Rancher Vandalism on the Dixie National Forest Utah


The nearly complete annihilation of vegetation by livestock vandelism seen here should result in the termination of any grazing privileges. Photo George Wuerthner 

I recently spent a few days on the Dixie National Forest in southern Utah. One of the defining characteristics of the forest is that nearly all the acreage that is not a cliff or inaccessible canyon is used for cattle grazing. And without exception, almost all allotments are overgrazed and abused. Nearly all the allotments I visited were grazed down to golf course height or even bare dirt.

What I saw is essentially legalized vandalism. For example, if I were to tear down a Forest Service sign, I could be fined or perhaps even arrested, but you can easily replace a sign. This ecological damage is much more severe and long-lasting, yet the Forest Service does nothing to preclude it.

Lest anyone think I just picked out one particularly badly abused area, here is another shot showing the near absence of vegetation. Photo George Wuerthner

 Incredibly, the “range cons” who are supposed to monitor and manage the livestock grazing here can somehow look at themselves in the mirror in the morning and still accept taxpayer-supported salaries while allowing this vandalism to occur.

Why is such abusive grazing terrible for the public? To start with, when the grass is cropped to one inch or less height, there is no hiding cover for small rodents, ground-nesting birds, and other wildlife.

This is an enclosure where cattle grazing is excluded. It is located at over 9,000 feet on Boulder Mountain. Note that the area outside of the fence is grazed to golf ball putting green height. At this elevation and moisture regime, grass and shrubs should be a foot tall  or more as seen inside the exclosure. Photo George Wuerthner 

Such heavy grazing also leaves little forage for other native herbivores, from ground squirrels to elk.

Short grass exposes the soil to more evapotranspiration and enhances desertification, which is already the dominant feature of this part of Utah.

The loss of hiding cover, forage for native herbivores, and the soil erosion that occurs with the loss of vegetative cover are all examples of legalized vandalism. Photo George Wuerthner

Cattle grazing compacts the soil, reducing water infiltration, leading to rapid runoff from summer thunderstorms, contributing to the arroyo cutting prevalent throughout the forest.

There is widespread trampling by livestock of biocrusts that cap much of the soil in southern Utah. Loss of biocrusts increases wind and water erosion.

Nearly all the riparian areas were almost stripped of vegetation, while banks were trampled and broken. This loss of streamside vegetation is particularly deleterious in an arid land since 70-80% of the wildlife depends on these green lines of vegetation along streams.

It is difficult to convey the extent of the vandalism in a single photo. But almost every meadow on Boulder Mountain looked like a putting green as a consequence of heavy livestock grazing. Photo George Wuerthner

 The ranchers responsible for this vandalism should be fined and certainly should lose their grazing privileges.



  1. rastadoggie Avatar

    Yup, Utah’s a shitty state. Grazing and logging destruction and the OHV criminals in sublime places like Torrey will break your heart. Where are the conservationists? What the hell can be done?

  2. Kirk Robinson Avatar
    Kirk Robinson

    Having visited the area numerous times over the last 35 years, I have seen the vandalism with my own eyes. It is no place for cows or sheep.

  3. Maggie Frazier Avatar
    Maggie Frazier

    It appears the Forest Service employees were educated at the same place the BLM is! Its shameful. To think on top of all this damage & destruction, WE are the ones paying them their salaries! Not that that is the worst – the absolute devastation of wildlife habitat rates there.

  4. Susan Misgen Avatar
    Susan Misgen

    The grazing version of clear cutting. I saw severe overgrazing on state land in eastern Montana in late October. There were so much cow shit that you couldn’t walk two steps without dodging a pile. It even smells on a grassland.

  5. Susan Misgen Avatar
    Susan Misgen

    Sorry, there was so much cow shit (not were). Bad editing.

  6. Martha S Bibb Avatar
    Martha S Bibb

    Livestock devastation of the west is going on in every state. Ranchers sit on state legislatures and on federal committees and pass regulations that enhance their financial wealth. The myth that ranchers are “guardians” of the land is perpetrated by those same cattle and sheep ranchers. This is a Koch-like game plan, just like what was used by the tobacco companies and by the drug companies.
    There are few who will go public to expose the wasting of the west.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      You are mostly right, Martha, but I disagree that there are few who will go public to expose the wasting of the west.

      It is easy to get letters, posts, videos made, and books published, condemning the continual rancher destruction of the West.

      The problem is they do not penetrate the mass media and stupid deference western elites give to this economically unimportant sector.

  7. cynthia brown Avatar

    this should be stoped catle moved and land left to revise
    the grass and other veation for wildlife. Ranchers should have to be fine and made to reseed the grass and other cover and reconstruct banks on the streans

  8. cynthia brown Avatar


  9. Chris Zinda Avatar
    Chris Zinda

    Any crack down will receive the Bundy treatment from Pollock and Perkins.

    Like Cliven’s cattle that remain, so will these ranchers & practices – unabated, uncharged, unchanged.

    It’s what you get with mealy, professional, conservationists who wreckreate while the Sagebrush Rebs vocationally mobilize and act. For 20+ years I’ve watched GW complain, for 40+ the entire “conservation” movement.

    Frankly, rangeland and political conditions make it clear to this observer that there is no preservation sidebar to shift the current median left, preservation a moral standard whereas conservation ethical.

    That any of you refer to yourselves as conservationist IMV makes you complicit – especially GW.

    (BTW: Worked at Cap Reef & on GMP during Burr Trail days)

    1. Chris Zinda Avatar
      Chris Zinda

      For fun.

      Home on-a denuded range
      Where the deer and antelope don’t play
      Where seldom is heard an encouraging word
      And the skies are dusty all day.

      The red man was pressed from this part of the west
      It’s not likely he’ll ever return
      To their ancestral homes, genocided their bones
      Death campfire eyes that still burn.

      Home on-a denuded range
      Where the deer and antelope don’t play
      Where always is heard a prophetical word
      Gentiles rubes who will pay for it some day.

      How often at night when the heavens are bright
      Mormons see the White Horse in the stars
      Cowboys lay there amazed and ask as they gaze
      If their glory exceeds that of God.

      Home on-a denuded range
      Where the deer and antelope don’t play
      Where seldom is heard an encouraging word
      And the skies are hellish all day.

      1. Beeline Avatar

        Cool poem Zinda. I think the terms conservation and preservation may be past tense. Huge corporations, some of which that have more capital resources than many small countries are planning to buy up and control “ecosystem services”. See “Wall Streets Latest Scheme is Monetizing Nature Itself” over at scheerpost.com.

        The feudal lords of the economy are going to try and control the planet while our illustrious government can’t even kick bad ranchers off public lands.

        Maybe the end times scenario is real after all.

        1. Chris Zinda Avatar
          Chris Zinda

          I think you’re right.

          There’s nothing left to preserve, only a Garden for corporations (including enviro 501(3)cs) and their “Gods” to use/tend, anything “wild,” any wilderness, is long gone.

        2. Ida Lupine Avatar
          Ida Lupine

          Just an awful thought.

          And to think we are being told that ranchers are some of the best land conservationists we have by the current administration!

          It’s extremely disappointing.

    2. Steve Avatar

      While I appreciate your self-diagnosed dedication to environmentalism, CZ, just what -the hell- have you yourself done that warrants your spew in regards to George Wuerthner, along with everyone else aside but your oh-so-righteous and embittered self? After all. You’re. Just. A. Writer. Oh, you ‘worked’ on the Burr ‘Trail’ -in the late 70s/early 80s- the biggest non-issue southern Utah environmentalists ever wallowed, and continue to wallow, in. Wake me up when you, yourself, assemble an indictment of the livestock industry as meticulously detailed as Wuerthner’s 350-page opus “Welfare Ranching.” I understand the disillusionment, but your unproductive, whiney schtick is getting very old.

      1. Chris Zinda Avatar
        Chris Zinda

        Actually, I’m just a Homemaker. No writer.

        Certainly not a conservationist, wreckreationist or environmentalist.

        In a former life, I was a bureaucrat – at places like Cap Reef, then living in Teasdale. Worked on the GMP that codified a bunch of crapola – including carrying capacities that GW and others (Nikkas, SUWA) never took the opportunity to litigate.

        I used to see GW as a hero. We have a history..

        Today, he’s a broken conservation record.

        You, Steve? What do you do?

        1. Chris Zinda Avatar
          Chris Zinda


          A profiting wreckreationist.

          I know. You make money selling public lands like Wolke, against capacities for humans but totally for them for cattle.

          Like Wolke.

          Your shtick is far worse than mine, bro.

          1. Chris Zinda Avatar
            Chris Zinda

            Just sent to a friend, with a link to this page.


            So, there’s the entire BS in a nutshell. Torrey House, WWP, wreckreation and wild horses.

            Complaining about ranchers.

            They all suck, bro.

            None of them – of course including ranchers – are interested in any carrying capacities for humans at all. It’s why nobody ever litigated Cap Reef carrying capacity GMP mandate. I mean, ONLY we bureaucrats at the time at Cap Reef were for it.

            How about them eggs? A case where bureaucrats were far ahead of enviros! Not beholden to / captured by industry! Acting lawfully and in spirit with science!

  10. Skyler Avatar

    More likely than be fined, the ranchers will be rewarded with more government bail outs and even more land to destroy. The ranchers of Point Reyes were rewarded after being found guilty of 50 years of vandalism.

    1. julie long gallegos Avatar
      julie long gallegos

      California’s eternal shame.

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Setting aside the Republicans, something I should not do since I’ve never seen such a morally bankrupt group of politicians anywhere else, the force that allowed Point Reyes ranching to continue on and on was Senator Diane Feinstein and U.S. House Representative, Jared Huffman.

      1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
        Maggie Frazier

        Yup – both Democrats who should be ashamed for allowing & promoting this destruction.

  11. Lisa G LeBlanc Avatar
    Lisa G LeBlanc

    You have to consider -really – how often either BLM or Forest Service actually visit these sites.
    Undermanned and lacking ambition because they get paid (taxpayer-funded, of course) either way, there’s really no incentive to be good at their jobs or accurate in their assessments.
    I read an article in the Salt Lake Tribune a few years ago, regarding threats to BLM rangers out in the field. One ranger cited was responsible for overseeing a million acres of grazing allotment for trespass grazing and range health. You have to try to imagine 1 man vs. 1M acres of open range.
    A few years ago, a BLM Nevada field office manager tried to curtail grazing on an overburdened allotment. The people of the town he lived in turned on him with an ‘impeachment’ campaign. His children were bullied in school; threats were made on the lives of his pets, then him. His decision was overturned by the head of BLM Nevada, who threw him under the bus. So even if there were decisions that attempted to help this area recover, they would likely suffer a similar campaign.
    In my opinion, BLM & Forest Service employ through grandfathering and nepotism so the long, unbroken lines of favoring allotment holders over range health or wildlife can continue until those areas are incapable of sustaining anything.
    I guess then, they’ll move on to these exclosures.

    1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
      Maggie Frazier

      I remember the Nevada “incident”. Laura Leigh (WHE) got threatened during that mess, and I dont know what ever happened to the BLM manager who tried to do what should have been done at that time. Sort of sounds like a pre-curser to the stunts that are happening now!

  12. Cowboy Avatar

    I was raised on a ranch and you people know nothing about ranching the grass grows back naturally . and no cows means no food !! Remember if you can’t grow it you have to mine it !! Wake up progressive people !!

