Heading out for West Nile Virus country?

Is cattle trough country West Nile virus country?

Well I’m going to spend the rest of the day over in the Sublette Range where there are a lot of cattle troughs. Nowadays you have to worry about West Nile virus.  Seems like these might harbor the dangerous mosquitoes that pass it. As August approaches the percentage of mosquitoes infected climbs.

The Idaho Statesman has a video about controlling mosquito larva in Ada County (Boise). Near the end of the video they show livestock water troughs as one thing they treat (to kill the larva).

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Report 8/1/2009

I took these in South Heglar Canyon 7-31-09 on the Sawtooth National Forest (Sublette Division).

The troughs look like ideal mosquito breeding vessels. The water in the photo is completely stagnant and sits for weeks. They should produce many waves of hatches. Photos by Ralph Maughan. Feel free to use them.






  1. jdubya Avatar

    Oddly enough, you would be better off getting infected ASAP. The older you are, the more dangerous the complications of West Nile. If you figure that some day you will get infected (which considering the expansion of the virus in the past few years, that seems more and more likely) then get infected while you are still reasonably young and healthy and your immune response is not on the skids. Once you have been infected and fought off the disease, you should be good to go for the rest of your life.

  2. mikepost Avatar

    So Ralph, should we be concerned about the ponds and riparian areas in the same country as the troughs? I think this back door anti-cow argument is a bit of a stretch…

  3. kt Avatar

    mikepost: There are tnes of sthusands of squalid troughs on BLM land, stock ponds, etc.

    Ralph: FYI. You can check to see WHAT is supposed to be going on – and kind of where – on the Forest in the Sublett Range cow-wise. The Region 4 Office has posted the Annual grazing instructions on-line.


    They even have an allotment named “Sublett Troughs”!

    Combined with using Geocommunicator to look at the allotmt – and sometimes pasture boundaries – you can piece some info together …

    You are very right about a lot of troughs there. And the backwards Southern Division of the Sawtooth Forest wants to put in even more. Habitat death through troughs …

  4. mikepost Avatar

    If either of you would put a critter-cam on any “squalid” trough you think is horrible and then record the wildlife usage, particularly at night, you might be very surprised. Elimination of every trough, stock pond and rancher maintained spring on public land would have significant negative wildlife impact, at least in the drought battered west. Nothing here is black and white, all good or all bad, as much as some might fantasize it to be so.

  5. Brian Ertz Avatar

    mikepost –

    you are wrong. the water in those troughs doesn’t come from nowhere. wildlife would do just fine without the squalid troughs, fencing, and livestock on public lands. those troughs alter the hydrology and diminish springs, seeps, and flow in streams that provide water & habitat for wildlife. there is a difference between a natural source of water that harbors bountiful habitat, wildlife, and fish (Spring/seep – Exhibit A <– click for photo) that is dewatered when the cattle-trough gets installed and the cow-blasted shit/mud-hole that looks like a bomb-blasted crater from a satellite/aerial image (Cattle trough – Exhibit B <– click for photo) upon installation & use.

  6. mikepost Avatar

    Brian, I wish I had your ability to be so sure of myself that I could discount any possibility that an opposing argument had any validity at all. Yes there are horrible examples out there, and there are other positive examples as well. It is that vehement black/white aspect of your position that I would suggest makes ranchers just turn their backs rather then perhaps listen and be amenable to efforts to mitigate the damage and make improvements. Anybody who is living with the fantasy that cattle will be summarily pulled from public lands needs their head examined. The politics wont allow it, not ever. The real path to success is getting this situation better managed by public agencies, more ecological awareness by ranchers, the fees brought up to private land graze market levels and more oversight to detect abuse. Treating the cattle folks like trash isn’t going to get you what you want and may even prevent accomodations. (Disclaimer: I do not own/ranch/graze cattle).

  7. Anthony Avatar

    I think the two photos explain it well enough!

  8. kt Avatar

    mikepost: The problem is: You can’t do it better – even with a perfect agency, you would be asking them to deny ecological science and reality.

    Arid western lands in North America are just not ecologically able to take the onslaught of herds of diarrhea spewing thousand pound lumbering bovines – whose progenitors evolved time in the misty vales and woods of Europa. Just can’t happen.

  9. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I’m back. An interesting day. There are a lot of water troughs of various designs. Most have lots of little wrigglers in them. I assume some of these are mosquito larva. I’m not a expert.

    Regarding Mikepost’s comment, “So Ralph, should we be concerned about the ponds and riparian areas in the same country as the troughs? I think this back door anti-cow argument is a bit of a stretch…”

    I say this. Mosquitoes have a lot of predators. Standing water of a temporary nature is the kind of water, however, that lacks mosquito predators. That is why the mosquitoes can be so intense in semi-arid places like the sagebrush steppe and the tundra.

    The hoof prints of cattle and wildlife can generate a lot of mosquitoes after a rain. Of course, which are the biggest? Horses too. Some of horse pasture country near where I live had the most cases of West Nile per capita than just about any place in the country. This was because the horse pastures were also flood irrigated.

    I think livestock troughs and ponds are the ideal way to breed a lot of mosquitoes that have nothing to eat them.

    We need to look more into this.

  10. mikepost Avatar

    Ralph, I appreciate your balanced comment. I think what everyone missed here is that stereotyping throws the baby out with the bathwater. Lets just say for arguments sake that 10% of the ranchers do it right. Why not at least acknowledge them. I have several examples, good and bad in my country, and I hope to make the good guys look good every chance I get. The unconditional anti-cow bias here on this blog is counter productive to encouraging ranchers and BLM/USFS/congress to do things better. I don’t like the photos shown any more than anyone else does, but I like to make progress not hoopla. Fixing the grazing problems will involve a lot of compromise and political trade offs. Just standing in the wind with the third finger in the air and yelling about cows wont get anyone what they want.

  11. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Mikepost thanks for your reflections.

    I just decided to go over the Sublette Division of the Sawtooth National Forest yesterday and did a post because I had watched the video in the Idaho Statesman on what Ada County (Boise) was doing about controlling mosquito larva.

    It occurred to me after watching the video that these troughs must fit the classic requirements of where mosquitoes breed.

    I also see some very beautiful uplands yesterday. They probably deserve a photo too. I hadn’t been to these mountains for about 10 years.

    At any rate, I would think that livestock folks would want to treat their water developments with bt. Your typical rancher is just the age where West Nile infection is likely not to be a mild illness.

    Southern Idaho rural areas have suffered a high morbidity rate from this new virus. So have S. Idaho urban residents. I think a lot more about mosquitoes myself when in the woods than I do about a lot of “dangers” discussed on the blog. I’m of that age myself (over 50)

  12. kt Avatar

    Summit Springs sure looks like a cow disaster! Do you know if this another situation (like Pleasant view) where a “Grazing Association” controls the permit?

  13. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    The troughs were divided by a fence. Two different herds of cows were using them, but kept separate. I think it was a grazing allotment boundary. So it would probably not be a grazing association.

    Overall, this area is in much better shape than Pleasantview. Sublette Creek itself is in steep decline. Sad because several years ago it seemed to be protected and was a splashing, crystal clear beauty. Lake Fork seemed to be a contradiction between beautiful sections, and bad sections.

  14. kt Avatar

    I have heard there is a big diversity of butterflies there. The area figures prominently in the Butterfly Counts in Idaho. I can’t find that info on-line, but there is this:


    A state record! Better than a Boone and Crockett big dead head, in some circles.

    Around a decade ago, the Forest had a proposal for massive tree killing. WWP appealed it, and it was withdrawn. I fear, though, they have been segmenting various smaller projects in – in bits and pieces.

  15. JB Avatar

    Mike asserted: “the real path to success is getting this situation better managed by public agencies, more ecological awareness by ranchers, the fees brought up to private land graze market levels and more oversight to detect abuse.”

    I agree that we should be holding out carrots for those ranchers who take care of their allotment(s) and their cattle and using the stick on those who blatantly disregard rules and trash their allotments. The problem..who am I kidding…ONE problem is the FS/BLM do not have the money for either the carrot (incentives) or the stick (enforcement). And realistically, in many places wielding the stick at all could mean the end of one’s career. Raising fees to fair market prices is also an idea I agree with in principle; however, this would likely only serve to kill small, family-owned ranches and further consolidate allotments and the political power of a few families. If we were able (through increased funding for enforcement) to force ranchers pay fair market value, abide by the rules, and keep track of their livestock they would not be able to compete with imported beef (at least that’s what we hear).

