Livestock grazing has been the most dominant and frustrating resource issue throughout Capitol Reef National Park's history. Because of the inherent conflicts between the local dependence on livestock and the limited-use, preservation philosophy of the National Park Service, grazing management has become a target issue for park managers, neighboring federal agencies, local communities, and single-use advocates.
For all the attention that grazing has received at Capitol Reef, there has yet to be commissioned a comprehensive history of livestock management and its impacts from the 19th century to the present. This history, nonetheless, proposes to answer some of the key questions about the nature, origin, and impacts of past grazing practices, and to describe National Park Service grazing management at Capitol Reef since the area's initial designation as a national monument.
Over the past 100 years, grazing became interwoven into the cultural and economic fabric of south-central Utah. During this time, the desert areas serving as traditional winter grazing range were heavily used and abused. When the National Park Service brought its limited-use philosophy to Capitol Reef in the late 1930s, conflict was inevitable. A lack of National Park Service attention and understanding, together with the agency's desire for quick solutions, exacerbated tensions. The steel of federal preservation management struck against the flint of local lifestyles has sparked ongoing grazing management conflicts at Capitol Reef National Park. Underlying reasons for these disputes must be analyzed and understood if the cycle of lingering conflict is to be broken so a new, more cooperative relationship among all parties can be created.
Chapter 12 is organized into seven sections. The first three sections establish the historical context by discussing how traditional livestock practices and federal grazing management evolved, first in Utah and elsewhere in the West, and then in the Waterpocket Fold country where Capitol Reef National Park is today. It was during this early period that many of the lands now within the national park were altered by a combination of overgrazing, drought, and economic fluctuations. This was also the time when the first regulation was attempted. Those early efforts at grazing management by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and what later evolved into the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have had a significant effect on the livestock industry and the local relationship with federal land management agencies.
The remaining four sections of Chapter 12 primarily focus on grazing management at Capitol Reef as it evolved from a small national monument to a sprawling national park. From the monument's establishment in 1937, through the controversial expansion and park designation in 1971, to the grazing phaseout debates, Capitol Reef managers struggled to find ways to protect lands already used by cattle. By the time a partial buyout of grazing permits was possible in the late 1980s, the previous conflicts had left scars that may persist for years.
The sources researched for this study came primarily from the National Park Service records, Record Group 79, found in Capitol Reef National Park's archives, superintendent's and resource management files, and at the National Archives, Rocky Mountain Region (now, Intermountain Region) in Denver. The records of the Bureau of Land Management, Record Group 49, were also examined in the National Archives, Denver, and at the Henry Mountain Resource Area files in Hanksville and Escalante, Utah. United States Forest Service records pertaining to areas adjacent to Capitol Reef were reviewed in Teasdale and Loa, Utah. The author thanks Keith Durfey for his help in examining these local BLM and USFS records.
Other primary documents came from the Utah State Historical Society archives and the special collections at Utah State University in Logan. Secondary sources and interviews provide additional insight and case examples. For more detailed background information such as a physical and historical description of the Capitol Reef area, see Volume I of this history. Copies of the legislation that established the monument and the park are provided in the appendix to Volume I.
The focus of this study is the history of grazing management, but the actual impact of livestock on the park's natural resources is an important part of this history. Since ardent disagreement exists over the nature and severity of those resource impacts, it is important first to document vegetation changes within Capitol Reef National Park. The information provided here, however, is only a cursory look. For more detailed information, consult the appropriate management documents or specific grazing studies, which are listed in the bibliography at the end of this chapter.
While there have been a variety of historic and scientific accounts describing range conditions throughout Utah and the West, the isolation of Wayne and Garfield Counties prevented the recording of any comprehensive, scientific descriptions of vegetation before the 1930s. The descriptions and oral testimonies used to reconstruct earlier conditions, while illustrative, are not complete or systematic. Nevertheless, virtually every account, whether of Utah in general or the Waterpocket Fold region of Capitol Reef in particular, documents considerable vegetation change over the past 100 years. 
Utah's pre-settlement vegetation of the 4,000-to-7,000-foot range of elevation, which describes most of Capitol Reef, is described as follows:
The first known written description of Utah came from the journal of Friar Francisco Silvestre Velez de Escalante. Escalante, along with his fellow Franciscan, Francisco Atanasio Dominguez, circled around the Colorado Plateau in 1776. According to the journal, Utah Valley, near present-day Provo, contained bountiful "pasturage" that recently had burned. Escalante postulated that the area's native inhabitants were burning the grasses to prevent the friars' party, with its small herd of horses, from entering their lands. There are many accounts of American Indian people burning areas to maintain grasslands and otherwise manipulating natural resources well in advance of European settlement. 
