On-line Book

A Survey of the Recreational Resources of the Colorado River Basin







The Colorado River Basin


Plant and Animal Life

Prehistory of Man

Recreational Benefits of Reservoirs

Potential Reservoirs

The Grand Canyon

Canyon Lands of Southeastern Utah

Dinosaur National Monument

Conservation of Recreational Resources

Life Zone Map


A Survey of the Recreational Resources of the Colorado River Basin
National Park Service Arrowhead

Chapter IIII:


The decline of wildlife reached an all-time low in the late 1920's. Since then, vigorous conservation efforts have partially restored some, but by no means all, species.

Regulations.—Gradual enactment of fish and game laws finally checked the old-time slaughter of wildlife, rescuing some species from the verge of extinction and permitting others to recover to a considerable extent. Such regulations were absolutely essential and always will be part of any conservation program, but they cannot solve the fundamental problem of wildlife production. They can be used to curtail the taking of wildlife to a safe proportion of the remaining numbers, but they cannot restore the worn-out land, de-silt the streams, or bring back the grass. If and when such a restoration is accomplished, present hunting and fishing regulations no doubt can be extensively liberalized.

Artificial propagation.—In recent years, large sums have been spent annually by State and Federal departments on artificial fish propagation. Similar expenditures are made by State and private agencies on the propagation of game birds, and by private industry on the production of fur bearers.

No doubt, artificial fish propagation always will be necessary to satisfy the requirements of the vast and growing number of fishermen. However, the addition of new fish, no matter how great the numbers, cannot restore the productivity of lakes and streams. If the former productivity and stability of the waters can be restored, artificial propagation either can be reduced or, if maintained at the present volume, can furnish vastly more recreation to still greater numbers of people.

The artificial propagation of game birds is becoming recognized as an expensive substitute for the process which nature formerly accomplished on an incomparably greater scale. A few introduced game species have been able to hold their own in an impoverished man-made environment, just as certain plant species have been able to take over after the native grasses were killed out. However, it has been learned that permanent results usually are dependent upon restoration of the land to something like its former productivity. When this is accomplished, nature needs only moderate help from man in restocking.

Fur farming is replacing wild trapping to an increasing degree because of the declining productivity of the wild lands. One of the benefits of restoring some types of lands, and using them on a sustained yield basis, will be the revenue from furs. However, if the current demand prevails, commercial fur farming hardly will lose its present importance.

Refuges.—The establishment of wildlife refuges has on the whole brought excellent results. Their necessity is indisputable, and the only questions that might be raised relate to whether present distribution is adequate in all parts of the country, and whether existing and potential refuges might be made more productive.

There seems little question that the present number of waterfowl winter refuges, in the United States as a whole, is insufficient to feed the number of birds now being produced during the summer months in Canada and Alaska. [58] In the Colorado River Basin, as elsewhere, former natural feeding grounds for waterfowl have been converted to agricultural use, thereby further aggravating the problem. Reservoir construction offers a potential solution to the waterfowl feeding problem, but such a solution remains strictly theoretical unless operating water levels in the reservoirs are kept within such bounds as to permit the actual production of food for waterfowl.

The States of the Colorado River Basin operate many important refuges for waterfowl and game animals, but within the actual limits of the basin the distribution of refuges is irregular. An increase in the number of refuges within the basin would be beneficial provided the productivity of the land also was restored. "Most wildlife refuges provide feed. Most refuges for mammals only protect them from shooting and do not exclude domestic stock. This difference is fundamental." [59] The present restricted status of antelope in northern Arizona, where the creation of antelope refuges would be inadvisable at present because of the lack of grass, is a good illustration of this point. [60]

The vast amount of Federal land in the Colorado River Basin would, if other circumstances were favorable, make possible the creation of a system of refuges of far-reaching importance. The Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a number of waterfowl refuges on various large reservoirs, and several important desert game refuges. Production of food for waterfowl on these reservoirs is small, and consequently their potential value is largely unrealized. As in the case of State refuges, extension of a Federal system of game refuges would be beneficial only if the productivity of the land were restored.

