Cattle grazing more like cattle gorging

(The following letter was written to Sean Kelly, range conservation manager for the Columbine Ranger District, ad cc’ed to the Telegraph) 

Greetings Sean,

First, welcome to your new Columbine District range conservationist position, and thank you for your public service to our public lands!  I am a Colorado native, and have lived in Hermosa, CO since 2006. I am so very grateful for ALL that our state has to offer in natural beauty and resources, and seek to sustain and conserve what we have. 

On Tuesday morning this week, I hiked up Elbert Creek (from the Needles parking lot) to Castle Rock – this was the first time I had been up that drainage since 2017. (Side note: It was also after I, with three other motorists, put out a road-side fire on 550 at the Rockwood turn-off, and then met the Durango Fire Dept. to confer about the possible causes once they arrived. With that, I was hiking in a heightened, and grateful, mindset.) 

Of course, the dry creek beds and pine beetle presence was expected, BUT I was quite distraught to find the hillside meadows by the two cabins almost completely decimated of wildflowers and bushes, obviously due to ridiculous amounts of cowpies, caused by cattle. 

I can’t use the term “cattle grazing” because what I saw was more like “cattle gorging.” Almost everything was stripped, except for our state flower, the Columbine – which is obvious that cattle do not consume.

I was up this very same trail on June 30, 2017, prior to the 416 Fire (during which our home was evacuated) and had found a lush hillside meadow teeming with healthy, noninvasive vegetation. There were cattle present in 2017, too, but clearly not causing this extensive damage. 

I’m highly concerned that there has been either a breach of the cattle-grazing lease agreement (more cattle than the lease and/or land can handle?) My understanding of biodynamics, even with our unstable climate, is that the natural, native vegetation stabilization is regenerative to our forests and public lands. Whereas, what I saw was “hamburger on the hoof” as highly degenerative in this area.  

I hope you can provide me and our constituents (human, and of the forest) some insight into what is happening in this area. I am happy to support you in conserving and sustaining our natural resources. 

All the best to you!

– Kelly Bowman von Stroh, Durango