Closer to Capitol Reef, Dr. Almon H. Thompson, who led John Wesley Powell's 1872 survey party through the Waterpocket Fold, commented that the abundant grasses on Boulder Mountain would someday be "a perfect paradise for the ranchers."  Expedition photographer Jack Hillers described the lush grasses and evidence of the first known cattle to graze in the vicinity of lower Pleasant Creek, perhaps within today's park boundaries:
Many of the first ranchers in southern Utah also recalled abundant, tall grass. Dixie National Forest Ranger William Hurst documented a 1935 conversation with Elias Hatch, one of the original ranchers in the area. Hatch recalled that, prior to livestock grazing on the eastern boundary of the forest, there was no sagebrush on nearby mountains, and forage consisted of "a heavy stand of pershia, snowberry, choice grasses, and weeds." 
Ranger Hurst noted that this description was accurate, supported by numerous other ranchers and by his own observations. Iinterviews corroborate the latest scientific evidence that range vegetation at Capitol Reef itself has changed during historic times.
For instance, the monument's first superintendent, Charles Kelly, recorded the observations of several older ranchers regarding the altered condition of the range. For instance, Kelly made one trip east of Hanksville in the company of an old cowhand, Court Stewart (whose name is inscribed in Capitol Gorge). Stewart looked at some rather bare ground and commented that, when he was a kid, that spot -- in fact, the whole desert -- "had grass on it that would rub the stirrups on a horse." 
Howard Blackburn, another early cattleman in Wayne County, also remembered the land before settlement. Blackburn told Kelly in 1946 about his first trip through what is now the heart of Capitol Reef National Park, in about 1881:
These accounts and a glance at the landscape today suggest that the vegetation covering the ranges of Capitol Reef has indeed substantially changed. The rugged, slickrock nature of the region has naturally limited grazing to the flatter, more open areas on the flanks surrounding the towering Waterpocket Fold. Grazed lands in the northern Cathedral Valley, southern Sandy Creek, Bitter Creek, and Halls Creek areas have always supported sparse vegetation. Yet, where bunch grasses and willows once dominated, cheatgrass, snakeweed, and tamarisk (all exotics or recent invaders) have become abundant. Large areas of grasses grow in some locations, while other areas have a few grass clumps only a couple of inches high. 
Based on analysis of preserved plant remains, Kenneth Cole's 1992 "Survey of Fossil Packrat Middens" offers a scientific reconstruction of vegetation cover prior to domestic livestock grazing. Cole cautions that his examination of packrat middens in the Hartnet Draw area in the northern end of the park and the Halls Creek drainage in the southern end of the park is not definitive. Nevertheless, he did establish that the vegetation collected by packrats for constructing their nests changed dramatically over the past 100 years. This change reflects the availability of plants in the local environment, where the rodents collect their materials. While Cole noted some cyclical change among the older varieties, such as certain grasses, pinyon, and winterfat, he observed:
The fact that plant communities covering the arid plateau lands of southern Utah have changed is well substantiated. What now needs to be established is exactly how and when the changes occurred. If grazing caused today's comparatively depleted or altered rangeland, did these changes occur recently, historically, or cumulatively? What activities or policies caused the present landscape legacy? By placing grazing at Capitol Reef into its historical context and developing an understanding of when and how livestock management has evolved in the Waterpocket Fold country, present and future managers at Capitol Reef will be better equipped to make long-range policy decisions.
The organized Mormon settlement of Utah, being different from settlement elsewhere in the American West, has left distinctive imprints on grazing history. The early communal herds, a spiritual belief in land stewardship, and significant control by Mormon Church officials resulted in a different tradition of grazing practices here. Yet, despite the best of intentions, the abundant ranges of Utah began to see almost immediate depletion This resulted from a lack of knowledge about arid environments, the influx of large, non-Mormon owned herds, and the rapid "Americanization" of Mormon grazing practices that ensued. 
The first arrivals to the foothills east of the Great Salt Lake in the late 1840s were from the Midwest, as were the stock they brought with them. Geographically isolated from new livestock breeds and the spread of customs dubbed the "Texas Invasion," Utah Mormons were able to establish their small herds in Utah before the huge, non-Mormon-owned herds arrived in the 1870s. 