The National Park Service, by reason of its policy of maintaining absolute sanctuary for wildlife, maintains in effect an irregularly distributed system of refuges along various parts of the Colorado River. However, a fundamental defect of some national park and monument areas as wildlife refuges has been their relative lack of fertility. Rainless deserts and barren canyon walls often make spectacularly beautiful recreation areas, but as a rule they can produce only inconsequential numbers of wildlife.

The U. S. Forest Service administers some of the largest and most outstandingly productive natural habitats remaining in the Colorado River Basin. In contrast with the general situation throughout the remainder of the basin, most wildlife has held its own there in recent years, and some species have increased. One reason for the better status of wildlife in the national forests is that the latter are located principally in the foothill and mountain areas, which are the regions least subject to transformation by urbanization, heavy industry, and intensive farming. Another reason is that wildlife has received increasing consideration in forest management following recognition of its recreational value. The result is that forest lands function as one of the most important refuge systems in the basin, even though hunting is permitted. However, aside from the hunting, which is a legitimate form of recreation and is carefully regulated, national forests are by no means absolute wildlife sanctuaries. This is because under the existing principle of "multiple-use," other economic activities that interfere in varying degrees with maximum wildlife production are allowed to dominate. Heavy grazing, and the intensive trapping of rare fur bearers, probably are the most serious of these competing economic activities at present. In theory, the great body of knowledge that has been accumulated on game and range management shows the way to a profitable reconciliation that will also restore land productivity, but in practice, local pressure groups in many areas so far have prevented the actual application of the needed reforms to the land.

Soil conservation.—The Soil Conservation Service, of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, has been engaged since 1933 in large-scale demonstrations of how to prevent man-caused erosion and restore the soil to its original productivity. These demonstrations are given at the request of soil conservation districts, which are voluntary local organizations of farmers and ranchers who wish to save their lands from further erosion by adopting agricultural practices that will restore and preserve the soil. As of October 1944, there were 1,169 such local soil conservation districts covering approximately 650 million acres in 45 States.

The Soil Conservation Service has shown that of its 59 time-tested soil-conservation practices, all assist indirectly in bringing back wildlife, while several methods, where applicable, bring a direct increase almost at once, often with cash benefits in the form of fur or food fish. These methods include marsh development and management, beaver management, stock pond development, stream bank protection, and range reseeding. "Even in the Southwest, farm ponds of Arizona and New Mexico show promise of becoming highly productive," [61] thus affording both food and recreation.

Development and protection of vegetation on odd corners, or on wastelands and gullies that can no longer be used for any regular agricultural purpose, has not only prevented further loss of soil, but has produced large quantities of wildlife, particularly game birds, having a high recreational value. Often this wildlife could not otherwise have found any suitable habitat in the region. The Service has stated that in the United States as a whole, 5,641,300 acres of otherwise unusable land can be reclaimed for this purpose.

Range management.—Soil erosion and range surveys have been carried on by the Soil Conservation Service throughout the country, but actual restoration projects so far have been concentrated to a considerable extent upon farm lands, particularly in eastern States. In western regions, including the Colorado River Basin, vast grazing areas lie in the public domain. This range land is administered by Federal agencies, and is not adapted to voluntary organization by small agriculturists into soil conservation districts. In 1938, an interdepartmental board was created to facilitate cooperation in soil conservation between the Soil Conservation Service and other Federal agencies, including the Forest Service, National Park Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. One of the most important projects of the Soil Conservation Service in the Colorado River Basin has been its joint demonstration with the Bureau of Indian Affairs of range management on the severely overgrazed Navajo Indian Reservation.

Much of the land in the Colorado River Basin is administered by the Bureau of Land Management of the Department of the Interior. The Taylor Grazing Act, establishing the Grazing Service, now incorporated in the Bureau of Land Management, was passed by Congress in 1934 to protect the public domain from the unregulated and destructive grazing that had existed since the first days of settlement, and to provide for the orderly development and restoration of the range.

Considering the enormous loss of forage and topsoil that had taken place before the creation of the Grazing Service by this act, subsequent progress in restoration of the land, though slow, gives room for hope. Livestock has been better distributed by the extensive development of springs and stock reservoirs. Wildlife has benefited not only from the water development but from the more equalized distribution of the livestock, with its attendant lessening of overgrazing.

Grazing regulations provide that "a sufficient grazing capacity of Federal range will be reserved for the maintenance of a reasonable number of wild game animals to use the range in common with domestic livestock." Although the feeling is by no means universal, many stockmen definitely favor game conservation, and are willing to support any measures for its restoration that do not seriously interfere with the numbers and welfare of their livestock.

Although the Bureau of Land Management receives no funds for wildlife conservation, and any progress in that direction is voluntary or incidental, a noticeable increase in various game species appears to have resulted from such range improvements as have been accomplished to date. Many Bureau of Land Management field men serve as volunteer deputy game wardens, and there is considerable cooperation on specific wildlife problems with local sportsmen, State conservation agencies, and Federal departments.

Proper regulation of the numbers of livestock and of the duration of the grazing season on the grazing allotments is one of the most important conservation functions of the Bureau of Land Management, because the only hope of restoring soil and plant cover lies in that direction. Control of the number of livestock grazed on the public domain is achieved in part by allotting grazing areas and permits only to soundly established local operators who have a personal stake in the future of the land, thereby eliminating the reckless competition between owners of transient livestock that characterized the early days of unregulated exploitation.

Decisions as to numbers of livestock to be granted under each permit are made by the local Bureau of Land Management representatives, and are passed on by the local advisory boards. The latter are composed of cattlemen and sheepmen elected by the users of the range, and one wildlife representative who is appointed by the Secretary of the Interior on the recommendation of the State fish and game department of the area. Although the local advisory boards are without executive authority, their general attitude is naturally an influential factor in local range policy, including any proposed program of curtailing the present numbers of livestock in order to improve the ultimate carrying capacity of the range. Obviously, effective range restoration requires that the technical knowledge of the local Bureau of Land Management representatives be supported by an enlightened outlook regarding modern principles of range management on the part of these boards.

Public education in conservation.—The awakening of the public, and of the law-making representatives of the public, to an understanding of the basic importance of soils and waters, and the magnitude of the Nation's losses in terms of them, has hardly commenced.

Scattered, uncoordinated efforts are made in this direction by many public-spirited agencies and individuals, but the total effort lacks focus, and for the most part reaches only those who already are converts, while millions of the general public remain almost totally unaware that a problem which may be soberly assessed as a national catastrophe even exists.

There is a demand by conservation organizations and schools for information on the work of the State fish and game departments. The latter try to fill this need, often with less than adequate funds to develop their educational programs. Beautiful pictures of wild animals often are shown, and heartening progress told of restocking activities, but seldom is there mention of the basic importance to the country of soil and water, their present plight, and the possible methods of restoration. Educational activities of most of the Federal conservation agencies, too, tend to stress the pleasant facts of accomplishment, omitting reference to problems that might arouse public inquiry and concern.

The Forest Service wages a vital educational campaign against forest fires. The Bureau of Land Management is conducting a long-range campaign of practical education to demonstrate to stockmen that conservative grazing yields more pounds of beef and mutton, and more money in the long run than overgrazing, but appropriations received for this phase of the work are hardly on a scale with the need, and meanwhile soil erosion caused by overgrazing continues to drain away the life-substance of millions of acres.

The National Park Service endeavors to maintain the areas under its jurisdiction as complete wildlife sanctuaries. It also stresses the importance of watershed protection in many of its educational programs. Nevertheless, for the most part, it has not been possible to present a clear-cut picture that will enable the general public to understand the basic reason why an ungrazed area with fertile topsoil, held in place by healthy vegetation within the parks, produces more abundant wildlife, clearer and better stocked trout streams, finer forests, and many more flower-covered mountain meadows than a comparable but overgrazed area. Such education in the fundamentals of soils and waters undoubtedly would enlist more active public support for the Service in its efforts to eliminate overgrazing from places like Saguaro National Monument, where the natural conditions which led to the establishment of the area have been practically destroyed.

