Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Shame on the Rio Grande Forest for allowing...

cattle grazing in  the South San Juan Wilderness. 

Today, I had the displeasure of hiking up the "Three Forks" Trail to the Middle Fork Trail toward Conejos Falls. I read a brief route description from John Fielder's "Colorado Wilderness Areas" Guide. Mr Fielder didn't mention the cattle-caused degradation of the trail's condition.  I suppose being a Polly-Anna sells more books. I'm no Polly-Anna so I'll say it. The trail sucked. The cattle vandalized the terrain as much or more than logging or mining roads would have. Unlike those mindless bovines, a Civil Engineer considers drainage issues. 

I muddled through ankle to calf deep mud and muck. At times, the trail was a 12-15 foot wide path of primordial ooze. Instead of a "Thread Lightly" code of ethics, the cattle prefer to "Thread Heavily." When those grass-eating terrorists grew tired of getting their hooves wet, they created new trails. The meadows and forests are braided with new paths. John Muir, who coined the phrase "hoofed locusts" (in reference to sheep) would have had a stroke if he hiked the SSJ Wilderness. 

Need I remind you, from the Wilderness Act of 1964. [Wildeness] is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life is untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." 

Sure, an "alternative fact" lawyer can say, "Well, there no mention of cattle!" My retort? There's no mention of chickens, pigs or goats either.  The intent of the Wilderness Act isn't to allow wonton destruction of what the Act is trying to preserve. 

I'm a retired city firefighter who once fought forest fires for the USFS. (Bighorn and Pike NF). I have a degree from the Syracuse College of Environmental Studies and Forestry. ((Class of 1976). I'm well read in the tales of Gifford Pinchot, Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, David Brower and Edward Abbey. They all understood the basic belief (in verifying degrees) of Land Stewardship. 

Rio Grande National Forest! You are flunking Land Stewardship 101 by allowing cattle to graze in a so-called Wilderness Area. The Rio Grande's powers to be are selling out to the Sage Brush Rebellion, the Old West mentality and the Cliven Bundy constituents. All for a measly $1.87/AUM. (Animal Unit Month). 

I understand many of these cattle grazing permits have been grandfathered in. The cattlemen had the right to run their four-legged wrecking crews on Federal Land prior to the SSJ becoming a Wilderness in 1980. Still this doesn't seem right. Face it, cattle grazing on Public Lands is Federally Funded Welfare. 

My last photo sums up how I felt about today's amble into the South San Juan Wilderness. It was light on inspiration and heavy on steaming piles of cow poop. It was the shits. I know that's crass, but more so is making a mockery of one of the best Congressional Acts in our Nation's Conservation History. 

Come on folks! You can do better than this!

Let's make our Public Lands better for our future generations.
Jeff Sambur

PS. This blog and photos have been sent to the Rocky Mountain Region Forest Supervisor, the Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor and the Conejos District Ranger

Copies have also been sent to the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club of Colorado.


  1. Hey Jeff,
    The backpack trip went well, despite the same lousy trail conditions you experienced. We made a last minute decision to head up to Blue Lake, use that as a base camp, and make it up to the divide for some day hikes. The second day was filled with lots of monsoonal storms, hail, and lightning = lots of napping in the tent, which I never mind.. Great to meet you! Happy travels friend

  2. I'm glad you managed to have quality time there. As for me, I'll stay out of the South San Juans. I think cows are everywhere there. None in the San Juan NF Wilderness! It was great meeting you and Sara too. Keep looking in! Plenty of Wandering coming up.