Forest Service cuts back on grazing allotments

Tuesday, June 23, 2015 4:42 PM

Local ranchers are feeling the impact of drought as the San Juan National Forest considers reducing their cattle herds on federal grazing allotments.

The Bond family has been grazing cattle on the 9,104-acre Railroad allotment on forest lands east of Mancos for generations, said Lorene Bond.

But the Forest Service says the lingering drought and herd of 247 cattle have impacted pastures, therefore livestock reductions may be necessary in 2017.

"We want to see the data that supports that," Bond said. "I don't know what started it. We've done everything they asked us to do."

The Bonds took their complaint to the Montezuma County commissioners meeting Monday, which was attended by Forest Service managers.

Derek Padilla, district ranger for the Dolores District, explained that the RR allotment and others have been overgrazed, a problem made worse by a decade of drought.

"In 2007 pasture monitoring studies indicated Railroad was overstocked by 43 percent," Padilla said. "Range analysis will be done again to see if there is improvement, and a then a decision made in 2017 on reductions."

The Bonds voluntarily limited grazing by 20 percent because of the drought, but it may not have been enough, according to forest managers.

"There have been some good years of forage production, but overall, it's a downward trend," Padilla said.

Other grazing allotments on forest lands are also seeing poor pasture conditions, said Heather Musclow, a forest rangeland manager.

They are also being considered for future reductions. For example, the adjacent La Plata allotment, which has two permittees and a total of 190 cattle, is overstocked by 56 percent, forest officials said.

To accommodate ranchers with overstocked allotments, the Forest Service is offering permittees other grazing areas.

The Bonds were offered vacant grazing allotments on 24,000 acres in Upper Hermosa and on 10,000 acres on Elbert Creek, Musclow said.

"They declined, but the offer is still on the table," she said. "For permittees with overstocked allotments, there is the option to keep herd numbers by utilizing vacant allotments."

Padilla said the number of animals allowed for grazing allotments on federal lands are determined by rangeland conditions.

"We're not picking on anybody; it is based on conditions on the ground," he said. "The Bonds have a good history with no noncompliance issues, and are seen as a good fit to fill nearby vacant allotments."