The schools, for the most part, have missed their conservation opportunity just as completely. As a former director of the Fish and Wildlife Service has pointed out, [62] the history books of the West tell of the great wealth derived from the early fur trade and the enormous fortunes established by the cattle kings, but fail to mention that sheer wastefulness brought an end to that era; and, more importantly, that even today good conservation practices eventually could restore that wealth to many of the lands and waters of the West.

At the education level of the universities seldom is the enormous wastage of water pollution, soil loss, and general land mismanagement really driven home. At present relatively few university graduates are aware of the existence of a national soil erosion problem. Yet it is from this class of educated persons that many of the principal ideas for future development of our country will come.

In the field of fundamental conservation education, the work of the Soil Conservation Service has been exceptional, in part no doubt because this agency was especially created for the purpose, whereas the education program of the Fish and Wildlife Service [63] and other agencies have had to be incidental to other primary responsibilities. Probably this circumstance points to the major defect in our entire conservation-education set-up. Though it is basic to the future prosperity of the Nation, now that frontiers are dwindling and population-saturation is approaching, conservation education, for the most part, has been merely an unorganized labor of love, and not the primary responsibility of any definite agency. To quote from the Secretary of the U. S. Senate Special Committee on Conservation of Wildlife Resources:

I believe, therefore, that the greatest conservation problem that confronts us today is that of conserving our soil. And this can only be accomplished by fundamental understanding brought about by education, both in the school and the political arena. [64]

Wildlife research.—Comprehensive research on habitat requirements and methods of increasing wildlife was commenced on a small scale more than 30 years ago. In 1911, the Committee of Inquiry on Grouse Disease, in England, published results of an exhaustive study of the red grouse that was a remarkable forerunner of modern wildlife management investigations. Studies of the food habits of many birds as they affected agriculture, including methods of encouraging beneficial species and controlling injurious kinds, was undertaken in the United States by the Bureau of Biological Survey (now the Fish and Wildlife Service) at an even earlier date, and carried on over many years, but the concept of wildlife management had not been developed in America at that time.

The viewpoint that wildlife is a direct product of the land, to be increased by restoring the appropriate environment and growing conditions, and, where desired, to be harvested (hunted) according to a definite plan, with a definite financial return like any other crop, was first emphasized in this country during the early 1930's by the pioneer work of Leopold (1931a, b; 1933) and Stoddard (1932). Such a tangible and "practical" concept had Nation-wide appeal and was used to enlist the active support of sportmen's groups, various commercial interests, and many persons of political importance who had been beyond the reach of most previous conservation efforts.

The new game management idea stimulated the investment of an unprecedented volume of public and private funds in wildlife restoration for recreation purposes. In 1935, the American Wildlife Institute aided in establishing nine Regional Wildlife Research Units centered at State universities that had agreed upon a cooperative research program with the Bureau of Biological Survey (now Fish and Wildlife Service) and the respective fish and game departments. By 1944, publications covering the findings numbered more than 500, with many more expected. [65]

In 1937, Congress passed the Pittman-Robertson Act, which uses some of the Federal excise tax funds derived from the sale of sporting arms and ammunition to aid the States in the improvement of depleted wildlife ranges, and for scientific research on problems of wildlife depletion and restoration. The States are required to meet Federal allocations of funds with contributions in the ratio of 1 to 3. Only a part of the total tax receipts has been utilized for this conservation program but the annual amount allocated to all States rose from $1,000,000 in 1939, to $2,750,000 in 1942, after which war conditions brought a decline.

