Enough cow pies at Kane Lake

Hiker outraged at bovine caused  mess at what is arguably Idaho’s most beautiful alpine lake-

The Pioneers are the second highest mountain range in Idaho. They are of beautiful, hard glaciated rock, carved into giant peaks, spires, lake-filled cirques and waterfalls with wildflower meadows some of the time before the cattle reach them. Livestock grazing practices allowed by the U.S. Forest Service there have always irritated me. It seems that you ought to at least be able to leave the cow pies of stinky cattle behind when you reach timberline, but no, they range right up into the rock.

A nice View on the Kane Lake Trail

A LTE in the Idaho Mountain Express is, finally, causing a controversy. Enough cow pies at Kane Lake.

Maybe others would like to write to Ranger Diane Weaver of the Lost River Range District. Her office also administers most of the highest mountains in Idaho, the Lost River Range, and that area is just as churned up and chewed down as the Pioneers.

Diane Weaver, Lost River District ranger,
Box 507,
Mackay, ID, 83251, or (208) 588-3400.


Update 9/22/2011 I’ve added a map showing the location of the allotment and a place mark for Kane Lake – KC

View Wildhorse.kmz in a larger map


  1. Brian Ertz Avatar

    it is remarkable the level of livestock abuse that occurs on these magnificent public lands on Weaver’s district. Baffling.

  2. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I have hiked to Kane lake three times(5 Miles one way). The last was over twenty five years ago. There were no cows or cow pies at that time. I saw Mountain Goats on the cliffs east of the lake. The trail is very steep and cows would have to be driven up the trail. They would not go up there on their own.
    How long has Diane Weaver been Lost River District Ranger? Hasn’t she been the recipient of the WWP Golden Cow Pie Award in the past?

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Before she became ranger this Forest Service ranger district received the WWP’s Golden Cow Pie Award. When she came things did not change. My perception is that they might be worse now.

  3. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Thinking back, it has been more like 35 years since I last hiked to Kane Lake. There was a very pretty lady, without any clothes on, sitting on a rock in the lake getting a suntan when I arrived at the north shore. We had a short conversation before I went on to photograph some Mountain Goats. I had two cameras hanging around my neck and have always regretted not taking a photo of her.

    1. timz Avatar

      we regret it too

      1. Savebears Avatar

        Where is the “Like” button!


  4. WM Avatar

    Forgive my candor, here, but what the hell are cows doing in a remote dead end cirque shaped alpine valley at 9,200 ft. elevation? Seriously, is there actually an FS grazing allotment that includes this area?

    1. Brian Ertz Avatar


      The name of the allotment is the Wildhorse Allotment.

      Unfortunately, this is not as uncommon as one would hope.

    2. WM Avatar

      Thanks Ken.

      Interesting language in the 2011 Operating Instructions Manual for Wildhorse Allotment:

      ++Cattle SHOULD BE discouraged from using trailhead areas that access high mountain lakes. Cattle WILL BE kept out of the Wildhorse Campground and above.++

      Just thinking outloud, here. Anything to work with there to advance a violation of the allotment/permit (guess maybe you would have to know whose cows went up to Kane or other lakes). Is there enough to order a wording change for the 2012 year, if the allotment goes forward, as is likely?

      Query, even only if “cattle should be discouraged from trailheads,” does that not make a stronger case that they are not intended to actually be ON the trail, or AT the high mountain lakes, from which they are discouraged, especially, if they have to take the long trail, possibly with some wrangler assistance, up there? Is there an intentional act here somewhere that can be leveraged into a violation?

      Who is the legal entity to be held responsible/accountable by the FS, the Wildhorse Grazing Association or the individual permitees?

      1. Ken Cole Avatar

        The Forest Service and BLM don’t use words like “shall”, “will” or “must”.

        Note my comment further down the thread about Kane Lake not even being in the allotment as can be seen on the map I posted.

        There are no other allotments overlapping Kane Lake so livestock are not even permitted there.

        1. WM Avatar


          What, then, are the penalties/deterrents to the violator(s) for what appear to be flagrant acts contrary to and in violation of the terms and conditions of the allotment by one or more permitees – grazing negligently/intentionally signficantly outside the boundaries of the allotment AND their cattle in sensitive areas (peeing/crapping on an apparently restricted trail and alpine lake, while muching. trampling and otherwise destroying sensitive high altitude vegetation)?

