In one Bureau of Land Management grazing district in Utah, a congressional agency found 84 percent of the streams in poor or fair condition, because of damage by livestock.
Yet in the northeastern part of the state, a rancher has cooperated in an experiment to restore stream values, and the result is a remarkable recovery, according to a study by the General Accounting Office.The issue of BLM stewardship is a critical one, as BLM manages 22 million acres in Utah, about 42 percent of the state's land area.
The GAO is the investigative arm of Congress. A recent GAO report concludes that the BLM has generally failed to give balanced stewardship to Western public land.
Instead of following Congress' dictates requiring a balanced approach, the GAO charges, the BLM has favored miners and ranchers with grazing permits over fish and wildlife, recreation, ecological preservation, watershed, historical and other values.
The report concludes permittees like ranchers and hardrock miners start to think the public land is their private property, to use as they wish.
"We found that almost 60 percent of the grazing allotments for which BLM range managers had current status information were in less than satisfactory condition," said James Duffus III, the director of GAO's Natural Resources Management Issues Division, during recent testimony before the House of Representative's Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands. "Further, only about one-fourth of the allotments whose status was known were improving."
The rest were either stable or in a declining condition.
"Despite this generally unsatisfactory condition, range managers told us that a significant portion of grazing allotments continued to be overstocked." Permittees were still putting more livestock on the land than it could support and remain in good condition.
The GAO found more serious deterioration in the ecologically critical riparian areas, "the thin strips of green bordering rivers, streams and lakes.
"Thousands of miles of streams are in degraded condition largely because of poorly managed livestock grazing," he said.
"When these stream banks are trampled and stripped of vegetation by livestock, fish habitat is destroyed; surrounding water tables drop; erosion increases; and the availability of water, cover, and forage for wildlife is reduced."
A silver lining shows up in one area of Utah, however.
The GAO's assistant director for natural resources management issues, Bob Robinson, told the Deseret News the Big Creek area of northeastern Utah is a good example of what can be done. He said a riparian improvement project was carried out there on 15 miles of stream on private and BLM land.
"This is one of the projects that led us to our conclusion that pretty amazing recovery results can occur with restoration," he said. The problems grew out of livestock grazing, he added.
The "absolutely" successful restoration was among 22 examined.
The rancher "saw the wisdom of the proj-ect and cooperated with it," he said. "His AUMs (animal unit months - the number of cattle or sheep allowed to use the federal range) were not reduced to accomplish this project. It was one of these instances where better livestock management was the main thing."