Spring Conditions in the National Forest

photo by Grace Butler

photo by Grace Butler

Dispatch by Willa Johnson

Across the Manti-La Sal National Forest there are dozens of springs that do not fit the typical pristine image of a lush green spring. Springs are spots in the land where water seeps, trickles, or rushes out of the ground straight from ground water. Springs are an essential habitat because they are often the only source of water for miles and they form riparian areas below the source that support diverse groups of flora and fauna. 

Virtually all of the allotments across the forest are grazed which heavily impacts the spring conditions. Cows, more so than other ungulates, like to spend their time in damp areas like springs. As a result, most of the unfenced springs are heavily trampled around the source and down the spring bed. Hummocking, where cows’ hoof prints leave deep holes in a wet area, is also a major issue across these springs. The grass is crushed down in pockets damaging plant life and permanently changing small scale topography. On the other hand, springs such as Lower Pinhook Spring that is fenced has less disturbance and more native plants immediately surrounding the spring. Some other springs are fenced off but the fences are in dire need to repair because they do not keep cattle out. At one spring a rusty barbed wire is completely crushed into the mud only a few feet from the source.

At a number of the springs surveyed the water is diverted from the spring source into a pipe caring the water to a nearby trough for cattle. At Spring 243 on Gentry Mountain the source itself is completely dried up and a pipe ran from it however there is no water flowing out of the pipe into the cattle trough. This lack of water flow could be a result of too much water being taken out of the stream for cattle. Another possible cause is a nearby coal mine that drains groundwater to use in their operations. As the Southwest becomes even drier as a result of global warming in the coming decades springs will become an even more essential source of water for wildlife especially. 

It is critical that the problematic state of some of these springs is addressed when considering the future of the Manti-La Sal National Forest. Each national forest has a forest plan, an extensive document that records the missions, priorities and policies of the National forest. Forest plans are meant to be updated regularly The Manti-La Sal Forest plan was last updated in 1986, making it 30 years out of date. In the next 5 years these forest plans will be updated to adapt to more modern scientific information about forests and hopefully to take into account information about the health and conditions of the springs.