Fishy Business in the Methow

Here in the Methow Valley on the Eastern side of the Cascades, the rivers run with summer chinook, steelhead, bull trout, and a variety of other threatened fish species dependent on the land health of the surrounding watersheds. The National Forest surrounding the idyllic valley is crowded with stands of Ponderosa pines and Douglas Fir. There are fifteen grazing allotments on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, assigned to various ranchers from the valley below. The historically decimated salmon runs are making strides in restoring their populations, but are hindered by the trampling of redds in the cobbled stream bottoms and the loss of riparian habitat from hungry cattle. When asked about the benefits of cattle grazing on these public forest lands, grazing manager for the Methow John Rohrer answered that the allotments are “helping people make a living, as long as the effects are managed.” Opponents of grazing on public lands argue that the federal grazing fee is negligibly low, effectively acting as one of several federal subsidies to struggling ranchers. Local ranchers and the Forest Service aren’t the only stakeholders either. The Yakima Nation has invested considerable time and money into rehabilitation efforts in drainages like Goat Creek. However, these efforts are undercut by the continued presence of cattle in these areas and their associated negative effects. Ranching livelihoods are a historic and and romanticized way of life in the West. Despite the importance ofcontinuing tradition, we need to examine whether the government, and the land, can still afford it.