Sharing Utah's Springs

photo by Signe LIndquist

photo by Signe LIndquist

Dispatch by Signe Lindquist

From the top of Gentry Mountain on the Wasatch Plateau near Price, Utah, the view of jagged red rock dotted by bushy green sage stretches all the way to Colorado. Though the presence of people and buildings is few and far between, this landscape is overcrowded. An invisible map of allotments - permits to graze livestock- spiderwebs over Gentry Mountain and the surrounding peaks throughout the Manti La Sal National Forest. This is public land open to all, but it is dominated by the cattle and sheep of a small number of ranchers. Many allotments on Gentry Mountain exemplify the visible mark of overgrazing that livestock leave on Utah’s forests. 

Without careful restriction, these animals stomp out native grasses and feed on trees and shrubs such as aspen and willow, which provide habitat for a diverse network of species and hold soil to the side of the mountain. As if global warming isn’t already threatening the Manti La Sal enough with irregular hot/cold and drought/flood weather patterns, cattle are a second force creating stress on the ecosystem. Their most destructive activity of all surrounds the sources of naturally flowing springs. Though several sources are surrounded by fencing in an attempt to protect the springs, the Forest Service struggles to maintain this infrastructure. Cattle are occupying a delicate fountain of life for the mountain, and they are transforming some of the richest environment surrounding spring sources into squelchy cow poop-filled pits little more diverse than feedlots. 

Facing a warming climate, the risks are too high to ignore this issue. Springs are a doubly threatened vital life blood and need all of the protection they can get. Currently in this region, the environment serves as an item to be consumed: for the tourists to explore and for the ranchers to set their cattle free on. The tables are turning though as the climate changes each day: mankind’s best interest is setting the priority on nature, even if this means restricting our own access and letting the environment flow its own course. Springs are a good place to start.