grazing1

 

Grazing

The basis for Sheldens' cattle grazing on Whitman Mission land predates government control of the property. From 1937-1941, Ray Shelden maintained the small, grassy area near the Great Grave and also after the Monument was established, during World War II, from 1943-1945. Shelden's cooperation was beneficial to both parties; in exchange for safeguarding the government's property during the war, Shelden was allowed to pasture his cattle on park grounds [98] even though grazing was prohibited in national parks at the time. [99] A formal special use permit was drafted the next year, 1944, for 50 head of cattle and 12 horses on the 37-acre tract south of the county road in exchange for Shelden performing "the duties of watchman . . . to see that no prowlers or marauders do damage to any of the monument area." [100]

After Superintendent Weldon's assignment to the monument in 1950, Shelden's caretaker services were no longer required. Instead, a new special use permit allowed Shelden to graze cattle for a $5.00 annual fee. [101] Mount Rainier Superintendent John Preston gave Shelden first chance for the permit because "Mr. Shelden has been a very cooperative neighbor at Whitman and should have first choice of the opportunity." [102] When Assistant Regional Director Herbert Maier questioned the nominal $5.00 fee, Superintendent Weldon based his defense upon Shelden's past cooperation:

I have the use of his tractor when needed for heavy hauling. We dig ditch, fix fences, weed control work etc. often together, Mr. Shelden giving of his time and services cheerfully. Because of the lack of equipment it is often found necessary to use some of his farm things and he mows the Mission Tract when needed in the summertime. All these things, though difficult to put a value on, really amount to considerable monetary value. [103]

Although the next year the cost of Shelden's permit rose to $97.50, the Forest Service rate, and his cattle reduced from 50 to 25, Superintendent Weldon established the precedent that Shelden's cooperation entitled him to special consideration, even if it was simply the opportunity to graze his cattle without having to bid for the privilege. Clearly, Weldon welcomed grazing, partly because cattle fit the historic scene and partly because cattle eliminated maintenance of the south pasture: "they maintain an area to the benefit and profit of the government which would otherwise be an unsightly area of obnoxious weeds . . . ." [104] Since grazing was convenient both for the National Park Service and the Sheldens, Ray and Neil pastured their cattle south of the mission site until 1983.

During the ensuing 33 years, the number of cattle, acres grazed, and cost of the special use permits varied (see Appendix Q). Each superintendent renewed Shelden's permit each year, negotiating price and acreage when necessary. Oftentimes, the conditions under which Shelden grazed his cattle depended as much on the personal perogative of the superintendent as it did on policy. For example, after 1964, Shelden's yearly fee for 20 cattle was $1.50 per animal unit month or $180.00 per year, figures based on the current Forest Service rate. However, in 1970, Superintendent Stickler reduced the permit cost from $180.00 annually, to $25.00 annually, because he placed great import on Shelden's aforementioned cooperation and his limited resources:

In my opinion, the permittee provides an excellent service to the government in maintaining the pastoral scene . . . . Considerable maintenance is necessary as spelled out in the permit and, in addition, the permittee puts his sprinkler system in operation during the dry season. The result is a much nicer appearing area than we would have if the pasture was not watered . . . .

We also enjoy other cooperation from the permittee and his family . . . . These include alerting us when potential poachers come into the area after the visitor center is closed. He also provides assistance with tractor and other farm equipment when we need it.

The small amount of revenue from the higher fee is inconsequential although quite important to a small farmer trying to scratch out a living on a few acres of land. [105]

Superintendent Stickler believed that Shelden deserved special consideration given his help and his financial concerns. He felt that fostering friendly and cooperative relations was more important than the grazing fee. By this decision, Stickler implied that the park was, in part, responsible for his farming operation. In sum, the National Park Service needed the south pasture maintained and both Superintendents Weldon and Stickler felt Ray Shelden was the best man, partly because of his proximity and partly because of the help he had given them. In addition, both Weldon and Stickler felt that Shelden's cooperation more than compensated for the small grazing fee.

 

Last updated: March 1, 2015

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