The Gifford Pinchot National Forest has extended a permit to allow grazing near Mount Adams for another 10 years, while outlining a series of steps to make sure cattle stay inside their designated boundaries.
Mount Adams District Ranger Nancy Ryke authorized the renewal last month, leaving a 33,000-acre grazing allotment on the south side of the mountain essentially unchanged. The agreement allows a Goldendale rancher to graze 516 calf/cow pairs there during late summer each year.
Local advocacy groups have said they're fine with using public lands for grazing. But they've criticized the forest service for not doing enough to keep cattle from wandering into and damaging sensitive natural areas -- particularly Gotchen Creek meadows area, which is supposed to be off limits. Last year, Friends of Mount Adams released a report detailing damaged stream banks, tracks and "cow pies" outside the allotment.
Much of the problem stems from shoddy or damaged fencing separating the grazing land from the Gotchen Creek area, on the northeast side of the allotment. Sections of that fencing — designed to lay down during the snowy winter months — were strengthened with additional material in August, said forest service biologist Mitch Wainwright. Other work will continue as needed, he said.
"Part of the decision was to do additional work to that fence to make it more effective at holding cattle in the allotment," Wainwright said.
Ryke's decision outlined other proposed steps toward that end. The forest service could also remove hazardous trees in danger of falling on fences. Additional reinforcement is also an option, according to the decision.
Another challenge: A popular trail in the area takes hikers through a latched gate. But not everyone closes it behind them, Wainwright said, allowing cattle to get outside the grazing boundary. And the rancher, Neil Kayser, also holds grazing permits on adjacent lands under the jurisdiction of Yakama Nation and the state Department of Natural Resources. Sometimes, cattle tend to drift back and forth across different ownerships, Wainwright said.
Livestock grazing on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest goes back more than a century. The allotment near Mount Adams has been in place since 1988, according to the forest service.
During the most recent grazing season, which ended Sept. 30, the fence near Gotchen Creek seemed to hold up well, Wainwright said. He noted officials checked on it about once a week, but it can be difficult to reach an area that's not accessible by roads. Wildfires have only further limited access to some areas this year.
Most recent grazing problems have occurred outside the fences, not inside, Wainwright said. That's why the forest service opted not to change the basic permit in renewing it, he said.
"I think it's in good condition on the allotment itself," Wainwright said. "The idea is to keep it that way."