Summary of FS/YN grazing/drift fence meeting in Trout Lake on Oct. 28, 2014

The meeting was held in Mose’s office at the Trout Lake Ranger Station on Oct. 28, 2014. Present were Mose Jones-Yellin (Mt. Adams District Ranger), Mitch Wainwright (Range Manager for GPNF and Wildlife Biologist for Mt. Adams R.D. and Mt. St. Helens R.D.), Everett Isaac (Yakama Nation Interim Tribal Forestry Program Manager), Cheryl Mack (FOMA Secretary) and Darryl Lloyd, FOMA Conservation Chair, who chaired and organized the meeting.


History of cattle/fence problems, 1970s through 2012

Darryl summarized briefly the history of cattle/fence problems between the mid-1970s and the 2012 season, when the FS 10-year grazing allotment was reauthorized. Significant cattle trespass began in Gotchen meadows and Bird Creek Meadows in 1974, when the original 4-barbed-wire drift fence along the new YN-DNR boundary was destroyed by logging and never rebuilt. 


Darryl’s newly compiled “A 40-year History of Cattle Trespass and Fence Condition in Bird Creek and Gotchen Meadows Area” booklet was given to everyone present. It was helpful for specific dates, details, photos, map of the fence line and stories of fence disrepair/cattle trespass—especially from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s. During those decades he and his brother, Darvel recorded incursions of large numbers of cattle in the meadows.


Characterization of meadow “damage”

Mose wondered why Gotchen meadows seemed to be more heavily grazed than Bird Creek Meadows. Cheryl said that sheep grazing continued into the 1960s, and Darryl explained that Gotchen meadows, from early photos and observations, appeared to have suffered the brunt of trespass cattle grazing. He thought the lack of lush blooms of wildflowers found in BCM, such as monkeyflowers along streams, was due to heavy, prolonged grazing. His characterization of it as “damage,” was questioned by Mitch, who thought real “resource damage” was collapsed and trampled stream banks, for example. He thought Gotchen meadows wouldn’t have the same flowers because Gotchen meadows are a different regime than BCM. Darryl pointed to his photos, which showed large meadows in BCM with abundant wildflowers at the same elevation and aspect only about a half-mile to the east of Gotchen Creek. Mitch reminded us that FS ecologists from Bend, OR, did an analysis (in 2011?) of vegetation in the upper soil layers of a Gotchen meadow, and their conclusions were that the meadows were recovering well from past cattle/sheep grazing and that trespass cattle grazing posed no “threat to meadow function” (2012 EA). Darryl felt that the FS ecologists’ field work took only one day and the researchers failed to look at nearby BCM, where he (Darryl) thought trespass grazing has been much lighter. 


Fence condition and cattle trespass during the 2013 season

Darryl summarized fence monitoring reports for the 2013 season. In mid-August of that year, Jurgen Hess found a great deal of evidence of cattle trespass in all Gotchen meadows, and reported that the fence line had many places where cows could get through. He found evidence that cattle came in from the FS side. Darryl found no cows on August 21st. Mitch and Mose saw cattle in the Bird Lake area on Sept. 20, 2013. Mitch was convinced that cattle had come in from the YN side, contrary to Jurgen’s view. Ray Thygesen reported four head of cattle seen by a friend, Camden McMahon in BCM on Sept. 19, 2013. Three days later, on Sept. 22nd Jurgen found “many places where the FS fence was inadequate with loose wires, broken stays, etc.”        


FS fence condition during the 2014 season. No evidence of cattle trespass.

Darryl summarized FS fence inspections during the season by Jurgen, Cheryl, Darryl and Darvel Lloyd. On July 29, 2014, Jurgen found “at least 10 major spots in the FS fence where a cow or calf, can readily get through,” plus numerous other spots with loose wires and broken stays. Jurgen wrote: “the fence is in the worst maintained condition that I have ever seen it in all the years of my review.” He took many photos.


On Aug. 7, 2014, Darryl found the “middle” and N-S “boundary” sections (see definitions below) of the FS fence greatly improved, but still with serious deficiencies—such as a 35-ft span without stays, loose wires in a number of places, bottom wire on the ground, a 60-ft. (approx.) span between solid supports, etc. He also took many good photos as evidence.


On Aug. 26th, Cheryl found much the same and described the FS fence as “flimsy.” She estimated places with 80 ft. between posts and 30 ft. between stays, plus numerous broken stays, stays without stables, loose wires in many places and fence laying half-way over (“could easily have been stepped over”).


On Sept. 17th, Darvel and Darryl walked the entire FS fence line. His report described the “boundary” section (N-S boundary of YR and GPNF) as being in bad condition: loose wires, broken stays, downed portions, and they rated it an “F+ or D-.” He wrote that the “middle” section (between N end of the boundary section and gate on Snipes Mtn Trail) was significantly improved, but some sections had loose wires, missing staples, long sections between solid posts (approx. 60-120 ft.), bottom wires too far above the ground and top wires too high. The “lower” section (from the Snipes Mountain Trail gate westerly to AG Aiken Lava Bed) was given a “D” in his report. Deficiencies included loose wires (some on the ground), long distances (some over about 60 ft.) between solid posts, lowest wires far off the ground in gullies. In other places, the top wire was about waist-high. Many photos were taken, but only a few were shown at the meeting. Darryl said at the meeting and in his report that the “boundary” and “lower sections of fence appeared to have not been touched since the fence was put up earlier in the season.


There was discussion about possible evidence of elk trashing the fence during this (2014) season. Their population appears to be increasing in Bird Creek and Gotchen meadows in recent years.


Cheryl and Darryl emphasized that the FS fence was inadequate this year to keep cattle out of the meadows. They thought that the reason for the (apparent) lack of evidence of cattle trespass was probably because Kayser’s cattle had plentiful grass at lower elevations, especially in the 2008 burn areas. There was a heavy snowpack this spring and early summer.  


Yakama Nation drift fence

Darryl showed photos and described the open gate and downed portion at the Cress Camp trail (old jeep road) crossing near the north end of the YN North-South fence on Aug. 24th, 2014. He reported it to Steve Andringa, who was still involved with YN drift fence matters. By Sept. 17th, repairs had been done and the gate closed, but the top three wires of the span just S of the gate had been twisted together. Darryl said that cows could get through the fence easily at that spot, if they had been in the area.  


Darryl said that for the past four years or so, Tract D Ranger, Richard Canapoo has prohibited FOMA observers from walking off-trail along most of the YN drift fence. Parts of the fence, however, are visible from the Bird Creek road and also where the fence crosses the Cress Camp trail.


Everett said the new YN East-West fence was completed this season. He is familiar with the construction contract. He said the BIA administers the cattle allotment for the YN. Repairs are to be done by the YN or BIA, not by the permittee. The BIA range manager, Paul Rembold has recently retired and there’s now a search for his replacement.


There was general agreement that the new YN East-West fence probably (or might have?) kept cattle from trespassing into the meadows this year.


Everett said that it would be fine if Darryl (and possibly a few other FOMA board members) walked portions of the YN drift fence with him next year.     


What will be done next year on the FS drift fence?

Mitch said he will continue to monitor the fence every two weeks or so. He plans to walk the “boundary” and “lower” sections. He said that Neil Kayser had fixed the problem spots that he reported, such as broken wires. Dan Fissell saw people camped with llamas and a horse in one of the meadows, perhaps for one weekend.


Mitch wants to try to get steel posts in some of the long stretches between posts or tree anchors. He said that the soil is too shallow for wood posts.


Mose summarized by saying that the “fence doesn’t meet our (FOMAS’s) expectations, but no cows got through.”


The fence met Mitch’s expectations, but he didn’t walk the north-south (boundary) section or the west (lower) section.


Mitch said that the FS goal is to keep cows out, not have a “perfect” fence. But Cheryl and I emphasized that the fence has been in bad condition in recent years, and required maintenance by the cattleman has not been done properly—or was completely ignored on some sections of the fence (about a half-mile total by Darryl’s estimate).


Darryl said that the main problem that he’s seen over the past 40 years has been the lack of accountability by the FS for the permittee’s neglect to properly maintain and inspect the fence on a regular basis.


Everett said that cows are determined and if they want to get through, they will.  


Darryl showed Susan Saul’s photos and her report of a take-down 4-barbed wire fence in the Malheur N.F., which was effective and easy to maintain. There’s a government website (pdf) that gives exact specifications of a 4-barbed-wire fence, which would allow elk and deer to jump over in the summer season:


A new FS fence line south and lower in elevation?

Near the end of the meeting, there seemed to be general consensus (at least between Cheryl and Darryl) that the present FS fence line is not, and probably never will be, effective in preventing cattle from trespassing into the meadows. Darryl suggested that a new FS fence line could run due west from the YN-GPNF boundary to the Aiken Lava Bed. It would be along the same section line that the newly re-built YN East-West fence follows. It would be lower in elevation (for put-up earlier in the season), run a straight line and perhaps easier to maintain. Mose said the project, if feasible, would be a long way off. An EA would have to be done before construction could begin. Also, the fence would cross the 2008 Cold Springs burn. Snags falling across the fence (unless felled ahead of time) could be a problem.


Oct. 31, 2014

Darryl Lloyd, FOMA Conservation Chair

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