Grazing gets OK

Study says cattle on state land within refuge is acceptable

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A $37,500 study funded by the State Land Board has concluded that cattle may be grazed on two parcels of state land within the Browns Park Wildlife Refuge.

The conclusion was no surprise to the refuge's manager, Jerry Rodriguez, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Fish and Wildlife has opposed allowing cattle to graze on the refuge, because grazing is incompatible with the refuge's mission of providing habitat for wildlife.

"I'm not surprised. We've been arguing from the very beginning they we're going to push livestock on those (parcels)," Rodriguez said.

Cattle from Vermillion Ranch, owned by T. Wright Dickinson, have grazed the square mile parcels of state land, Flynn Bottom and Hoy Draw, in the refuge since the State Land Board quit leasing the parcels to the refuge.

Before that, Fish and Wildlife leased the land for 30 years.

Fish and Wildlife repeatedly has offered to purchase the parcels for $253,000, and the State Land Board repeatedly has refused. It's the mission of the State Land Board to manage Colorado's land trusts to generate money for public education. The Dickinsons lease grazing rights on the land for $300.

Natural Resource Options Inc. of Bozeman, Mont., conducted the study. The contractor requested that the refuge participate in the study, but Rodriguez refused, saying the study proposal was not scientific.

"Because of the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to be involved in the project, no data was collected on refuge lands. That decision limited the scope of the project and reduced the number of sites to be inventoried," the contractors wrote in the study.

Grazing is measured by animal unit months. One steer grazing for one month equals one animal unit month, or AUM.

The contractor determined that during 2005, 50 AUMs would be available on Flynn Bottom during the early spring, depending on forage availability and spring growth.

About 200 AUMs would be available on Hoy Draw in late spring. After 2005, grazing would become the top consideration on the parcel.

After 2006, both state parcels could be incorporated into a grazing rotation with adjacent BLM land.

Moffat County resident Dr. Allan Reishus is a supporter of the refuge. He has gathered 14 volunteers to remove a fence this weekend at the refuge that impairs elk migration.

"Having read (the study), it doesn't make sense ecologically or economically," Reishus said.

He wouldn't describe it as a study, because it wasn't based on a comparison of one thing with another, the method of scientific research.

"It's not a study; it's a grazing plan," Reishus said.

However, the report calls for continued monitoring of vegetation and wildlife during the next several years to measure the effect that grazing has on the land.

Rodriguez and Reishus questioned how the contractors reached their conclusions on grazing.

An inventory of Hoy Draw described 46 percent of the area as poor or ungrazeable. Another 43 percent was described as fair, and the remainder is described as good.

A committee that includes Moffat County commissioners, the State Land Board, BLM, the conservationist group The Nature Conservancy, and the Dickinsons will meet March 1 at the State Land Board office in Craig to discuss the study. Rodriguez said refuge personnel would not be able to attend the meeting because of a scheduling conflict.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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