervising the grazing of large flocks of sheep on Independence Pass and huge herds of cattle in nearly all the lower-elevation drainages, the Forest Service is focused on protecting natural resources in the wake of an expanding number of recreationalists. (Oil and gas development has emerged in the past decade as a leading issue on the west side of the White River National Forest.) The decline in the use of forest lands for grazing mirrors the slow decline in the overall health of ranching in the Roaring Fork Valley. As Aspen built its reputation as a world-class resort and land prices soared, many ranchers discovered they could get richer selling their land for real estate development than by spending years wrangling cattle. As a result, the demand for grazing allotments has plummeted in the Aspen and Sopris ranger districts, which combine to total about 720,000 acres. “At the present time, there are approximately 202,000 acres of the Aspen and Sopris ranger districts open to domestic livestock grazing. In 1985, there were nearly 100,000 more acres open to grazing than there are now,” said Wayne Ives, the range technician on the two districts since the early 1980s. The number of sheep grazing permits issued by the Forest Service for the Aspen and Sopris districts fell from five in 1987 to one in 2011. The last remaining herd grazes on public lands in the Marble area. A typical herd had about 1,000 head of sheep, Ives said. The number of cattle grazing permits in the Aspen and Sopris districts fell from 28 in to 16 in 2011. ..more

No comments: