Western Watersheds Project documents how sheep degrade High Uintas Wilderness

Here is a link to the report. “Watershed Conditions. Uinta Wilderness, Utah.” (pdf)

Here the the link at wilderness.net to the High Uintas Wilderness. From this web site, it read like a great wilderness. No mention of this enormous problem.

Here are some photos from Dr. Carter’s studies.

Lake Fork Basin from Red Knob Pass. Bare ground in the foreground and the expansive basin with little vegetation
Location on topo map

What the high meadows should look like. Middle Fork of Beaver Creek at Long Meadow. Notice the grassy, stable banks. They are undercut, providing trout cover, and the creek was full of trout. Location on topo map.

Tributary of the ungrazed Burnt Fork of Black’s Fork.

Bank scouring and sluffing along the West Fork of Black’s Fork. This is the result of high intensity floods because the uplands have greatly depleted vegetation due to the relentless sheep grazing. There is nothing to hold the waters back so that it percolates into the ground.




  1. todd Avatar

    hi ralph,

    so why is WWP so sucessful? there are a few other groups out there look at grazing issues, but it seems like WWP is the group that seems to get it right — with the right mixture of science and litigation. closer to my home, there is another group that works with WWP called Forest Guardians, but I don’t see the sucesses here like those at WWP. what is your take on reasons for WWP sucess?


  2. Pronghorn Avatar

    I’m thankful that we have a Wilderness preservation system WITH grazing rather than no Wilderness preservation system at all, if that’s what it took to pass the act in ’64.

    It seems, though, that lately the ante is getting raised to a new level, that the controversy pro and con public land grazing is becoming an increasingly critical issue (finally). On the one side, the ante is raised by sound science like the findings documented by WWP. As the case for curtailing or ending public land grazing strengthens, ranchers up the ante by increasing the wolf hysteria, be it substantiated or fictional.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I’m not sure, but I suspect a couple reasons:

    1. WWP is one of the major clients of Advocates for the West, which is one of the best environmental law firms in the business,

    2. Under pressure from the Bush Administration and Republican Western office-holders, the BLM has almost stopped enforcing grazing permit stipulations. As a result, the judge looks at what the BLM does and what the regulations or the law says, and the judge has little option but to rule against the government. WWP has had success even with judges put in place by BushCo

    3. WWP doesn’t get bogged down in the “consensus processes” the politicians set up, perhaps in hopes of achieving harmony, but more likely to delay things and sap the energy of conservation volunteers.

  4. Alan Gregory Avatar

    Ralph is right in his assessment of WWP’s success, especially in terms of avoiding the silly (and sad for fish and wildlife) “consensus-building” process. This is the devil that annually drags down dozens of originally well-meaning conservation proposals, especially in the East. In Pennsylvania, the Game Commission and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources have become expert at subverting real conservation. An example: Hold a “public meeting” rather than a “hearing” on a given topic or issue. Shuttle participants from one table to another where they can provide comments on little cards. This avoids the otherwise likely scenario of an activist standing up in front of a crowd and speaking from the podium. This is “consensus-building” Pennsylvania style.

    I’m just in from New Mexico, where we visited several wilderness areas and USFS campgrounds. At one spot near Soccoro, on the Cibola National Forest, we found cow pies littering a posted “nature trail” within a designated campground. The cattle guard on the access two-track road apparently did not work.

  5. Owen Jamison Avatar
    Owen Jamison

    Part of their success has to be Jon’s personality, that is, arrogant and confrontational. He has no desire for “consensus”. He wants the outrage to stop and sees no good result from working with those whose attitude is no less obstinate and arrogant. They’ve “always done it our way” and so will he I suspect. Go Jon!

  6. todd Avatar

    thanks for the comments — and i agree what the bulk of them.

    my take on this is that not only is WWP the extreme that makes the center possible — the way I see it WWP has helped define the center. it seems to me that the voluntary grazing buyout legislation, as radical as it was, has made the idea of 3rd party buyouts mainstream. it is hard to find a piece of wilderness legislation that does not include a grazing-buyout component. i also wonder that as that legisative proposal ages a bit if ranchers won’t start to see as money that might slip away …..

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    A lot of ranchers have already seen the national grazing buyout with favor. The major opponents are the livestock associations, and the politicians that claim to support the ranchers.

    The logic is this. Interest groups often have a life of their own. Their own preservation often outweighs that which they claim to represent. What would the cattle associations do if the bulk of their members were taking the buyout and retiring from the public lands?

    That would mean a reduced role for the cattle associations or woolgrower interest groups.

    Now for the office-holders who claim to represent the ranchers, giving them just enough to keep them alive (metaphorically speaking), what would that do for their cowboy boot and hat wearing speeches?

    That’s why the grazing buyout part of the CIEDRA collapsed. Livestock politicians saw the implications of a generous voluntary grazing buyout as a threat to their future and to the institutions that keep these controversies going.

    In a way, the WWP and other supporters of the national grazing buyout are the only ones who have offered a tangible benefit for ranchers who want to retire, but don’t want to sell the ranch to support them in retirement.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan