Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Stanley Kitchen, far right, a botanist with the U.S. Forest Service leads a team trying to figure out how to alter grazing and other activities to try to save the aspen stands on Monroe Mountain. Others on the team include, from right to left, Kim Chapman, a livestock agent with Utah State University, Mary O'Brien with the Grand Canyon Trust and Tom Tippets, grazing improvement coordinator with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.
Ranchers and environmentalists team up to save aspens

Ranchers, environmentalists and state and federal officials band together to create new grazing and forest plan to help save the trees.

First Published Jul 30 2012 10:08 pm • Last Updated Oct 30 2012 11:34 pm

Koosharem » The big, old aspens on Monroe Mountain aren’t growing little aspens anymore, and it’s hardly just "tree-huggers" who are worried.

The 175,000-acre mountain southeast of Richfield is the summer home of 972 cows and 1,496 sheep, plus a swarming elk herd that was nowhere to be seen before the 1980s. All three of those species rely on airy aspen groves where grasses and leafy plants thrive, but all three also eat aspen twigs and keep them from growing into new tree stands.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Without a change, spruce, fir or sagebrush could take over, decreasing forage and forcing some livestock off the mountain — either by U.S. Forest Service rule or by simple lack of calories. A collaboration of environmentalists, ranchers and state and federal officials is working on a new grazing and forestry plan that, among other things, aims to give some places a respite from nibbling teeth so aspens get a head start toward the 7-foot height that generally means safety.

"We’re 100 percent for it," said Greenwich-based rancher Rayne Bagley, who pays the Forest Service for the chance to run cattle on the mountain and meets monthly with the collaboration committee. "If we get the aspen back, it increases our feed."

That’s the primary goal for ranchers, who want a system that gives them the same time or more to graze on the mountain.

Other partners, including the Grand Canyon Trust and the Utah Environmental Congress, want aspens to persist as wildlife harbors or even just forest cover instead of dry scrublands.

"This looks like a really cool aspen forest," Utah Environmental Congress program manager Kevin Mueller said while walking through a stand of century-old white trees. "But the more you learn about it, you realize it actually is on a trajectory to become sagebrush."

Several of the partners walked parts of the mountain late this month taking samples and setting up study locations so student interns could return in coming years and record how grazing changes affect aspen regrowth. They also cut the smallest trees in each place to count the rings and learn the last time aspens were able to grow past mouth height.

In most cases, the youngest trees were 20 or 30 years old — more or less pre-elk. That’s a point that Grand Canyon Trust botanist Mary O’Brien hopes to learn more about.

Motion-detector cameras that the team has set up photograph elk grazing and browsing in the same places as cows — sometimes at the same time — and fencing cattle out during range rest periods will help determine how much aspen the elk are eating.

story continues below
story continues below

Working for a rebound » O’Brien, who directs the trust’s Utah forests program, compares the possibilities to the rebound of Yellowstone National Park’s Northern Range after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced wolves in the 1990s. One study, she noted, found that the youngest surviving cottonwood to have escaped elk browsing there dated to the 1920s: the last years before native wolves were eradicated in Yellowstone.

Wolves aren’t part of the Monroe Mountain discussion, but dogs are. The partners have discussed using more sheep dogs to startle and perhaps move elk more than they now move around the mountain.

It’s possible the data will suggest a need for hunters to shoot more of the elk off the mountain, which could be politically challenging in an area that the state has successfully managed to produce some monster trophies.

"We don’t know yet," said Kim Chapman, a Utah State University livestock extension agent on the collaboration team. "Until we’re able to quantify who’s eating what, it’s hard to make any hard and fast recommendations."

For now the proposal includes fencing and water development to allow seasonal containment of livestock in certain pastures. Where none of the pastures on the mountaintop now see a full year’s rest, three are proposed to rest in rotations.

Ranchers will help install the pipes and fences, either with money or labor.

"They may be a little nervous of the change factor," Chapman said, "but they’re willing to back it with their pocketbooks."

The Forest Service also is considering combining two big allotments leased to multiple ranchers, increasing flexibility to move livestock around.

Dual goals » Tom Tippets, central region coordinator for the state Agriculture and Food Department’s Grazing Improvement Program, said forest forage is crucial. Hay costs $200 a ton, so running out of food on the mountain and driving stock back to the farm is costly. Without changes, he fears the mountain grazing season could contract by weeks.

Next Page >

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.