    But none of this discussion addresses the actual problem: local politics and politicians decide how lands that belong to everyone in the country should be managed (i.e. what they should be managed for) and both state and local politicians are in bed with the industry. The only recourse, at least as I see it now, is to use the courts and federal legislation to change they way these lands are managed; but I would love to be convinced otherwise.

    – – – –

    “Anybody who is living with the fantasy that cattle will be summarily pulled from public lands needs their head examined. The politics wont allow it, not ever.”

    I imagine there was a time (not too long ago) when people thought that western politics would never allow for the recovery, more less the reintroduction, of wolves. The political winds are changing.

  16. mikepost Avatar

    JB, good thoughts. I am not sure that any change does not have those who profit and those who lose. For a host of reasons, some not having anything to do with conservation, my belief is that all use of public land by private interests should at a minimum be revenue neutral with all administrative overhead fully loaded into the rates. Perhaps private graze rates would be too excessive but perhpas we should try the revenue neutral approach first. That would probaly still double or triple the current rates.

  17. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    My 2 cents worth; I do not think there should be any livestock grazing on public lands. It is a private business and should stay on private ground.

    That being said I do not believe outfitters should be allowed to do business on public lands either. Outfitting is an exploitive, extractive businesses no different than ranching and mining. Yes, this means some of the public then will not have access to these lands, but do we want policy to include everyone…at the expense of maintaining what was once there? Take our natural history away and we don’t have an anchor.

    How can we counter this exploitive use of our public lands? One time long ago I was in the front country at the Lake Ranger Station going over on the map where I had travelled …. with the Park Aids. Of course it was the area of my stomping grounds, the Thorofare…. the most remote spot in the lower 48.

    An elderly tourist couple evidently was listening because they interjected with, “Why don’t they put a road in there so more people can enjoy the wilderness?”.

    This is the illogical mind set common around all of us. They were in Yellowstone enjoying all its beauty, knowing it was saved from exploitation, but didn’t have the foggest of how that allowed them to want to see Yellowstone.

    If we recognize what made these two elderly tourists say what they did then I feel we are well on the way of solving other issues..such as public grazing. I used this Ranger Station episode to direct back country user public education and outfitter enforcement in Yellowstone for all the years I patrolled this park.

    Think square one. Yes, morons or full retard Simple Jacks (movie Tropic Thunder). None of us really are but the concept of it needs to be in the forefront.

    Think the same no matter what supposed level of traditional concepts of excellence is achieved. Think of your boss. In my case think Yellowstone administrators. One could figuratively bowl them over with a sweep of the back of your hand. They would spend hundreds of hours, from my chief ranger to the head of personnel, putting together a termination paper and it would take less than five minutes to throw it back at them. I’d see the termination reasons, as numbered from 1 to 5 in front of me, and ask if there were others. There had to be for all this regallia. No, the lead voice sternly replied, “These are the charges”. It was a joke. God, I even told them I was going across the lot for a ice cream cone (while they squirmed for a decision).

    In one Inquisition attempt with multiple supervisors either forced to attend or were part of the perpitrators, my District Ranger, the one who initiated the meeting kept yelling “I am the district ranger, I am the district ranger!!!!”…like that was suppose to make all the difference in the world. They couldn’t get me but they used that same logic to demote my immediate supervisor from a GS 11 to a 9. Yes, this moron was the District ranger. But my supervisor, a quality environmentally caring govt employee, didn’t have the attitude to allow him to fight the same nonsense. If he would have just seen them for what they were.

    Thus, i feel one has to have the same attitude towards public lands abusing ranchers, the same as the tunnel visioned climb the ladder Park administrators. They both have self interest at heart. That is what makes it “simple” to fight. I say forget trying to “train” ranchers and go to a public who has the same self interest, but of a different nature. If you deal with a “western” rancher take his Walter Mitty and “legend in their own minds” image away from them. The same for the BLM big buckle coherts who have gone “native”.

    Use self interest to your advantage. Think of why middle age people read the obituary page and have such interest in people who achieve very old ages. It is self interest. They really don’t care much about somebody a world away. They just hope they will live longer themselves.

    Am I cynical? I don’t know. Humble, no. But at least starting from a perception of people at square one means we don’t skip any steps in this activist game before us.

