A Century of Stewardship: Post-War - Grazing and Watershed
In the late 1940's and early 1950's, land managers became increasingly alarmed about the continued deterioration of the rangeland due to overgrazing by cattle and sheep. The time had come to take necessary steps to reduce the number of cattle and sheep in order that the range could be rehabilitated and managed for long term health. As it was in the 1890's, the Forest officials were not very popular. Many disagreements between Forest officers and livestock owners developed, meetings were held and letter after letter written. Forest officers were not alone in this concern for the rangeland.
In a 1947 lecture titled "Is Utah Sahara Bound?", Dr. Walter P. Cottam, Professor of Botany at the University of Utah, expressed his deep concern as follows:
In every plant community myriads of biological forms present influence of action and interaction which bind the whole into a social organism extremely delicate in its balance. The removal of one biological species or the ascendancy of another through such outside influences as grazing is bound to upset this fine balance in nature and to set in motion successional changes which may and often do alter completely the original vegetational aspect...
The most important fact, however, is that the total plant cover decreases under heavy grazing use, thereby exposing the soil to the forces of erosion...Under severe grazing, less palatable herbs and shrubs tend to replace the more palatable forage.
Utah will attain a stabilized prosperity only when and if the public consciously adopts, maintains and enforces a program of resource use...
The land resources of water, soils, and vegetation and animal life are but vital aspects of an intricate whole. When vegetation is destroyed, soil erodes, floods occur, animals perish, and the power of the land to support plant life progressively diminishes... (Cottam 1947).
Even with these improvements, problems with water production and floods continued on Utah Valley watersheds. Because of population, industrial and agricultural growth in the valley, watersheds became increasingly important (Isbell 1972). In 1957, the Uinta National Forest entered into an agreement with Provo and Springville Cities and Utah County to reactivate the rehabilitation work that had been started by the CCC in 1933 on the watershed areas east of Utah Valley. The Provo Peak Watershed Rehabilitation Project, as this agreement was known, included all watershed areas between the Provo River and the Spring Creek and Jennings Hollow tributaries of Hobble Creek Canyon. The cities and the county agreed to reconstruct and maintain the debris basins at the mouths of Rock Canyon, Slate Canyon and Little Rock Canyon. The Forest Service was to accomplish rehab work upstream and sheep grazing was terminated under an open-end non-use agreement. In the five years that followed, the Forest Service completed nearly 900 acres of contour trenching, over 400 acres of grass seeding, 12.5 miles of gully plugs, 10 acres of furrowing, 10 acres of head cut control, 10.5 miles of road construction, and 5 miles of trail erosion control at a total cost of $81,978 (Uinta National Forest 1966). Completion of this project resulted in an increased site productivity for wildlife and a more productive watershed for the 5 miles of trail erosion control at a total cost of $81,978 (Uinta National Forest 1966). Completion of this project resulted in an increased site productivity for wildlife and a more productive watershed for the growing population in the valley.
Between 1957 and 1967, numbers of permitted cattle and sheep were drastically reduced Forest wide. In conjunction with these projects, some allotments were closed altogether. The results of the combined efforts of Forest officials, City and County governments, and private individuals and organizations was summed up in 1970 by Dr. Walter Cottam in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune:
I just can't believe how these ranges have improved. The aspens are reproducing again, the grasses are lush and full and up to a horse's belly. Go to Mt. Nebo or the Fish Lake area, for instance, where they had been stripped of cover, they are now lush with growth again. I've known these mountains for many decades. But they are not the same mountains now. The Forest Service has done a magnificent job. And I think the same recovery job could be done with other aspects of our environmental problem, given the same incentive, public support and governmental persistence (U.S. Department of Agriculture 1972).
Today the range program continues to adjust management on a case by case basis to meet the continued growing demands of more diverse users. In 1993 the Uinta National Forest completed the Rangeland Ecosystem Forest Plan Amendment EIS which established specific criteria for allotment management. While site specific resource problems continue to be of a concern, the rangelands of the Uinta National Forest are likely in the best condition, ecologically, that they have been in during the last century. In the future, the range program will continue with range stewardship guided by the Forest Service’s ecosystems management philosophy and approach.