Direct restoration of wildlife habitat and the acquisition of winter range have been made possible in numerous areas through use of these funds. In the Colorado River Basin, lands have been acquired for the restoration of antelope, prairie chickens, wild turkeys, and deer. Surplus antelope, buffalo, beaver, wild turkeys, and other wildlife have been removed from crowded ranges to other areas where restocking was needed.

The financial support given by the Pittman-Robertson Act has been responsible for a vast quantity of the basic studies that are essential to Nationwide restoration of soils, waters, and wildlife. Some of the projects undertaken in the basin include State-wide wildlife surveys, fur resource surveys and big game counts, inventories of water facilities for desert game, studies of the habitat requirements of beaver, mule deer, sage hens, sharp-tailed grouse, and wild turkeys.

Research on wildlife restoration and its relation to the conservation of soil, moisture, and vegetation now proceeds so rapidly upon so many fronts that the technical worker no longer can be familiar with all developments. He is fortunate if he can find time to keep abreast of new discoveries in his restricted field.

Despite this progress, the biological problems involved in wildlife restoration and recreational use are so complicated, and differ in so many vital details from one species to another, that the field has been relatively untouched. Its state of advancement and flux in this respect might be compared with that of the field of medicine, wherein many old problems still remain unsolved, while at the same time, fresh discoveries continually open up great possibilities of progress in new directions.

Restoration has commenced but lags behind knowledge.—Restoration measures have brought good, if limited, results. Elk and deer have shown better recovery than almost any other game animal. In Colorado, elk have been increased from 1,000 in 1910, to 24,000 in 1945, and most of the original refuges in Colorado now have been opened to shooting. The numbers of animals exceed the range capacity in several areas, with resultant damage to range plants and soil, and to adjacent agricultural areas. [66] Return to primitive numbers, of course, always will be impossible because the best part of the original range, which lies in the valleys, has been converted to agriculture.

In Arizona and New Mexico, the native Merriam elk was completely exterminated in the early 1900's. The Rocky Mountain elk was introduced in 1912, and has multiplied until the total number on national forest lands is now estimated at 4,100 in Arizona and 1,500 in New Mexico. [67] This total is encouraging, even if it is not comparable with the thousands that once roamed the mountains and valleys, and is sufficient to permit considerable hunting.

Utah's elk herds also are drastically restricted in numbers by the extent of the remaining range, but limited hunting recently has been possible each year. [68] In Wyoming, the elk have survived in something like their original numbers. The Jackson Hole region, immediately north and west of the Colorado River Basin, is nationally famous as a big game center; however, the region was not considered particularly good game country by the pioneers as compared to what were then the more hospitable game ranges in parts of the Colorado River Basin to the south.

Deer have been restored beyond all possibility of danger. In fact, the deer problem of the Colorado River Basin and elsewhere in the West today is for the most part one of overabundance that seriously threatens the future of the range. Efforts to reduce the deer herds to the carrying capacity of the range have been complicated in many areas by the near extermination of the mountain lions, which in primitive times usually acted as a vital forest-protection agent by keeping the deer within the carrying capacity of the range.

Man through hunting has attempted to take over the control program formerly carried out by the lions, but with less success. In the early days of settlement, he overcontrolled the deer to the verge of extinction in large areas. Later, when he had removed the lions, he let the deer population increase out of all bounds, so that they crippled forest reproduction for decades, and then starved by thousands. The Kaibab Plateau on the north side of the Grand Canyon is the most often quoted example of this mismanagement. "There a small herd of about one-tenth of the 1928 herd is about all the range can safely carry at the present time." [69]

In still more recent times, game management techniques have furnished a key to reasonable control of deer, but if the hunter is to be effective in replacing the mountain lion in Nature's deer-reproduction program, he may find it more and more necessary to discard certain biologically unsound habits not shared by the lion, such as the selective killing of males only.

Antelope have increased sufficiently in certain parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Wyoming to permit a limited open season, but the numbers and distribution of these animals are but a fraction of that which originally prevailed in the country as a whole.

