The annual meeting of the Southwest Colorado Livestock Association took place at a larger venue this year because of pandemic restrictions, and the relevant topics important to ranching and agriculture were discussed per usual.
As snow and rain fell outside, about 50 audience members gathered at the indoor arena of the Montezuma County Fairgrounds for the morning meeting session to hear presentations, some broadcast via Zoom.
The day and evening events were moved to the fairgrounds from the Elks Club, which has restricted capacity because of pandemic regulations.
Local, state and national officials spoke on a range of topics, including drought, new logging projects, reintroduction of wolves, water issues, proposed legislation and grazing allotments on the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
Renewal of the Yellow Jacket and Flodine grazing permits on the monument have been under review for several years. Rangeland assessments are being conducted by the Bureau of Land Management. Impacts on archaeological resources are being reviewed by the State Historic Preservation Office.
Grazing on the allotments has been suspended pending the permit review, analyses and decision.
The Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners has urged the permits be renewed, citing historical use, a plan to sustain a healthy range and the monument’s proclamation that allows for grazing.
Commissioner Joe Stevenson said proper planning would effectively allow for both archaeology and grazing on the allotments.
“They have singled out livestock as the problem, when we feel the archaeology ruins have suffered from neglect, vandalism and weather,” he said. Trespass livestock and feral horses that utilize the area are also a problem that impact the resources.
BLM Range Specialist Garth Nelson urged public participation in the Flodine and Yellow Jacket grazing permit process “so your voices are heard.”
Rancher Al Heaton said he was concerned a decision against the Flodine and Yellow Jacket permits could be set a precedent for grazing in archaeological areas.
“We are working hard to get our voice heard in order to see more balance then we see at the moment,” he said.
Several large, multiyear logging projects are underway or being planned for in the Dolores District of the San Juan National Forest. The projects were seen as an economic boost and improvement for forest health.
Loggiing trucks’ impact on forest and county roads was a concern for ranchers who also rely on the roads.
Roads expected to get heavy traffic from logging projects include portions of County Roads 16, 31, S, 41, and 11th Street in Dolores. The Dolores-Norwood Road, Taylor Mesa Road, Forest Road 504 and others also would see increased heavy truck traffic. Colorado Highway 145 also would be affected.
District Ranger Derek Padilla said the forest is upgrading and maintaining forest roads in anticipation of the logging traffic.
He noted that increased logging over time will improve rangeland conditions for grazing as more areas are exposed to sunlight.
County Commissioner Jim Candelaria said “logging has brought jobs to Montezuma County and helps to lessen wildfire risk. The different agencies need to work together to upgrade the roads because there will be impacts.”
Cattle on the roadway are par for the course in agricultural areas. In 2020, there were 113 calls for livestock on the roadway, and 127 calls for livestock at large, said Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin.
Colorado Department of Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg said the agency intends to encourage more meat processing facilities in the state through a new grant program.
She added there are concerns about the state’s Greenhouse Gas Roadmap and its potential regulatory impact on livestock operations that produce methane.
In November, Colorado voters narrowly approved a ballot initiative to reintroduce gray wolves into Colorado.
The initiative includes a timeline to develop a plan and have reintroductions begin by December 2023 on the Western Slope.
Where and how many wolves would be reintroduced will be decided by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, said Matt Thorpe, deputy regional manager for Region 15.
“It will be a robust public process, and it is important for the Western Slope to provide input,” he said.
Greenberg also encouraged ranchers make their concerns heard regarding wolf reintroduction.
Local officials were concerned about a push by the state to speed up the timeline, which could put wolves on the ground as early as 2022. They said the process needs three or four years to work out the details effectively and fairly.
Montezuma County commissioners sent a letter to Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Gov. Jared Polis to not rush the process.
“We are asking the governor and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to slow down so we can figure out how to manage it,” said Stevenson.
A component of the wolf reintroduction plan is a compensation program to offset livestock losses from wolf predation. Colorado is studying compensations plans of other states with wolves to learn how to move forward.
Wolves are a threat to the farm and ranch industry because they can prey on livestock. Ranchers at the meeting were skeptical that the compensation program would be effective.
The south San Juan Mountains are a likely candidate for reintroduction location for wolves.
Wolf impacts on an already declining elk population in Southwest Colorado was a worry expressed at the meeting. Whether reintroducing gray wolves in southern Colorado could jeopardize the genetically distinct Mexican gray wolf in nearby New Mexico and Arizona is another concern.
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission is forming committees to analyze the implementation of wolf reintroduction, including an advisory group represented by ranchers and wildlife advocates. Another technical committee will hash out the livestock predation compensation plan.
This year’s water supply for ranchers and farmers continues to be at risk because of the ongoing drought, said Ken Curtis, general manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District.
Snow-water equivalent for the Dolores and San Miguel basins is 77% of normal. The reservoir’s active supply was nearly completely drawn down last season, and he estimated a 10-20% chance for a full supply this year.
A normal year is a “long shot, but the good news is we have been in a storm track” lately.
Republican Marc Catlin, state representative for the 58th District, listed some bills he plans to introduce.
A watershed mitigation bill proposes to provide funding for cities and counties for timber thinning projects on private land. A water rights bill would protect the water rights of mutual ditch companies. Another bill would allow tribes to operate their own foster homes so Native American foster children could grow up in their culture. Catlin said a bill providing a tax exemption for the removal of beetle-killed trees in forests would be an incentive to remove the fire-prone dead trees.
U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert spoke at the meeting via Zoom.
She wants to build on the Colorado beef export market with improved trade agreements. As a member of the Natural Resources Committee, she plans to advocate for protecting water rights and improving forest management to prevent large wildfires.
She also voiced opposition opposed to the reintroduction of wolves.
“I know the damage it causes to your industry,” she said, adding that the (livestock) compensation program was “a joke.”
“I am here for you, and I want to be engaged with the issues. Use us as a resource to help you because we work for you,” Boebert said.