Freighter Spring–Livestock Vandalism On Challis National Forest

Mount Boarh, Idaho’s highest peak rises above the riparian exclosure that is supposed to be ungrazed.  Freighter Spring, Challis National Forest, Idaho. Photo George Wuerthner

I recently spent some time hiking in Central Idaho. At the base of Mount Borah just off the Doublesprings Road, I decided to check out a large riparian enclosure surrounding Freighter Spring.

The area outside of the exclosure is just as heavily grazed as inside. Photo George Wuerthner 

Enclosures are fenced areas intended to protect these critical water influenced areas from destructive livestock grazing.

Unfortunately, as I typically find over and over, livestock grazed the area to golf course height, trampled and compacted the soil, polluted the water, and destroyed the riparian vegetation. This would not be a big deal except it is the “norm”, not the exception, on public lands throughout the West.

Where fence was knocked down allowing access to cattle. Photo George Wuerthner 


In the case of Freighter Spring, someone or perhaps the cattle themselves, knocked down the fence around the spring. This is a common occurrence on public lands where range personnel seldom check on livestock usage or conditions.

Even where there are no exclosures, most allotment management plans have a four inch mimum “stubble height” required at the end of any grazing. But I typically find that this is seldom enforced. Photo George Wuerthner 

The annihilation of Freighter Spring is nothing less than vandalism.

Hedged willow.  Photo George Wuerthner

Water sources like Freighter Spring, and streams, known as riparian areas, are critical to 70-80% of the West’s wildlife. Yet most are seriously damaged by livestock grazing.

Cattle have compacted soil and reduced water inflitration. Photo George Wuerthner 

The tragedy is that I see this kind of vandalism repeatedly and ranchers continue to get away.

This last photo is taken outside of the exclosure to demonstrate how the Challis NF and the livestock owner treats our public lands–again grazing vegetation down to golf course height. There is no hiding cover for birds or mammals. The stream is wide and shallow (which means it heats up) and unsuitable for fish. Cattle hooves compact soils reducing the natural infilitration of water.

Will the Challis National Forest fine the rancher for this damage? Will his grazing privileges (grazing on public lands is not a right) be forfeited? If the Challis NF behaves like most federal agencies, nothing will occur. Such vandalism is simply accepted as “normal” on federal lands.


  1. Honest Abe Avatar
    Honest Abe

    Until we have a REAL SecInt who gives a damn about Our Public Lands instead of deep pocket lobbyists, this destruction will become even more manifested.

    Small farmers and ranchers who actually live on ‘the range’ are selling to Big Ag- Koch Bros etc…

    And they have bought off Congress

  2. Dave Nielsen Avatar
    Dave Nielsen

    Remember, the Magpie is a wild bird!

  3. Craig B Lacy Avatar
    Craig B Lacy

    USFWS should have open season hunting on cows that are trespassing like that.

    1. Martha S Bibb Avatar
      Martha S Bibb

      I really like that idea!

  4. Martha S Bibb Avatar
    Martha S Bibb

    I saw that area earlier this year. It was really cow-bombed.
    A certain political goal is to eliminate the EPA, the Forrest Rangers and the BLM range managers because of course we don’t want “Big Government” interfering with what we do. All water is owned by all people, not just a few cattle corporations.
    I recently read that livestock constitutes 1/4 of the earth’s total biomass. Now that is just really out of balance. Not to mention that Idaho produces 4 million pounds of cow poop a day! Yipes.

  5. Michael Sauber Avatar
    Michael Sauber

    I really like the idea of using the language here. Vandalism. It strikes a chord with everyone and draws them in. We should all start using the term for what is happening. It creates a whole new frame to think of it. Good job George.

  6. Diane Driscoll Avatar
    Diane Driscoll

    Nothing will happen. In fact, the only thing that “might” happen is the FS will pay to put the fence back up while the rancher might get a verbal “warning”. Rancher will do it again, and again, and again….

  7. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
    Jeff Hoffman

    We need to replace our best-government-money-can-buy with an actually representative government. One of the many benefits of doing this would be agencies that actually do their jobs instead of working for industries that harm the land and the life there. The current system is illegitimate and totally corrupt, and things like this are the result.

  8. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    More rancher vandalism:

    And another wolf was shot out in Washington, from the Lookout Pack.

  9. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Here’s the story about the latest wolf killed in Washington. Apparently, if the WDFW won’t step in, they’ll do it themselves:

  10. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    ^^Sorry, the second story is another wolf killing in Oregon. But the mindset is the same, I guess.


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner