By Mary Gillespie
U.S.F.S. Blanco District
Special to the Herald Times
RBC | The White River National Forest is truly the land of many uses. Some of the more visible uses include downhill skiing, mountain biking, camping and hunting. Meeker, home of the Blanco Ranger District, remains a stronghold for a more traditional use—livestock grazing. Livestock grazing has occurred on the White River National Forest since the forest was established and is an essential part of the rural economies that surround the forest.
The cycle of use between public and private lands to grow livestock and feed local communities is an activity that has taken place for generations across the West. Many ranchers and grazing permit holders in Meeker are fourth-generation or longer residents of the White River Valley, and they own much of the vast open hay fields, river bottom and mountain shrub covered hillsides, which is essential transition and winter range for the movement of both domesticated and big game animals such as elk and deer.
In alignment with tradition, livestock are kept on these private ranches through the winter. Between mid-June and mid-July, livestock are moved to forest grazing allotments, parcels with boundaries designated for each grazing permit holder; and between mid-September and mid-October, livestock is again transitioned back to ranchland.
The district rangeland management specialist and the permit holder work together closely throughout the summer to make sure permit holders adhere to Annual Operating Instructions which are agreed upon in their permit. These instructions define the number of livestock authorized to graze, the dates livestock are to move between specified areas within the allotment (pastures), and other management requirements. The permit holder must maintain any fences, gates, spring developments, ponds or other “range improvements” that are within the allotment during this operating season.
By working closely together, the agency and the permit holder to seek to maintain or improve resource conditions on National Forest System lands, while also providing high quality forage for permitted livestock. Perhaps the most important part of the job is developing strong working relationships with the permit holders, which leads to well-managed rangelands. When this relationship is built on mutual respect and an effort to understand each other’s goals, the results can be incredibly rewarding for both partners.
This partnership is taken to a higher level under a Coordinated Resource Management Plan, which is a tool for agencies, partners and permit holders to come together to solve resource issues. The Oak Ridge/Lost Park Coordinated Resource Management Plan formed in 1989 on the Blanco Ranger District, is the longest-running coordinated resource management plan in the state of Colorado. The plan was formed as a partnership between the Forest Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management and two cattle grazing permit holders.
This Oak Ridge/Lost Park Plan sought to improve the poor range conditions documented in Lost Park, a valuable elk calving area with two Colorado River cutthroat streams running through it. Historically, the park was grazed season-long, from mid-June through mid-October by cattle. The cattle grazing, in addition to the elk use, led to degraded conditions in both upland areas and stream corridors. The management plan defined a strategy to improve the rangeland in the area through coordinated improvements, management activities and monitoring.
The result was a great working partnership between ranchers, federal and state agencies that allowed for the betterment of the land. To help restore the Lost Park riparian area, CPW allowed cattle to graze early season on the Oak Ridge State Wildlife Area allowing a later and shorter window for cattle grazing in Lost Park. The USFS assisted the CPW with prescribed burning and noxious weed treatments on the State Wildlife Area. Wakara Ranches, owned by Richard Bachmann and managed by Joe Collins, opened a half-mile of private land fishing access on the White River to sportsmen.
Mike and Lori Chintala of Meeker were active and valuable participants in the plan from 2007-2015 and are current grazing permit holders on the Blanco District. Lori’s father, Collins, was involved in the creation of the plan in the mid-1980s and held a goal of “leaving the mountain better than he found it” as applied to livestock management.
Executing the management plan is time-consuming and requires a great amount of daily riding and communication with other partners as each grazing season progresses. The Chintalas assisted range managers with annual and long-term monitoring and many range inspections were completed together.
Changes in natural ecosystems occur slowly over time. Monitoring photos, taken annually since 1994 by both range personnel and cattle managers, have shown increasingly positive results. After 30 years since the inception of the plan, Lost Creek, once wide and warm, has narrowed with riparian vegetation and increased willow and alder growth along the banks.
Through their involvement in the management plan and an increased understanding of healthy rangelands and riparian areas, the Chintala’s have become advocates for riparian restoration, monitoring and proper management of livestock grazing.
In early 2017, the Blanco District was proud to learn that the Chintala’s were bestowed the National Award for External Partner by the Society for Rangeland Management- the professional society dedicated to supporting persons who work with rangelands and have a commitment to their sustainable use.
The Lost Park management plan is an example of how successful rangeland management relies on cooperation and a shared vision among partners. Livestock grazing permit holders remain one of our most important partners on public lands. It is through continued and excellent communication that we can learn more about our shared goals, and forge ahead in the effort to maintain our public lands in excellent condition for the enjoyment of all users and future generations.