A new cattle grazing plan for the Glade area of the San Juan National Forest north of Dolores has been completed.
Dolores District Ranger Derek Padilla has issued a final record of decision for the Glade Rangeland Management Project, selecting Alternative C.
“The final decision continues livestock grazing with changes in management to continue progress toward ecosystem resiliency,” Padilla said.
The project included a landscape environmental impact statement that analyzed eight grazing allotments, including Brumley, Calf, Glade, Lone Mesa, Long Park, Mair, Sagehen and Salter allotments.
The Glade analysis area encompasses 164,176 acres of the western portion of the Dolores Ranger District. The analysis area consists of a series of scattered meadows or parklands, knows as glades, across the mesa and contains eight primary vegetation types, including ponderosa pine-Gambel oak, mountain grassland, aspen, piñon-juniper, mountain shrubland, sagebrush shrubland and riparian types.
There are about 120,000 acres considered suitable for livestock grazing across the landscape. Nine livestock operators may run 2,989 cattle in the area, or a 20,000 animal unit months, but they don’t always run their full allocation.
Allotments in the analysis area contain anywhere between four to 10 pastures and range in size from about 8,000 to 38,000 acres each.
The final decision changes some of the grazing patterns, allows for increased flexibility to address resource issues and defines objectives, issues and desired conditions to increase ecosystem recovery and resiliency. It also identifies specific changes by allotment.
Corey Ertl, rangeland specialist for the San Juan National Forest, said overall rangeland health has improved from historic conditions across the Glade. But there’s 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 current stocking numbers are similar” to the new plan.
According to the environmental impact statement, recent monitoring has shown that there are areas that were showing improvement that stalled out before reaching desired conditions, and there are others that were in stable condition that have started to decline. In addition, several springs, seeps, swales and wetlands are in poor condition and need restoration.
On two grazing allotments, permitted numbers will be reduced by a total of 250 cow-calf pairs to match what the operators have been running. Another 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 new decision changes grazing use in parklands from 40 percent to 30 percent in the fall to provide additional litter and plant cover needed for the health of mountain grasslands.
Another new policy in the 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.
Montezuma County commissioners filed an objection to the draft decision.
The county disagrees that changes are needed to the 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.
There are no further opportunities for public comment and the objection process concluded all administrative review opportunities.
The final record of decision is available online at bit.ly/2Qq8BKW. For more information, call Corey Ertl, rangeland management specialist, at 882-7296.