  18. vickif Avatar

    There is possibly more than one strain of WNV (research galore is being done). Regardless of age, it can lead to permanent neurological damage, there is no definitive way to know implications for pregnant women and their fetuses, and people who have other health issues-even those who don’t know they have them- are at a far increased risk for long term or sever problems, even death. I would say DO NOT risk it. Use precautions.

    There are vaccinations for animals which are currently in use….the vaccine for people is in testing (a long, long ,long term process).

    Not only are the troughs (and bird baths, unattended dog bowls, swimming pools) a breeding ground for mosquitos, they are a waste of a valuable resource, water. My horses have Texas tea bags in their water, and it is cleaned daily. I also only fill the trough with the amount of water needed per horse per ton each day.

    The troughs pictured are reflective of how little the cows use them. If their were more consistent use, the water would be cleaner. But they could use a trick from an old cowboy I know….put a few goldfish and a couple of bottom feeders in the trough. It costs a few dollars, but hey, grazing the nasty cows at next to nothing on public land should free up a few bucks.

  19. vickif Avatar

    By the way, the WNV is far less consequential than pine beetles. Shouldn’t we worry a bit more about the slaughter of America’s pines? The fires waiting to happen will undoubtedly effect humans on a much larger scale…asthma, allergies, heat, loss of homes, loss of property…etc.

  20. mikepost Avatar

    Well, Vickif, your comment brings to mind a preverse question: what are the culmulative impacts for water usage and greenhouse gases for all the horses in America? Certainly not at the cow level but I’ll bet its not insignificant either.

  21. smalltownID Avatar

    Haven’t posted in quite a while but glad to see Mikepost is carrying the torch – you echo my sentiments exactly about polarizing the issues and not being realistic.

    I spent many a summer day that I had off in Sublet growing up and know it probably as well as anywhere in Idaho. The creek itself (less than 8 miles down the road from the troughs) harbors 1,000 times the mosquitoes that the troughs do – not to mention the reservoir. I am no more a fan of cattle than anyone else but one of the rare occasions that my brother, buddy and I often remarked about not complaining about cow pies is when they are on sublet creek. Without cattle the watercress chokes out the creek in all of the meadows, we used to go and pull watercress in May and June to produce trout habitat during years when cattle were not in there early during warm spring years.

    This is definately an anomaly mind you and generally speaking cows are much more of a pain than of any help to wildlife imho. It is not always black and white as someone already mentioned. However, I would agree, this mosquito hypothesis is more than a stretch in this circumstance. Maybe under different conditions or if you look at an area within a square mile of the troughs on a small scale would you see a difference.

    Here is a simple study, go camp at the troughs, then go camp at the meadows and see where you get more mosquito bites. 🙂

  22. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I can’t expect folks to read a post and all the comments, but I want to point that the Sublette Range is a place I like, and I decided to raise the water trough/mosquito issue because the Idaho Statesman had a video including that the morning I left. If I was going to another area, my post would have been similar.

    There are places with many more mosquitoes than the Sublette. However, since you raised the issue, I don’t think there is any watercourse in these mountains that is not grazed by livestock, and I know from turning my truck around on the edge of many meadows that they are covered with hoofprints which will fill with water with any rain of consequence. It certainly isn’t a matter of water troughs by any means, but they certainly fit the criteria of excellent producers of mosquitoes.

    Sublette Creek is indeed filled with watercress. It used to be clear water, however. Now it is all broken down by cows. The watercress remains. Maybe you can fill us in on how it got started, both the watercress and the abandonment of efforts to stabilize the stream banks.

    I have never seen the uplands so lush as this year!

    I didn’t see any deer or deer sign. Using the anti-wolf logic, I guess there are none 😉

  23. smalltownID Avatar

    It doesn’t help I am sure with the pock marks in the ground. This is the first summer in probably 18 years that I haven’t been to Sublet so I have not seen the creek this year. However, the summer is not over yet 🙂 You are right in that the creek was always crystal clear regardless of how much cattle got in there. I will have to make a trip it sounds like. My brother is scouting for elk there this week and will tell him to take a look and report back.