The first outlying settlements north and south of Salt Lake City were founded near rivers emerging from the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains. Factors considered when deciding the suitability of a new settlement site included:
Since most of the meager lumber supply was used for house and barn construction, and because the settlements were springing up so quickly, the individual herds of cattle and sheep were gathered into common grounds for community herding.  Most Mormon families had at least a few head of cattle and sheep producing milk, cheese, wool, and meat. Customarily, groups of boys would assemble the numerous small herds each morning, and range the stock "on the nearby foothills in summer or flats in winter," bringing them back in the evening.  This kind of cooperative, town-based herding was distinctly different from the Hispanic and Texan traditions of expansive, open range ranching that were adopted elsewhere in the West throughout the 1860s and 1870s. Most distinctive of Mormon ranching practices, however, was the role of the church in governing the range and molding cultural attitudes towards the land.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints inarguably established among its members a certain regard toward the land. It also created a kind of Mormon perspective, which viewed "outsiders" as threatening to property rights and traditional lifestyles.
Like many rural residents of the American West, Mormon livestock owners viewed the land in terms of its economic potential. To the settlers of the arid and semi-arid landscapes that predominate throughout Southern Utah, the country was economically useless except for grazing. A strong spiritual confidence and the need to succeed and spread motivated church members to ranch on the forbidding open lands of Southern Utah -- and to make those lands produce. Modern resistance to preserving these public lands as wilderness or national parks is rooted in these same religious and economic motivations.
Many biblical references are interpreted by Mormons as ordaining their settlement of Utah. Perhaps the clearest is Isaiah 2:2: "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it." 
Once settled in Utah, the Mormons looked at these new, unclaimed lands as their own, to be used in the wisest, most prudent manner that would benefit the individual and the church. The Mormon Doctrine and Covenants states:
This belief that the lands were for man to use as he saw fit was tempered by strict control by church officials, which in theory should have preserved the natural resources of Utah. Historian Dan Flores writes:
Perhaps the most significant outlook toward the lands of Utah by the Mormons, however, is the attitude that the land was theirs and could not be taken from them. Again, this is a belief shared by many early settlers, as well as 20th century residents of the West. Yet the perception of persecution and identification as a chosen people would reinforce the Mormon belief that they should resist outsiders entering their lands and attempting to manage their livestock and lives. The Book of Mormon states:
Thus, not only is the land rightfully theirs, but so long as Mormons remain in good faith, the use of that land can not be taken from them. This notion is reiterated in the next passage, which warns that God would "bring other nations unto them, and he will give unto them power, and he will take away from them the lands of their possessions, and he will cause them to be scattered and smitten" if his people were not faithful. 
Utah, unlike the other Western states where grazing would begin to dominate in the last quarter of the 19th century, was established on firm religious grounds. Here, the earth itself was consecrated to the Mormon settlers as a chosen people, and promised to them for as long as they remained faithful and good stewards of the land. Such strong belief in the rights of Mormons to be the stewards of these chosen lands also helps explain why many Utah ranchers view all their traditional grazing lands, whether on federal lands or not, in terms of private property rights.
Despite the good intentions of the original Mormon settlers of Utah and the controlling influence of church officials, the lands grazed by the Mormons' cattle and sheep quickly began to deteriorate, even before the invasion of "other nations."
American Indians were noticing the decline in grass and wild animals as early as the 1850s, and overgrazing was noticed by the Mormons themselves a decade later. Apostle Orson Hyde of Sanpete County (30 miles north of Capitol Reef National Park) warned the General Conference of Saints in 1865 of a deteriorating range:
The eastern and midwestern farming methods used by most early Mormons were not appropriate to the arid, Western landscape. Again, according to Flores:
The arrival of huge cattle and sheep herds during the 1870s and 1880s not only worsened the problem, but forever changed livestock management in Utah.
Beginning sometime in the 1870s, large herds were pushed onto Utah's open range, where only a few small, cooperative herds grazed before. The move was slow in starting, again due to Utah's geographical barriers. There was an increase from 39,180 cattle, reported in the 1870 census, to 132,655 in the 1880 census. Yet, at the same time, neighboring ranges in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana were supporting well over twice that many cattle, most driven north from Texas. 
The 1880s saw the real boom in livestock numbers as cattle jumped to 200,000 by 1885 and nearly 420,000 by the middle of the 1890s. Meanwhile, sheep were also being driven into Utah at an alarming rate:
According to all available accounts, this dramatic increase in livestock at the end of the 19th century was due to arrival of several large outfits financed by eastern and English capital, and to local Mormons increasing their own herds to compete on lands that were previously theirs, alone.
The federal Works Progress Administration history of grazing in Utah, compiled during the late 1930s, blamed these invading herds for much of the damage to Utah's ranges:
Yet throughout this era, the small Mormon ranchers with herds of only a few hundred cattle continued to be the dominant operators. The extremely large herds of cattle and sheep were owned by only a handful of powerful operators "who ruthlessly grabbed all they could, while they could -- and unloaded." 