The preservation of antelope is synonymous with the restoration of grassland which constitutes one of our greatest and most important conservation problems. It does not take keen scientific observation to see that "grazing refuge" rather than "hunting refuge" is the urgent need of the antelope range at present. Provisions should be made in each district for antelope in common with livestock. [70]

The buffalo millions are represented in the Colorado River Basin by a herd of approximately 200 head in House Rock Valley in northern Arizona, a band of about 28 in the vicinity of the Henry Mountains in southern Utah, a small herd on or near Anderson Mesa, and 31 head in Colorado National Monument. Forage in House Rock Valley is poor and the herd has to be reduced periodically. Forage is scanty in the vicinity of the Henry Mountains, although this band is still increasing. Forage conditions in Colorado National Monument are deplorable. A substantial reduction in the number of buffalo there had to be made in 1945, but a still greater reduction is needed.

Bighorn, though protected everywhere, have for the most part continued to dwindle in the Colorado River Basin, although perhaps at a slower rate than during the depression years, when poaching by prospectors was more common. In Arizona, "certain localities will see the last of the Bighorn within the next decade. However, the outlook is better for those remaining in Yuma and Mohave counties." [71] In New Mexico, only three bands of native bighorn appear to remain, none of them being in the Colorado River Basin. [72] In Utah, there were at one time many along the gorges of the Green and Colorado Rivers. They are still fairly common there, but local residents state that their numbers have been greatly reduced in recent years, apparently by the widely observed epidemics of scabies, which seem to have been transmitted by domestic sheep. A few bighorn remain along the high plateau lands from Zion National Park to the Uinta Mountains. In Colorado and Wyoming, the bighorn may have ceased their downward trend in some localities. In Pike National Forest, Colo., which is outside of the Colorado River Basin, good summer and winter forage on the Tarryall Range has permitted the bighorn to increase to about 600, and the surplus is being used to restock other localities.

Beaver, bears, and peccaries are said to have increased since 1943, [73] but such statements are relative and require qualification. Beaver restocking programs have been carried out in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado, but as a rule only the more remote and less productive areas are suitable for beaver today. The animals must be kept out of many agricultural regions which formerly were their most fertile habitat because of the damage that they do to crops, irrigation canals, aqueducts, and highways. Less than 10 percent of the original beaver habitat has been restored. In the Colorado River Basin the once abundant black bear has increased in some places, but the grizzly, which was distributed throughout most of the mountains and foothills, now is extinct, except perhaps at the extreme northern end of the basin near Jackson Hole. The peccary, at one time threatened with extinction, was given total protection in the 1930's and has recovered sufficiently for an open season to be declared in Arizona. In New Mexico, they were reported from the Coronado National Forest in 1943, but from none of the other national forests, [74] although prior to 1912 their range in the State had been considerably greater. [75]

The progress in restoration outlined here is in complete, but it is typical of the brighter side of the picture. A start has been made in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go. Waterfowl, for example, have recovered miraculously in the last few years, due in part to a lessening of hunting pressure as a result of war conditions.

But events of the next few years will show whether the administrators and sportsmen are able to perpetuate this "miracle." The army of hunters is sure to increase with a resultant increase in the pressure that will be exerted against all wildlife. The ability of nature to meet the demand will depend in no small part upon the wisdom and reason that is exhibited by all those who regulate for and participate in sports afield. [76]

In spite of game laws, game refuges, restocking, soil conservation activity on many farms, an increasing knowledge of range management, and a start in the field of public education, nevertheless,

. . . wildlife habitat in fertile regions is being destroyed faster than it is being rebuilt . . . A general disorganization of the wildlife community seems to be taking place (and) private initiative in wildlife management has grown very slowly. [77]

The Forest Service and now the Grazing Service have improved the management of ranges that have been eaten into the ground during the years of free range and destructive competition . . . (but) though the principles of good range management are widely accepted among stock raisers, the application of these principles is still far from universal. . . . Even on national forests and grazing districts the conservation of range resources is often below standards set by administrative officers. [78]

Examples of this difference between theoretical standards and actual practice can be found on the range land of any township picked at random in the Colorado River Basin. Such an example is furnished by Elk Ridge in southeastern Utah. In many places there is no grass left, merely trees, brush, and between them bare earth. When it rains, this bare earth turns to mud and washes down the slopes or is further trampled by the wandering bands of cattle so that seedlings cannot get a start. On some open flats that once were meadows, only thistles and other inedible weeds now can grow, and these flats are becoming gullied by run-off waters formerly held in place by grass sod.