    The management for deer has been a tragedy of sorts in Sublet but now there is really good elk hunting there. It was the premier deer hunt in Idaho 10 years ago until the management changed for that unit and before the Lowland Muley’s videos by Steve Alderman that made the Bennett Hills what it is now (2500-3000 people put in for that deer draw hunt of 75 buck tags). The statement about wolves is pretty funny in light of the Idaho State Journal front page today from what I am told.:)

    The history on cattle – I do not know who has them in there or if the allotment has changed over the years. They have been in there every year that I can remember for the last 20 years – some years more than others just like anywhere else depending on the conditions, the numbers, etc.

    Same with watercress, I do not know my aquatic plants very well – you sound like you refer to it as invasive, is it nonnative?

    The state record and maybe world record bull elk by an archer was taken out of Sublet last year so we may see the elk hunting change as well. Sublet is where I shot my first deer when I was twelve years old. I love the place and has become even more of a hidden treasure – hopefully that won’t change with the notoriety of the elk shot last year.

    BTW, a guy I collaborate with shot a wolf last week with his .44 while it was stalking his dog and he was working his cattle. It was so focused on his dog it didn’t even seem to notice the horses, him, or his boy. He didn’t recover it but found the pools of blood where it had laid down. The funny thing was the government trapper (who I also work very closely with) had told him a week prior that the chances of him having an encounter such as this were almost non-existent bc it is so unlikely. We had a good laugh about that. Probably never happen again to him but pretty interesting. The guy has been pretty quiet though and didn’t raise much of an issue about it luckily. At least not yet.

  24. vickif Avatar

    I don’t know about how much a horse contributes to green house gasses. It is a question worth exploring.
    I can say I am quite certain that my horses don’t ever graze on public lands. And I clean their pen daily, and compost the manure.
    It isn’t a black and white issue. You are absolutely correct. I assure you that I don’t claim to be perfect in the matter. I also try very hard not to be a hypocrit. SO I do what I can to be most mindful of the impact I have on things.
    I also don’t say never shoot wolves, all ranchers are jerks, and hunting is bad. But I do say that all things within scientific reason and moderation.
    I will see what I can come up with about horses and their CO2 out put.

  25. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Thanks for your comments. I hoped you knew about the watercress. It isn’t native. It is from Europe or Asia. I read it is regarded as a weed in some places, but I don’t know how it got into Sublette Creek.

    Regarding the wolf that was shot, people underestimate how much wolves focus on dogs. They do tend to be much more interested in dogs than cattle or people.

    Regarding the wolf just spotted near I-86 and Rock Creek that was reported in the Idaho State Journal. This was confusing to me. Is this the Rock Creek in the Deep Creek Range? That isn’t very close to I-86.

  26. vickif Avatar

    I checked into the question you posed about horses and greenhouse gas emissions. I try to keep my word 🙂
    The conclusion: There isn’t much info on it.
    I read several reports which give a breakdown of major greenhouse gas contributions. The worst source was wetland systems, and included human water treatment. The range is vast and varied. But there are so many ways to reduce.
    Dumps are on the list of worst offenders. It really got me thinking, we can reseed forests, use less energy and paper, come up with more energy efficient appliances and cars. But there are far better ways to reduce waste than counting horses and pigs.
    We should, and easily could, pass legislation to regulate the amount of packaging waste usedin manufacturing. Minimize plastics, reduce paper products, madate recycling among businesses, give credits for recycling, etc.
    I have begun distributing a letter to pharmacutical reps that come into our office telling them that we demand the comapnies reduce wasteful packaging. I am giving it about 6 months, then I am going to stop taking samples from the companies, or start requiring the reps to take the waste with them when they leave. Perhaps raising awareness among the reps will make a difference. Perhaps not.
    But I am certain of this, it is better than nothing.
    And, in the interest of trying to be a non-hypocrit here….the research that I did says that one cause of harm from manure is not it’s mere existence, but the fact that it is left to continue to put out gas. I am also learning that the longer fermentation occurs, the more gas is created.

    I did these few things…1)I get grain from a place that has a green plan (they make efforts to do their agricultural business as eco-friendly as they can, like recycling and condensing waste.) 2)I also clean the manure my horses out put and try to plow it quickly….which can help nuetralize some of the gas it puts out, and can be a benefit to the soil. 3)I grow some of their food myself, so it doesn’t require me to travel to get it all. 4) I reuse packaging for grains, etc.

    Until I have more info, that is what I know I CAN do.

  27. vickif Avatar

    p.s. so sorry about the typos…I am car pooling and the minivan is bouncing.


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Ralph Maughan