          1. Ken Cole Avatar

            Not to be too cynical but the penalties/deterrents generally come in the form of permit renewal with no new restrictions. The permit usually has new water developments and fences to better control the livestock. Rarely are the permittees held accountable for anything. The system sucks that way because the agencies have been completely captured by industry. If the agencies do threaten to hold ranchers accountable then they get a letter or phone call from a politician.

          2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
            Ralph Maughan

            WM and all,

            About 15 years ago, a new district ranger arrived at the Malad Ranger District in SE Idaho (Caribou National Forest).

            He went over the grazing records and looked at all the grazing allotments on the ground. What he saw and read appalled him. He vowed (told us) he was going to reduce AUMs because of chronic violations on a number of grazing allotments.

            In theory and by law he had all the authority he needed to do this, but after about 6 months he showed me (gave me a copy of a letter) signed by Idaho’s two U.S. Senators and the U.S. Representative for the area telling him quite directly to cut them some (a lot of) slack.

            He didn’t. He also didn’t know his secretary (or maybe it was an office clerk) was granddaughter to one of the powerful ranchers.

            She quietly filed a complaint that he has misused something like $60 from the office’s pop machine. He had spent it on supplies or some other technically wrong but hardly nefarious thing.

            He quickly lost his job and the grazing reductions never took place.

            I heard that after a lot of appeals, he got a job back with the Forest Service after about 3 years.

            This is an example how public land laws work (or are avoided) in the West.

            Those “frivolous” lawsuits you hear the politicians complain about are when groups like WWP file them in order to correct plain and obvious violations of grazing regulations. Of course, the plaintiffs usually win because the violation is so fragrant, but enforcement of the law is not what the congressionals want.

        2. SAP Avatar

          Ralph, from what I’ve seen and heard, the violations are far from “fragrant”! 😉

  5. Tom Page Avatar
    Tom Page

    Ralph –

    Regarding your comment on the Lost Rivers being equally chewed on…

    Much of the east side of the Lost Rivers (on the forest at least) has had no stock for the last several years due to the FNAWS deal that is intended to convert sheep AUMs to cattle. Numerous allotments are vacant. Not to say that the cows might not be back in the future, but right now I wouldn’t generalize the Lost Rivers as “churned up and chewed down”. I spent time in August in (among other places) Mahogany Creek, Burnt Creek, Upper Pahsimeroi and the various drainages off Horseheaven Pass Road, and the range is generally in good shape. Doublesprings and a couple other places see substantial livestock use, but they certainly don’t look horrible.

    The FNAWS deal might have something to do with why the bighorn numbers in the Lost Rivers are doing well, too.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Tom Page,

      Of course you are right about the work on a good portion of the east side of the Lost River Mountains

      My negative impressions over 30 or so years sometimes makes me forget that. Last summer (summer 2010), I visited Mahogany Creek, Burnt Creek, Dry Creek, Long Lost Creek, Horse Heaven Pass, and the Upper Pahsimeroi.

      I was very pleased with all but Burnt Creek.

      The Lost Rivers are a world class mountain range, and I appreciate work being done there finally, including your big role in it.

      1. Tom Page Avatar
        Tom Page

        I was in Burnt Creek in August, and there was lots of wildlife in there too, particularly elk.

        FYI – We’re going to fix our trespass problems there for next year…not that it was really egregious trespass like a lot of other places I could show you, but it wasn’t ideal for anyone.

        The one trend that concerns me on the east side of the Lost Rivers is the ORV use from Horseheaven to Upper Pahsimeroi. In that open country, they just go everywhere, and that range isn’t very deep to begin with.

        We actually don’t have any forest leases, just BLM and state, so most of our work is centered on the Pahsimeroi River and the two main tribs – Big Creek and Goldburg Creek, where we have deeded ground along with the leases. Take a walk down Big Creek from the Farm-Market Road Bridge through the BLM next time you go there…it’s enlightening and encouraging to see what might be possible in fifteen years.

        1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

          I was involved in the first Bighorn transplants in the Big Lost River Mountains in 1970. There were no domestic sheep allotments in the Upper Pahsimeroi, Horse Heaven or Mahogany Creek at that time. The domestic sheep allotments were farther downstream toward Ellis. I was hired to pick out transplant sites and avoided putting Bighorns where domestic sheep were permitted.
          The first release of Bighorns was in Christian Gulch in 1969 and in Mahogany Creek in 1970. More Bighorns were released east of Mackay near Elbow Canyon a few years later. At that time there were no livestock being grazed from Pass Creek Canyon to Ramshorn Canyon. That area was designated by the USFS as a wildlife area. Since that time cows have been alowed in the area and some of the ranchers haul water up the dry canyons in the area to get their cows up as high on the mountain as possible.
          The Bighorns died out after the cows were permitted. There just wasn’t much grass left on the winter range. I found a nice Bighorn Skull near Jaggles Canyon about ten years ago and still have it. It had been dead for several years.
          Domestic sheep were allowed back into Dry Creek by the USFS in the 1980s and that spelled the end a what was an expanding Bighorn herd in the Lost River Range.

