The San Juan National Forest plans to adjust grazing management for cattle ranchers in the Glade area north of Dolores for long-term range health, according to a recently released draft record of decision.
To meet desired range conditions, forage stubble height guidelines will be implemented in riparian areas, livestock rotation will be adjusted for some allotments, pastures will get rested one out of three years, permitted stocking levels will be lowered for two allotments and raised for one, and more ponds will be constructed.
Dolores District Ranger Derek Padilla explained that cattle numbers are generally remaining the same for the Glade. In the case of reduced permitted stocking levels for the two allotments, the operators have already been running the lower cattle number.
“They’ve known for years that running less helps to better sustain the range for the next year,” he said.
The management plan includes flexibility to increase permitted stocking levels slightly when the range is exceptionally robust because of good precipitation.
A final Environmental Impact Statement for the project analyzed eight grazing allotments, including the Mair, Brumley, Lone Mesa, Sage Hen, Salter, Glade, Long Park and Calf.
There are about 120,000 acres considered suitable for livestock grazing across the landscape. Nine livestock operators are permitted to run 2,989 cattle in the area, but they do not always run their full allocation.
Corey Ertl, rangeland specialist for the San Juan National Forest, said that overall rangeland health has improved from historic conditions across the Glade. But there is room for improvement.
“Currently, there are both areas that are meeting resources objectives and areas that are not,” he said in an email to The Journal. “Overall, the proposed action and current stocking numbers are very similar.”
According to the draft decision by Dolores District Ranger Derek Padilla, recent monitoring results have shown that there are areas which were showing improvement that stalled out before reaching desired conditions, and there are some areas that were in stable condition which have started to decline. In addition, several springs, seeps, swales and wetlands are in poor condition and need restoration.
The draft decision’s Alternative C choice outlines adaptive management options if rangeland monitoring does not indicate resource conditions are moving toward or meeting desired conditions.
On two grazing allotments, permitted numbers will be reduced by a total of 250 cow-calf pairs to match what the operators have already been running. Another grazing allotment was increased by 20 cow-calf pairs because favorable range conditions warranted it.
Three allotments will be mapped for actual utilization and stocking rates adjusted accordingly, and in areas of rangeland health concern, new specific utilization guidelines are put in place to promote sustainable range year to year.
The EIS cites a lack of ground cover in the form of litter and soil-holding plants as an indication of overgrazing in some areas. To increase ground cover for wildlife and watershed purposes, the recent draft decision changes grazing use in park lands from 40 percent to 30 percent in the fall to provide additional litter and plant cover needed for the health of mountain grasslands.
A new policy in the draft decision requires that the first pasture entered every spring be rotated or be rested one out of three years. Where feasible, new fencing will divide larger pastures for yearly rotation to allow for plant recovery. Smaller pastures that can’t be fence divided will be rested one season out of three to allow the forage to have a full life cycle.
Ertl explained that the adjustments to grazing management in the Glade will increase native bunchgrass presence on the landscape, thereby improving soil and hydrologic functions.
“By managing for native bunchgrass communities, deeper more robust root systems develop, improving soil stabilization and water infiltration. This has a positive effect on ecological processes and also improves wildlife habitat,” he said.
An earlier proposal that would have required ranchers to hire more cowboys to herd livestock more efficiently across the range was dropped.
The Glade grazing management plan is in the pre-decisional objection phase, and a final decision is expected in September.
The Montezuma County commissioners filed an objection to the draft decision.
The county disagrees that changes are needed to the current Glade grazing management plan. They argue that a Colorado State University study of the Glade between 1956 and 2008 generally showed that the range is stable and sustainable and that stocking rates have declined.
“This indicates a resilient range that is being utilized and managed for sustained yield, at appropriate rates, that are adjusted accordingly based on the annual precipitation,” the commissioners said.
The county disagrees with the conclusions of the Forest Service’s EIS and draft decision and claim the data does not justify the reductions being proposed.
“We have 52 years of overall stock rate reductions, with no significant measurable changes either up or down on the Glade landscape. This does not seem like a landscape in distress,” the commissioners said.