OK, so you hike or backpack in a wilderness area, and one of the last things you might expect to see is livestock. But that's exactly what there are roaming in portions of Utah's High Uintas wilderness — cattle and sheep.
According to Kathy Jo Pollock, spokeswoman for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, livestock is a permitted and legal use in some areas of the Uintas wilderness, as well as other U.S. wilderness areas.
"What it is, is grandfathered in," she said.
The High Uintas have almost 457,000 acres of designated wilderness, which the U.S. Congress approved in 1984. The area is governed by the National Wilderness Act of 1964, which allows what uses were already in a pre-wilderness area to continue indefinitely.
That includes both grazing and mining rights.
"It's a wilderness area, but what was around before is still there," Pollock said.
She also stressed that ranchers are supposed to self-monitor their area and make sure livestock don't go where they shouldn't.
Pollock said livestock prefer the mid to low slopes of the Uintas, so the highest of the Uintas remain much more livestock free.
For some lower elevations in the Uintas, hikers and backbackers may pass by the wilderness designation signs, only to find cattle there. Pollock agrees that, in such areas, the lack of mechanized travel is probably the only key restriction in place.
There are 16 developed trailheads in the High Uintas, with 545 miles of total trails available.
The East Fork of the Bear River Trail, for example, is an area with cattle roaming the first four miles of that path. Fresh cow manure lines significant portions of that trail; the blackened remains of the 2002 Bear River fire are found there, too.
Sheep also occasionally graze in the Henry's Fork area of the High Uintas, just north of King's Peak. That is a permitted use there, too.