Some of the gullies are still small and could be checked if an effort were made soon to save this once beautiful mountain meadowland. Other gullies, like the one in nearby Dark Canyon, have become canyons large enough to swallow a house as a result of the overgrazing. [79] They have drained the surface waters from adjacent meadow levels so that only weeds and dry-soil shrubs now can exist where once there was lush grass. Another 20 years will see the meadows of Elk Ridge transformed into gullied barren lands unless the grazing is placed upon a sustained yield basis. Erosion of this type on the recreational lands of the country is glaringly obvious to persons trained to observe it, but to the average fisherman and camper, realization of the destruction is more likely to come 50 years too late.

Complacency over progress in plant and animal restoration is unwarranted so long as the wildlife winter range areas are in their present condition. Even though deer and elk have been forced by civilization to move into the mountains, it has been physically impossible for all of them to remain at the higher levels all winter. Although they no longer come so far into the valleys as in the early days, they usually move from the areas of deep snow down into the lower foothills in winter.

In the Colorado River Basin and elsewhere in the West, winter range is almost everywhere the area of limited forage for game. The problem is further aggravated by the fact that the heavily used winter range of wildlife often is the same area that livestock men use most heavily in the spring.

Spring range for livestock often is abused more than any other seasonal range because the stockmen are anxious to take their herds away from the home ranch where winter pasture often is short and hay feeding a large expense. As a result of this haste to leave the winter feed grounds, the livestock all too often are put on the spring range while the soil still is too wet, which causes severe damage to the sod by trampling. The forage itself is far less able to withstand grazing pressure during the early spring growth state than at any other time, because the young plants have not yet been able to store up sufficient food in their roots and stems. Plants that are grazed before they have stored up their vital food supplies never can make normal growth thereafter. Often they fail to produce seed at all, and if this too-early grazing is continued year after year, they are gradually exterminated.

Progress in solving the problem of winter range for wildlife will be slight until the following mistakes are corrected: (1) Too much reliance on artificial feeding of wildlife. Either the numbers should be reduced to the carrying capacity of the range or additional winter range should be acquired. (Acquisition of key areas for winter range has been an important Pittman-Robertson Act contribution in some States of the basin.) (2) Lack of realization that lands available for winter use by game are rapidly being withdrawn for other uses by man. (3) Tendency to give attention to methods of hunting, effects of predators, poaching, and lengths and dates of open and closed seasons, rather than to the real issue, which is lack of adequate winter range. [80]

The species which have shown the best increases are principally forest dwellers. Some wildlife of the open range, like the antelope, has recovered to some extent, but even with this species the limits imposed on the extent of recovery by overgrazing have been pointed out. The sage hen has shown a small recovery but is similarly limited. That the bighorn owes its decline at least in part to the depletion of forage will be brought out later. The sharptailed grouse

represents one of our definitely vanishing game species . . . Studies have shown the limiting factor to be the disappearance of suitable habitat for this species. The cultivation, overgrazing, and burning of their natural range has limited it to small islands at the present time. Here is an example where propagating and planting of additional birds could not benefit the birds unless the habitat conditions are corrected. [81]

The rarer fur bearers, particularly martens, wolverines, and fishers, are showing little or no recovery. Hardly anyone knows what a fisher is and few wildlife men actually have seen one. These species so far have been raised with little or no success in captivity. They represent one of the few cases where habitat destruction is not involved, for millions of areas of suitable forest land still are available. Some regulations have been passed, but the actual enforcement of protection measures in winter wilderness areas has been inadequate. [82] Martens are fairly numerous in the mountain forests of the Colorado River Basin, but a Forest Service census for the entire area includes no fishers, and only five wolverines in the extreme northern end of the basin. [83] Formerly all three species occurred in the higher mountains at least as far south as the north lines of Arizona and New Mexico. In 1938, it was officially conceded that "The trapping of fur bearers on the national forests is without benefit of any system of management or control of trapping efforts." [84] Postwar plans eventually may change this.

