An Intro to the Mogollon
From Payson, AZ, travel East on the 260 for about 30 minutes and you will find yourself at the base of the majestic Mogollon Rim. A massive, soaring escarpment spanning over 200 miles, beginning in Northern Yavapai County and running eastward through Northern Arizona before finally ending near the border of New Mexico. This section of the Colorado Plateau proudly projects itself over 2000 feet above the undulating geography of canyons, ravines and streams which lay at its feet. Reaching southward for miles and miles, these lands are blanketed by a dense and wild ponderosa pine forest and are home to a myriad of beautiful and untamed flora and fauna.
These forests claim impressive numbers of elk, deer, turkey and javelina as well as populations of the predators that hunt them; mountain lion, black bear and coyote. Predatory birds such as the golden eagle can be seen riding the ever-present currents curated by this geological behemoth.
For roughly the last 40 years, on a 24,500 acre patch of land directly under the Rim, fish and wildlife have thrived and recreational opportunities abound since the Forest Service put the Bar X Ranch under intensive management and reduced the number of cattle it could graze from an unsustainable 468 head year long, to the current 130 head year long. However, this may not last.
A History of Bar X Grazing Under the Rim
The Bar X is a ten acre ranch situated North of Young that has had many owners and is near the area of the Pleasant Valley Wars, which, in the 1800s, pitted cattlemen against sheepherders for the limited forage resources that exist in the area. The Bar X has had access to thousands of acres of Forest Service lands to graze cattle. The Forest Service’s own records document that the Bar X had been stocked above estimated grazing capacity as far back as District records were kept (See Range Allotment Analysis - pg. 32 par. 8) . In 1979 the Forest Service concluded after an extensive range analysis and Environmental Assessment (EA), that a "prolonged history of overstocking and unsatisfactory management [had] depleted the range resource to a very critical level," (See Environmental Analysis Report - pg. (3), par. 5) and put the Bar X ranch under intensive management, reducing the herd size from 468 Cattle Year Long (CYL) to 59 CYL, and excluding further grazing in the Turkey/Colcord pasture that now surrounds the communities of Colcord and Ponderosa Springs.
The 1979 decision to exclude grazing was made based on data collected from a range analysis conducted on the Bar X from 1975 through 1978 and published in the 1978 Bar X Range Analysis and Bar X Soils Report that portrayed "a resource steadily deteriorating as a direct result of severe overstocking and poor management." The EA found the history of overuse of grass and browse on the Bar X had severely damaged habitat for wildlife resource.
Other significant findings by the Forest Service contained in the 1978 Range Analysis and 1979 EA were (quoted or paraphrased):
a) The Ponderosa Pine type has been depleted severely by overgrazing;
b) Chaparral zones are grazed excessively;
c) Riparian areas are severely denuded by grazing, including Colcord Canyon, Naegelin Canyon, Cherry Creek, Haigler Creek, and Pine Creek;
d) Extreme overuse of grass and browse on the Bar X . . . has severely damaged wildlife resource;
e) Of the three primary needs of all wildlife species . . . food and cover have been the most severely damaged [by overgrazing] . . . which has reduced the capability of the land to support viable populations of wildlife species that one would expect to find;
f) The fishery along Haigler Creek is damaged because of extreme livestock utilization of riparian vegetation and siltation resulting from upstream erosion. . . .Desirable insects for trout such as mayflies are quite scarce. Heavy silt deposition in the stream bed is detrimental to the spawning requirement of trout. Extreme utilization has resulted in extensive resource damage. Haigler Creek has been severely denuded by grazing;
g) Excessive grazing by livestock eliminated cool season grass species in the woodland zone;
h) Current Bar X conditions are a result of the excessive abuse and mismanagement of the grazing resources;
i) A prolonged history of overstocking and unsatisfactory management has depleted the range resource to a very critical point. Nearly all desirable cool season grasses such as bottle brush, squirrel tail, mutton grass, and western wheatgrass have been eliminated from the plant community. The Pine type is severely depleted of all vegetative ground-cover;
j) Watershed conditions are quite deteriorated throughout the woodland zone. . . with many dry denuded riparian areas that were at one time dotted with springs;
k) The excessive utilization of grass by livestock has resulted in a loss of plant vigor and grass plant die-off. Effective ground-cover is currently less than the amount required to protect the soil due to overuse by cattle. . . .The lack of vegetative cover allows a large percentage of precipitation to runoff rather than percolate into the soil;
l) Under current management and stocking, effective ground-cover has been reduced sufficiently to allow soil loss in excess of 5 tons per acre. This erosive condition is quite extensive and is found throughout the Bar X with few exceptions. Excessive soil loss occurs on 97% of the land in the Bar X;
m) Wildlife habitat has been damaged significantly by the removal of herbaceous plant cover and often by direct livestock/wildlife competition for food. The decrease in forage production induced by continuous overgrazing has greatly reduced the required cover for viable populations of game and non-game species of wildlife;
n) Extreme overuse of grass and browse on the Bar X . . . has severely damaged the wildlife resource;
o) Deer and cattle are in direct competition for browse, this is especially evident in the Pine type;
p) “Much of the Pine type is delineated as no capacity because of steep slopes (40% +) in conjunction with a lack of forage.”
q) In the “Pine type” . . . “Needle cast is 2 inches deep with herbaceous forge nearly absent”; and
r) The vegetative resource of the Bar X is depleted drastically in terms of forage production, plant density, desirable species composition and diversity. Historic overstocking, as well as current overstocking, have induced plant community retrogression.