    1. Tj Avatar

      You don’t know anything about anything for you to come on here and accuse someone for not knowing anything about ranching. First of all know the grass does not grow back naturally after cattle graze. It cannot grow back naturally unless grass seed get distributed from the wind. Just like your comment being nothing but wind. I will await your feeble reply which will probably contain some kind of real imbecilic reasoning for the purpose of all good that cattle provide for the ranges. Ready, Set, Go!

    2. Hiker Avatar

      Correction: No cows means no BEEF. I hope you eat more than just beef!
      Also your comment about growing or mining is very limiting. What about hunting or fishing? In fact I would guess that hunting would improve drastically if the cows weren’t eating all the grass that deer, elk, and bison would like to eat.
      Wake up yourself.

    3. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      This kind of statement might impress a few people on more general purpose web sites, publications, and the like, but not here.

      Yes, grass grows back naturally where it has not been badly disturbed (there are many kinds of this). Livestock grazing worldwide is one of the most damaging things to grass. In many places grass grows no more where once there was ample grass.

      People on this web site usually have lots of experience with ranching — direct, outdoor, experience.

  13. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    I wonder if we can expect any change with the new BLM director?

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Probably, but she is going to be savagely attacked by all the old BLM interests. How much power will she have without cooperation of underlings? Are there any groups helping her to do this? I don’t mean ones who complain at her, but someone who can and will say, “appoint this person” and sandbag” this one?”

  14. Tj Avatar

    It’s astonishing how cattle ranchers blame wild horse herds for overgrazing the prairies and ranges.
    Not only do free-ranging cattle graze and destroy rangeland grasses unlike the horses cattle counter-reproductive for regrowth of safety grasses due to the way they eat.Cattle tear up the grasses and legumes from the roots leaving nothing left to regrow. After grazing several hundred cattle the area is nonlongrr viable unless someone replants what was lost, and that won’t be the Ranchers or the Bureau of Land Management(BLM).
    After grasses pass through the cattles digestive tract everything is turned into cow patties with no chance of redistribution.
    Unlike horses, they do not eat the grass,root and all. Horses eat the tops leaving the roots. By the way horses eat the tops of the grass and leaving the roots it helps inhibit range fires and allows vital regrowth.
    Ranchers have been in bed with the Bureau of Land Management and it’s time that the reigns are pulled in on them rather than on the wild horses.

    1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
      Maggie Frazier

      Sadly, saw an actual UTube video of a “rancher” showing how cattle do such a wonderful job in DESERT areas tramping down the soil – eating the larger grasses “which lets other plants grow”? Dont have the exact wording – couldnt sit & watch any more of it. Have heard various parties try to argue the exact opposite of how a horse grazes & how a cow does! Have these people EVER actually physically SEEN a cow or horse? And really, cow patties vs horse manure? BE REAL!

      1. Tj Avatar

        I’ve been involved with Wild Horses for over 35 years and I think that qualifies me just a bit to make the statements that I do.
        Every statement that I make regarding wild horses are my experiences and I personally witness how ungulares Gray’s how cattle graze in hell horses graze.I have studied in great detail how cattle are far more destructive to rangelands due to over-grazing, specially damaging to to the watering holes that they contaminate. When wild horses graze they do as such and move on and the same goes for when they drink from the same watering holes. And please don’t give me that same old excuse, I better not eat beef if I feel this way. Personally, ranchers and their cattle have on the rangelands for well over 50 years and because the Bureau of Land Management is in their pockets there never will be any reprieve for wild horses. I realize that this article is not about wild horses versus cattle but to read how cattle have decimated rangelands just reminds me of the argument regarding these two species that are in competition for the rangelands. And that’s not to mention the wildlife that also depends on a healthy ecosystem that cattle destroy.

        1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
          Maggie Frazier

          The Wild Horses have always been blamed for the devastation cattle & sheep do. So whenever grazing comes up for discussion – the horses get blamed – rounded up & warehoused. And the wildlife suffers for it as do the horses.


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George Wuerthner