Another species that is not far from extinction is the otter. No otters were listed by the Forest Service in 1943 for national forests in the Colorado River Basin. [85] However, in Arizona, "there is a small colony on Clear Creek and two or more colonies on the lower stretches of Rock Ruin River." [86]

Meanwhile millions of tons of soil continue to wash away needlessly. In the Southwest and elsewhere, permissible grazing capacity has long since been exceeded and "vegetation now is far from adequate to protect the surface against the erosive forces." [87] The following statements for Utah summarize the situation for nearly all of the Colorado River Basin and afford no reason for complacency:

Range conditions over our state generally show little improvement over those of the last two decades, excepting in some areas where Federal Agencies have been able to improve them. The Forest Service through restricting of grazing, and through better range management practices, has been able to improve several areas. The Grazing Service and the Soil Conservation Service through their activities have demonstrated very plainly the possibility of restoring badly over-used ranges. Much of our range land is yet in need of immediate attention. The drouth of the past few years, although not the primary cause, has added to the range problem.

Game has been blamed by some for the conditions in over-grazed areas, but investigation shows in the main, the areas hardest hit have no game upon them. We refer to those large areas known as the east and west deserts of Utah, areas where the original plant cover has been greatly changed and many of the valuable species replaced by less desirable ones.

The excessive grazing practiced is resulting in floods sweeping down, cutting our canyons deeper; depositing debris on the more valuable lands in the valleys; and causing a general decadence to come to our agricultural, livestock, and wildlife interests.

Unless we give our soils a more reasonable use and employ better methods of grazing, much of our land is going to pass into a submarginal state and this type of land means a sub-marginal people. [88]

In spite of this growth in the understanding stockmen have of the need for management, and in spite of considerable progress on much of the range area, the grazing problem is by no means solved. The Forest Service, oldest federal agency to conduct a continuous program of managed grazing, in its later canvasses of the condition of ranges and watersheds in the West, found that many of them were still in a deteriorated condition. Some of these ranges can be much improved, and in fact have been. For example, many range lands under private ownership have been built up or maintained in good condition. In far too many cases, however, damage has been done to the plant cover and the soil mantle. Until these conditions are corrected, no one really should feel that we have surmounted the grazing difficulties or stemmed the tide of forces that bring about deterioration. Some important citizens, however, still express the opinion that domestic livestock are not primarily responsible for serious damage to the range. It is maintained that as ranges begin to deteriorate, but before serious damage is done, the economics of the situation cause stockmen to cease or lighten the use of the range so that it is an economic impossibility to damage a range permanently through overgrazing by livestock. [89]

It is certainly contrary to sound economics to so damage a range, but such uneconomic practices continually occur.

This lack of understanding of the basic importance of soil and water on the part of "important citizens" is symptomatic of the entire problem which faces today's restoration program. Research and the gathering of facts have far outstripped public education. The technicians in the agencies devoted to land planning are well aware of the depletion, as are most of the administrators. The difficulty is that the administrators, far from receiving strong public approval and support in any program to restrict range and soil abuse, usually are subject to an intensity of local opposition that is in direct proportion to the extent of their proposed reforms. Thus the problem becomes one of gaining public support to carry out what it is already known should be done.

Public realization of the present destruction lags behind our technical knowledge of what needs to be done. In the last analysis, the future of the land and water, of plants and wildlife, of recreation, and of man himself lies in the outcome of a race now under way between the forces of land destruction and the slow growth of public education.

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Last Modified: Mon, Sep 6 2004 10:00:00 pm PDT

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