          1. Tom Page Avatar
            Tom Page

            Thanks for the interesting history of that country, Larry. I find it a fortunate coincidence that converting the domestic sheep permits to cattle happened at the same time as the recent increases in bighorn numbers in the range. Latest USFS estimates have around 350 sheep in the range, with an actual count in winter 2010 of about 260-270, if I remember right. That’s a big jump from 10 years ago…although a part of that is due to an augmentation sometime in between.

            I do not believe there are any domestic sheep on the forest in Dry Creek anymore, but I couldn’t swear to that. They’re definitely not on the BLM there, though. That Dry Creek/upper Burnt Creek country looks about as sheepy as one could want.

            There’s still one sheep permit in the Pahsimeroi, but it’s on the Lemhi side. Another interesting coincidence is how this one remaining permit sits between the two sheep populations in the Lemhi Range…

          2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

            Does anyone know how the bighorn of the nearby Lemhi Range are doing? I used to see them frequently there in the Uncle Ike Creek area, but I haven’t been to that side of the mountain range for about 4 years.

    2. Brian Ertz Avatar


      Here are some photos taken earlier this month of cattle use on the Forest Service Pahsimeroi allotment both sides of Doublesprings Pass road – just south of Carlson Lake.

      Image #1
      Image #2
      Image #3

      Do these photos of critical spring-meadow habitat fulfill the characterization “churned up and chewed down” that you object to for the area ?

      Livestock – including cattle – impact is ubiquitous in the area.

      1. Tom Page Avatar
        Tom Page

        Brian –

        You’ll note in my earlier post that I wrote livestock use on Doublesprings is “substantial”, but doesn’t look horrible (at least to me). The native plant community is intact, ground cover is good, forb production is good, the area sees seasonal big game use, and weeds are minimal.

        My comment also noted that much of the range is not currently grazed, and therefore to generalize the entire range as churned up and chewed down is not correct. I still do not characterize the Lost Rivers as “churned up and chewed down”, and to say such conditions are “ubiquitous” is a huge exaggeration. I’ll repeat here that many allotments, making up hundreds of thousands of acres, in the Lost Rivers are currently vacant, and have seen no stock use for five years or more. Do you disagree? Any time you wish to hike with me on these vacant allotments and show me how they are “churned up and chewed down” and that such conditions are “ubiquitous” across the range…well you know where to find me.

        Someone needs to do a random photo experiment across allotments to get a true nature of use…otherwise it seems that the really bad spots (which certainly do exist and are not acceptable) are always the ones that are cherrypicked and end up online, distorting the overall ecological picture. Which, in the case of the Lost Rivers, is pretty darn good even with stock use in some places.

        In case you’re wondering, the Doublesprings cows are not ours.

        Ralph – Apparently the Lemhis have a stable herd of about 100 bighorns, split into two herds. One herd of about 40 uses the area around Patterson Creek, while the other is several miles to the south in the Diamond Peak area. The big hole in between corresponds with the location of the last remaining domestic sheep permit in the valley. This is what the USFS biologist told me last year.

        1. Tom Page Avatar
          Tom Page

          Since there’s no edit function, I need to clarify something in my last paragraph so I don’t get someone in trouble for something they didn’t say…

          The USFS guy only told me about the two herds – we didn’t talk about any BLM sheep permit. But, I know the area covered by that last sheep permit, and it’s right in between the two existing herds.

        2. Larry Thorngren Avatar

          There is a herd of Bighorns that use Kronk’s Canyon where the Lemhi Range intersects with the Main Salmon River.
          I haven’t been there for several years, so I have no idea how many Bighorns still use the area. I think it is more of a winter range, but I have seen Bighorns right off of the road there in the summer. They swim the river to access the other side.
          I think all of the Forest Service land in the Pahsimeroi drainage is in the May Ranger District, not the Lost River District.

