Watersheds Messenger     Fall 2000     Vol. VII, No. 3      PDF ISSUE

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A Cow Battlefield on the Big Lost
By Justine Kaiser


My name is Justine Kaiser; I live with my husband and son on the North Fork Road of the Big Lost River. We are 18 miles from Sun Valley, and 34 miles from Mackey - in between the majestic Pioneers and Boulder Mountains, where we found our piece of land we call home. We love our quiet, peaceful place, with its abundance of wildlife and endless recreation opportunities.

So who am I, and why am I writing this article? I live on 27 acres surrounded by Forest Service land. I have witnessed firsthand the abuses of overgrazing, stream bed erosion, and the intrusion upon personal property rights. I'm taking this time to tell you a little bit about my frustration and horror, which I experience every year. Because it's not just me, in this situation, and it always feels good to share.

Still, after 8 years of "cow season," I am always unprepared for the "early" arrival of the first "enemy." They love to sneak through my fences. At that point I also have to start closing my gates for the rest of the summer. I try hard not to forget. Although our hospitality dictates that we leave our gate open to all comers, we have been forced to keep it closed, as we have found out the hard way what happens if we ,don't. The cow season always starts with a few strays, sometimes as early as July, and continues into September. Cows are supposed to be moved around, so where are the cowboys when we need them? It becomes my husband's job to get them away from the house, fences, river bottom and springs. We end up chasing them, screaming our lungs out to get the cows to some place where there is a little grass left for them to eat. But they are always back in a few hours! It's a never-ending task for us!

The Wildhorse Association hires one wrangler for 2300 pairs (which are a cow and a calf); nobody can possibly cover all the 150 square miles. At first they are easy to move, but as the grass disappears they become increasingly stubborn. This is the time of the year when our peaceful happy home turns to a battlefield of cows; our 27 acres becomes an island, and outside, it's a struggle!

The fishing becomes no more fun. Although you can cross all the "cow pies" and get to the river, it's a challenge, and your boots are a bit covered with soft, stinky mud. But the worst thing of all is that the fishing has declined; I wonder why? Picture yourself hiking or just looking for a nice place for a picnic or maybe a quiet, clean place to meditate on our public land in the late summer season. What is your experience?

I have biked down Toolbox Canyon near my house and was covered from head to toe with cow pies. I also love to hike; I have been up to 10,000 foot high mountain lakes, where there is very fragile vegetation, and still can't get away from cows, who sneak up into the narrow canyons, and camp there most of the summer. I know for a fact that they have no right to be there! But where should they be?

I ask the question - what is the best use for our public land? Copper Basin, Wild Horse Canyon, Cane Creek area and North Fork Canyon are undoubtedly among the most beautiful and unspoiled mountain areas in Idaho. Let these places be for the enjoyment of all, not just for the personal gain of a few ranchers.


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