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Good fences make good neighbors where there are cows, and the ranchers of Rich County are proudly putting that axiom to work.

On Friday, a contingent of about 15 ranchers, Bureau of Land Management conservationists, Soil Conservation Service experts and friends fenced off a spring and a quarter mile of a stream to prevent cattle from trampling the area.Part of the Otter Creek drainage system, the stream is in the New Canyon Grazing Allotment, 10 miles northwest of Randolph. The project, which was organized by the Rich County Farm Bureau and supported by the Utah Farm Bureau, was hailed as showing that ranchers can cooperate with the federal government to protect the delicate streamside environment.

New Canyon is a 33,000-acre BLM allotment, about a third of it private land. Although other "exclosures" were built earlier along Otter Creek to protect it from cattle, this was the first fully cooperative venture.

Cow tracks in the tiny valley had churned the stream's wetland into a black morass. That is expected to change as the native vegetation grows back.

The ranchers worked swiftly, pounding in metal fence posts, stringing barbed wire that unspooled from the back of a pickup as the truck drove beside the fence line. At some of the fence corners were heavy wooden posts. Cowboys stretched the wire taut, then anchored it in place with metal clip.

This is a region of green rolling hills, covered with sagebrush and occasional stands of pine or aspen. Black clouds loomed over the landscape and thunder rumbled.

One rancher remarked, "We need the rain more than we need the fence."

Bill Gray, who has ranched in the area all his life, said, "This is kind of a bog hole up here, and the cattle come up here and tromp it down."

Gray, president of the New Canyon Grazing Association, said that last year the group paid to restore a cattle trough near the spring, in an attempt to keep cattle out of the stream. "This year we gave the BLM $5,000 to put in some new troughs," he said.

They're installing new reservoirs away from stream bottoms to draw cattle away from the riparian zones. "That's besides our grazing fees," he said.

"There are some sensitive areas that are justified to be protected more than the normal protection," said Rich County Commissioner Ken Brown, who is a rancher on another allotment. "And this is one of them."

He said owners of BLM grazing permits "are in a cooperative spirit. We recognize, yes, there is recreation, there is wildlife, and this is part of the permittees' multiple-use process."

Don Banks, public information officer for the BLM's Salt Lake District, predicted, "In five years the stream channel will be well-defined. Grasses, sedges, currants and other shrubs will build up stream banks. . . . Aspen and willow may come in. The water table will rise."

Wildlife will use the area. So that deer can get to the spring in the winter, the fence is less than 42 inches high.

According to the BLM's Craig MacKinnon, as part of the project, 30 to 100 acres of upland sagebrush will be burned yearly so they will produce grasses that cattle can graze. About 16 acres were already burned in Pole Canyon.

Howard Lamborn, who has a ranch near Randolph, explained that the ranchers have an idea about "something new, and it's maybe something revolutionary."

It involves building sets of drift fences, so that there's a form of crop rotation - cattle would be kept in certain areas during particular seasons, allowing other areas to recover.

Roy Hoffman was working on the fence with his daughter, Barbara Russell, who is employed by the Soil Conservation Service in Logan. "I'm agreeable with this here one," he said of the exclosure. "Some of 'em, you know, we're not. This here one, the cows are trompin' it up. And it's the head of a spring."

Dennis Jacobson, Randolph, a rancher representing the Rich County Farm Bureau, said that in the past ranchers and the BLM have "kind of been at odds with one another."

"I think the Farm Bureau's position this year was, `Let's cooperate with one another.' Basically, we're all headed for the same goal."

The range is the permittees' lifeblood, so it's in their best interest to keep the cattle at reasonable numbers and work with the BLM and U.S. Forest Service to maintain and improve it, he said.