After a five-year respite, cattle grazing will resume this month on about 43,000 acres in the Upper Hermosa and Elbert Creek areas of the San Juan National Forest.
Up to 200 cattle are allowed to graze from mid-June through mid-October each year based on a 2009 decision for the Hermosa Grazing Environmental Impact Statement. The EIS permits grazing in the Forest Service’s Upper Hermosa, Elbert Creek and Dutch Creek allotments.
Traffic delays are expected Saturday on Hermosa Park Road (Forest Service Road 578), where cattle will be unloaded and trailed to federal lands behind Purgatory Resort.
On June 26, more cattle will be unloaded behind the Needles Country Store on U.S. Highway 550 and moved along the Elbert Creek Trail into the second allotment.
The grazing areas include a 160-acre parcel adjacent to the Upper Hermosa trailhead that the Forest Service obtained through a land swap with Glacier Club in 2010.
Matt Janowiak, district ranger, said the five-year break from grazing on the allotments is owed to a number of factors, including the permitting process and the 2012 drought.
“We didn’t feel like we needed to push cattle on the allotments any sooner,” he said.
The new permit-holders, Clint and Miranda Wagner of Wagner Cattle Co. in Bayfield, were billed $1,580 for just under 200 cattle at a rate of $2.11 per animal unit month, which equates to forage for one cow and her calf for a month.
In 2015, San Juan National Forest collected $124,562 in grazing fees, which counted for about 16 percent of fees collected that year.
The most current Forest Service records show about 43,000 cattle are permitted or authorized to graze about 1.1 million acres of San Juan National Forest lands.
Forest Service officials said cutthroat trout recovery, fishing and water quality were considered in the decision to reintroduce cattle on the two parcels, and measures are in place to protect nearby watersheds, such as Elbert Creek.
Cattle will not be allowed to graze in the meadow behind Purgatory lifts three, five and eight, nor in the pasture along Elbert Creek where revegetation work was recently completed.