          1. Tom Page Avatar
            Tom Page

            The district with the Pahsimeroi drainages is now called the Yankee Fork district (on the Salmon-Challis forest), but some forest allotments cross district boundaries and are co-managed with the Lost River district.

  6. WM Avatar


    It doesn’t seem like writing the district ranger as stated suggested would do much on this, with the history described.

    Alternatively, a letter from WWP (maybe co-signed by an influential individual or two from Ketchum), or individuals, describing the location and history of Kane Lak, accompanied by a nice graphic, like an 8×10 glossy aereial photo from the Google Earth archives with a few red lines circling high impact spots, might have some impact. An especially good question might be – how can you possibly allow this livestock grazing and subsequent degradation in a fragile, high human use, alpine lake?

    Who to send it to? Harris Sherman Undersecretary of Forest and Environment overseeing USDA, FS, for the Obama Admin. Harris really understands this stuff, and I would be inclined to believe his staff might actually do something to get the ball rolling, on a discrete site specific problem with maybe has an easy solution, not requiring a broad policy change (a slightly different political issue).

    A cc to Tom Tidwell, Chief of the FS as well as the Regional and Forest Supervisors, just to close the loop, might be in order. Let this dweeb district ranger find out the hard way, when she gets the call from somebody higher up the food chain.

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      What we’ve been saying all along with regard to public lands livestock grazing is that it is lawless. You can write all of the letters you want, file all of the administrative appeals, file litigation, etc. and still, nothing changes.

      It’s virtually impossible to get them to follow the law and hold anyone accountable.

      Today I’m reviewing a permit from Nevada that had to be reissued because of litigation that we won. The new proposed decision is to expand the season of use to give the permittees more “flexibility”. The number of AUM’s is identical.

      There is mention that some concerns were raised in the internal scoping process. It says:

      “An ID Team meeting was held on February 10, 2011 to finalize the draft SDD and further discuss preliminary issues and development of alternatives for this EA

      Concerns were expressed that the proposed action and/or alternatives many have impacts on special status species habitat, riparian areas, and rangeland health.”

      Yet they didn’t change a damned thing other than to expand the season of use.

      In another example, I went to the Quinn/Grant range in central Nevada last month and we found cattle grazing in a closed allotment. The USFS issued a “temporary permit” in the allotment without doing any of the required NEPA analysis. When we pointed this, and other things, out to the District Ranger he replied “If you don’t want livestock grazing then change the law.”

      What the hell good will that do if the agencies don’t follow the law in the first place? It’s just a response that they use to abdicate their responsibility of doing good land management and holding anyone accountable. It is pervasive through the entire system, a system which is impervious to change.

  7. Ken Cole Avatar

    I’ve updated the post with a map of the allotment. It looks like cattle are not even supposed to be there as there is no approved grazing there at all.

  8. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan
  9. Nancy Avatar

    Lets do the math here – say just 500 head of cattle are loose on an allotment (public lands) The average amount of excrement, which weighs in at about 70+ lbs. per animal, per day, less of course for calves, who make up half of the cow/calf $1.35 a month cost to graze public lands. Although if you’ve had the chance to examine calf excrement, its tight has some form to it, similar to horse manure, totally unlike mature cow pies (excrement) which hit the ground and spread out, hence the name cow pies.

    So just 500 cows, times 70 lbs. – equals roughly 35,000 lbs? of s–t dumped on public lands every day, day in and day out for months, depending on the stay in an allotment.

    I’ve kicked over some old cow pies on my property (from cows that have taken advantage of their owners ” open range” mentality so prevalent out here) and I noticed that little if anything, grows up from underneath those “pies” so gotta ask what are those huge “deposits”, on millions of acres, doing to the land?

    I ask that because I got an education this past spring on brushing one’s fields (as in ranchers) The hay on their property needs to grow in order to feed their cows come winter and it can’t grow on their land with all the excrement (cow pies) from the previous winter’s feedings, which are spread out all across their fields, so they brush the pastures to spread out that excrement.

    Meanwhile, many cows are moved to public lands to allow the hay fields to grow. They eat, destroy natural habitat, streambeds etc. that wildlife might just have to depend on and at the same time, deposit tons of s–t elsewhere for a few months and no one seems to be able to question or get anywhere often, with that kind of “how we done it for years” logic.

    I’ve heard ranchers have to keep up fencelines in their allotments but I only have to look around now and see cattle coming down out of those allotments (forests) into other areas like roadways because the temps have gotten colder…… they know what winter feels like and know when to come home.


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