The Works Progress Administration estimated that there were only four large companies with over 50,000 head of cattle each. The next class of owners, about 50 total, included those holding 1,000 to 5,000 head. The majority of livestock owners continued to be those owning only a few head "that were incidental to farming...in which case they were regarded as cattle men and not farmers." 
Both the WPA Grazing History and the respected historian Charles Peterson have blamed these large herds for the beginning of overgrazing. Utah ranchers, responding to outside competition, increased the size of their own herds and adopted herding practices common throughout the rest of the West. Historian Flores argues that non-Mormon pressure on Utah's resources caused Mormons to lose their "affection for egalitarianism." He explains:
In response to pressure, Mormons abandoned the old, church-encouraged stewardship and their small, cooperative herds in favor of larger, mobile flocks of sheep and cattle that could better compete for remaining ranges. The effect of this change was an "Americanization" of grazing in Utah and an even more rapid deterioration of the fragile, arid range.
The large outfits entering Utah during the 1880s included those of Preston Nutter, who ranged cattle west and north of the Colorado River; the Pittsburgh Company, which took over some of the small ranches around La Sal; and the Carlysles from England, who bought out ranches near the Blue Mountains. Closer to Capitol Reef, many of the larger ranches that had started up during the cattle boom days of the 1880s were developed by Mormons. The Scorups, from Salina, used a great deal of range east of the Waterpocket Fold. Another Utahn, Will Bowns, of Sanpete County, developed the Sandy Ranch a few miles south of Notom. Other ranches founded around the Henry Mountains around the turn of the century included John A. Burr's Granite Ranch, and the Starr, Fairview, and Trachyte ranches, some of which were Mormon-owned. 
Interviews conducted for the WPA grazing history give a clear picture of the competition between the large and small outfits. Niel Ray, of Moab, recalled:
Non-Mormon livestock companies pressured ranchers around Capitol Reef, too. Guy Pace, a long-time Wayne County rancher, describes the situation:
Regardless of whether range damage was caused by the large herds coming in or by the local, Mormon-owned herds, these large cattle and sheep companies left their mark on local culture, its oral traditions and, of course, the range. Southern Utah was particularly affected:
There was also a general mixing of the wild Texas cattle culture with that of the more reserved Mormons. Charles Peterson wrote:
This "Americanization" of grazing in Utah thus resulted in social, cultural, and economic changes that have lingered to the end of the 20th century. Perhaps the most significant of these changes was the adoption of the Texas style of ranching, which encouraged larger herds, running virtually wild, with few roundups or closely guarded water supplies. This altered the traditional Mormon pattern of small, cooperative herds, closely watched and often turned in toward town or the base ranch on a regular basis. Instead, sheep and cattle herds, in excess of natural carrying capacities, were moved to pasture earlier and earlier in the spring to claim what was left of the diminishing grasses. 
The federal Works Progress Administration study of grazing in Utah used interviews with hundreds of "stockmen, authorities and students of the range" to establish a maximum carrying capacity for Utah of 300,000 cattle and 2 million sheep. These levels were reached sometime in the 1890s.  Yet, figures showed that there were as many as 420,000 head of cattle in 1895 and a gradual increase to over 500,000 by the peak year of 1920. Meanwhile, sheep numbered 2 million in 1895, increased to 2.6 million 10 years later, and then fluctuated in number before reaching peaking at over 3 million head "crowding the arid, desert winter feeding grounds." 
There is ample testimony that the stiff competition between livestock herds destroyed range conditions and introduced new, invasive plant species by the turn of the century. According to information the WPA gained from the United States Forest Service:
Glynn Bennion, who ranged cattle throughout central Utah, recounted:
Bennion went on to discuss the changes in vegetation as a result of overgrazing:
At approximately the same time, the geologist Herbert C. Gregory documented deteriorating range conditions around the Kaiparowits Plateau, southwest of Capitol Reef:
From the beginning the Mormon livestock industry affected the range. Then, the invasion of large, out-of-state cattle companies and the infusion of large sheep herds stimulated the local small ranchers to raise their own herd limits to meet the rising competition. The public lands that could be used for grazing seemed unlimited when the Mormons first arrived. Yet, by the first decades of the 20th century, not only was all the possible range being used, but competitive herding practices were reducing the carrying capacity of grazed lands at an alarming rate. Significantly, however, while livestock management practices changed during the booming 1880s, the spiritual and communal nature of the Mormon residents would remain the same. So would their resistance to outside government officials determining the fate of their chosen lands.
Last Updated: 10-Dec-2002