The Forest Service noted: “the continuation of present management and overgrazing will, over a short period of time, irretrievably destroy the range resource due to excessive plant and soil loss.” (See 1979 Environmental Analysis Report - pg. 22, par. 8) They set long-term goals for the Bar-X for reversing the downward trend of the range condition, improving and enhancing wildlife habitat, improving aquatic habitat along perennial streams, improving deteriorated watershed conditions, and improving soil condition by controlling soil erosion.
The wildlife management biologist for the Tonto concluded in his Wildlife Habitat Analysis conducted over 4 years and authored in 1978 that chief cause for the decline in wildlife habitat was overgrazing by BarX cattle. Don't take our word for it, see the Document section. (Wildlife Habitat Analysis (WHA at p. 1). And that was based upon 468 cattle year long not including calfs. The Research Chief for the Arizona Game and Fish commented that it was hard to find any spot on the allotment that was not overgrazed and he failed to find any evidence of use by deer and elk. (WHA at p. 52).
The goals of restoring the land were slowly achieved through the closing of the above-mentioned pastures and the drastic reduction of cattle allowed year-round in those which remained open from 468 head year-long (not including calves) to 59 head year-long (not including calves).
In the 1981-1985 Management Plan signed by Forest Supervisor James L. Kimball on January 13, 1982, he excluded grazing in the Colcord and Turkey Peak Allotments (See BarX Management Plan 1981-1985 - pg.1, par. 4-5), but in an Addendum he stated: "should future evaluations determine that the Colcord Allotment and Turkey Peak Unit of the Haigler Creek Allotment have recovered and can support domestic livestock on a sustained yield basis" the Forest Service would give "you or your successors... priority for use of the available capacity." (emphasis added).
An Environmental Assessment conducted about five years later in 1985 evidenced improved range conditions on the Bar X due to the decreased cattle use and intensive management. The Forest Service noted the wildlife habitat “has improved greatly . . . Probably the greatest evidence supporting this statement is the renewed presence of elk below the Naegelin Rim, historically an elk winter range." They also stated that the abundance of turkey has increased throughout the allotment and riparian areas have responded favorably to improved management. (See 1985 BarX Environmental Assessment - pg. 5, par. 1)
It is important to note that during the same year as the EA, the Forest Service completed the Tonto National Forest Plan which has been amended a few times but is still the governing Forest Plan. The Plan contains goals, objectives, standards and guidelines that provide management direction for various resources and uses of the forest. The three main resource objectives in the area of the closed pasture (Colcord) that the Tonto is to be managed for are timber production, creation of wildlife habitat diversity with increased populations of emphasis harvest species, and recreation opportunities. (See Tonto Plan at pg. 151) all of which were proven to have been harmed greatly due to overgrazing in the past by the Bar X Ranch.
Direction for this area is to manage “suitable rangelands” at “Level D,” and improve grazing management for rangeland in less than satisfactory condition. “Suitable range” is defined as “range accessible to livestock or wildlife, and that can be grazed on a sustained yield basis without damage to other resources.” Managing at “Level D” means “management seeks to optimize production and utilization of forage allocated for livestock use consistent with maintaining the environment and providing the multiple use of the range.” For suitable rangelands, the Forest Plan calls for the Forest Service to evaluate “grazing capacity” for allotments through production/utilization surveys. “Grazing capacity” is the “maximum number of animals that can graze an area without damage to the vegetation or related resources.” The Forest Service could not permit grazing in this area unless it determined in future evaluations that the area had recovered and is capable of supporting livestock grazing on a sustained yield basis.
Over the years since 1979 and up until 2007 this plan was adhered to and the resources flourished. The lands have recovered tremendously and are enjoyed by photographers, recreationists, fishermen and hunters. Unit 23, in which the Bar X allotment sits, had become a premier hunting unit due to the return of elk and deer as well as other species of game that now flourish due to the reduction and, in some areas, exclusion of cattle. Revenue from the permits, license fees, hunting and fishing supplies unquestionably benefit the State. Local communities like Payson, Star Valley and Heber certainly benefit from the influx of all these recreationists who eat at their restaurants, sleep in their hotels, purchase gas and other supplies, and visit their shops. Since the new Allotment Management Plan was instituted in 1985, various individuals or entities had permits to graze the Bar X, and did so while adhering to the Allotment Management Plan and permitted amount of 130 head of cattle.
So, what is the Issue?
The Forest Service will be reponing the Colcord pasture which includes Haigler Creek to grazing for the first time since 1979. This is an area of approximately 10,000 acres in the pine forest directly under the Rim that includes the communities of Colcord Estates, Ponderosa Springs, and Ponderosa Springs Estates. And it is allowing the BarX LLC to graze even more cattle than what the Forest Service documented in the 1970s devastated the resources.
