Beaver pond, North Corral Creek, Smithsfork Allotment, Wyoming. Photo by Mike Hudak. This beaver pond and surrounding terrain in the North Corral Creek region of the allotment are a sorry sight. Cattle have so closely cropped the vegetation that large areas of the meadow have eroded leaving bare ground. In an undisturbed meadow there would also typically be willows that provide bird habitat. If willows are present, they’ve been trampled or grazed into invisibility. Photo at UTM coordinates 0504524/4670631.

Trampled wet soil at beaver pond, Smithsfork Allotment, Wyoming. Photo by Mike Hudak.
Cattle can’t easily graze near the beaver pond because their hooves sink into the wet soil. Consequently, vegetation nearer the pond (on the left side of the photo) is three to four times higher than the grazed vegetation on the right. Photo at UTM coordinates 0504524/4670631.

Grazed sedges, Smithsfork Allotment, Wyoming. Photo by Mike Hudak. Darrel Short demonstrates that the grazed sedges in the vicinity of the beaver pond are no higher than a finger length—approximately 3". If ungrazed by livestock they’d be at least 9" to 12" high. The more forage consumed by cattle is simply that much less available for native wildlife such as deer and elk. Photo at UTM coordinates 0504524/ 4670631.

Cage exclosure.
A short distance from the beaver pond the BLM has provided a more scientific method for comparing the percentage of vegetation consumed by livestock. This exclosure shows the height vegetation will reach without being grazed. Outside the exclosure there’s 75% to 80% utilization by livestock. Photo location: Township 25 N, Range 119 W, Section 2 (NW quarter).

Cattle impacts on Mill Creek, Smithsfork Allotment, Wyoming. Photo by Mike Hudak.
Mill Creek, just below the confluence with its south fork, dramatically exhibits the major characteristics of long-term cattle impacts: banks downcut, widely spaced and devoid of lush vegetation. Photo at UTM coordinates 0505289/4672323.

Wilderness Study Area, Smithsfork Allotment, Wyoming. Photo by Mike Hudak.
The South Fork of Mill Creek lies within a wilderness study area. Yet contrary to the popular view of “wilderness” the creek is anything but pristine. The Wilderness Act of 1964 excludes livestock grazing as a human impact that disqualifies a region for wilderness designation. Oh, if there’s a road that reduces the region to less than 5,000 acres or if the area’s timber has been cut, wilderness designation is out of the question, but no amount of environmental degradation by livestock will stand in the way. And, of course, livestock grazing is allowed to continue after a region has been designated as wilderness. Photo at UTM coordinates 0505289/4672323.


What does the future hold for the Smithsfork Allotment? Early in 2000 biologists from the BLM’s Kemmerer office, after an allotment review, recommended an immediate 42% reduction in livestock grazing to begin recovering overgrazed vegetation. The BLM responded with a proposal that would reduce livestock use by 30%, but not until 2004. The Wyoming Outdoor Council in its Summer 2001 newsletter characterized the proposed plan as one that “... flies in the face of proper multiple-use land management, and is an insult to citizens who value this area for its streams, stunning views, hiking and camping and remaining undisturbed landscapes.” The Outdoor Council further remarked that “The proposed plan appears to be written by and for the Smithsfork Allotment’s grazing permittees.”

Critics of the BLM have long given the agency many nicknames including “Bureau of Livestock and Mining,” and “Bureau of Livestock Mismanagement.” The BLM’s actions and the court’s subsequent ruling regarding the Smithsfork’s management provide vivid insight into the basis of these epithets.

Text and Photos © 2004– by Mike Hudak, All Rights Reserved