This has happened because in 2006/2007 the Bar X was purchased by the current permittee, the Bar X, LLC, which has sought to increase the number of cattle it grazes from the 130 it was originally permitted for to even more than the 1970 numbers which the Forest Services documented had destroyed the forest’s resources.
The Forest Service has recently completed its Environmental Assessment (EA) and FONSI and the old saying "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it" comes to mind. While the EA cites studies from nearly 100 years ago, glaringly absent is any mention of the prior “thorough on the ground investigation” that was conducted by Forest Service scientists in the 1970s on the very land they are now wanting to graze in numbers greater than before. The Forest Service will now reopen all previously closed pastures and permit hundreds of head of cattle-year-round on those lands to compete with the wildlife and degrade Haigler creek, areas that have been closed for 40 years which are enjoyed by hunters, fishermen, campers and others seeking recreational opportunities.
It is a significant concern that the EA does not cite any of the previous Forest Service studies from the 1970s which demonstrated that 468 cattle year-long had severely degraded the Forest resources and led to the reduction of numbers of cattle as well as the closure of Colcord pasture. It should also be noted that forage production can change over time, altering the capability and capacity of an area to support livestock. The Forest Service acknowledged winter and spring moisture are very important in the physiological development of cool season grasses in the Bar X allotments. The 1979 EA precipitation statistics between 1971 and 1977 show the average annual precipitation was 20.75 inches. In contrast, the average annual precipitation from 2011 to 2017 for the same area is 13.17 inches, over 7 inches less than that recorded in the 1970s. Reduction in precipitation reduces forage production, which in turn reduces the capability of the area to support livestock grazing, and risks driving out wildlife as they compete with cattle for the limited resources. (See 1978 BarX Range Allotment Analyses - pg. (4), par.5) The Forest Service acknowledged in its PEA that "the extent of riparian vegetation has been reduced from historic conditions. (pg.16).
The impacts of cattle on streams and vegetation are even greater now than in the 1970s due to climate change and drought, so the carrying capacity of the land for grazing is likely even less now, yet the Forest Service is attempting to put in an even greater amount of cattle. Arizona has been in a long-term drought - it was just last year that the Forest Service took the unprecedented action of closing the Tonto Forest from May through July due to drought. The Forest Service acknowledges in its PEA that the streams in this area are “at risk,” with Haigler and Cherry creek having an E. coli exceedance (pg. 19). The Payson Roundup featured an article on the poor stream quality in September of 2016 that you can find in the document section. Yet the Forest Service wants to let the Bar X cattle into these riparian areas that are currently closed to cattle grazing. What affect will cattle defecating in these streams and eroding the banks have on already strained stream quality and recreational opportunities?
Finally, there are two endangered species inhabiting these locations. The Mexican Spotted Owl and the Narrow-Headed Gardner snake. Both of whom whose habitats’ have been documented to be put in jeopardy from overgrazing. See the complaint for more information on these animals and how they may be affected.
Where we Stand
It is the NOMR position that reopening these previously excluded pastures and exposing them and the other pastures to numbers of cattle even greater than those that previously devastated the environment and wildlife, will have the same effect in once again devastating the ecosystem especially considering the reduced carrying capacity due to climate change and severe drought. It is inconsistent with the Tonto Plan's management goal for this area. The Phoenix metro area has grown significantly over the past 40 years and far more people from the City seek recreational opportunities in the beautiful Forest under the Rim. We do not believe this environment that supports abundant wildlife and wonderful recreational opportunities should be put at risk especially in light of a climate change, increasing drought conditions, "at-risk" streams and the Tonto Forest Plan's management emphasis and objectives for this area.
Given the proximity of the Phoenix Metro area and an ever-expanding populace which increasingly uses these areas to recreate, does it make any sense to open the closed pasture and increase the number of cattle allowed to graze on these lands to numbers that surpass even those which the Forest Service's own studies documented nearly caused “irreparable” harm to the environment?
Thank you so much for reading. We know this was long, but it truly was just a summary. If you would like a more detailed timeline of the circumstances surrounding this issue, please read through the complete complaint which was referenced, paraphrased and cited to herein. The complaint is listed under the “Documents” page of this website along with the Range Analyses, Environmental Assessments, Allotment Management Plan and any other documents referred to in this synopsis. If you would like to gain a better understanding of the Bar X and its pastures' locations please visit our "Maps - Allotments/Pastures" page by clicking (here).
At this point, given that the Forest Supervisor concurred with the EA and FONSI, they only recourse to force the Forest Service to slow down and take a closer look consistent with its responsibility to be good stewards would be a lawsuit.
We are a small group and this is not how we make a living, so while we will try our best to answer all inquiries in a timely manner, it is inevitable that some inquiries may end up going unanswered for a day or so before hearing back from us. That said, we sincerely appreciate everyone’s support in this matter. We cannot change anything without it.
If you still want more information or would like to review the forest services's studies that we cited herein, please visit our "Documents" page by clicking (here).