Letter I wrote for Advocates West to increase standing in public lands cases.
My name is Brian Loomis. As an Eagle Scout and current Scoutmaster with Troop 155 I am writing to express my displeasure regarding the management of grazing in the Idaho Owyhee Mountains.
Recently I took a group of our scouts to the Mud Flat area to camp and work on orienteering (map and compass) training. The junipers in the Owyhees provide an excellent cover for this type of activity as it forces the scouts to rely on true bearings and dead reckoning, and not as much on other features. The junipers provide a natural cover that allows the orienteering flags to not be seen from a distance thus aiding in the skill acquisition.
I had spent a fair amount of time petitioning the boys to select Mud Falt for the campout (we have a youth led and adult guided troop and they make choices for locations by consensus) and expounded on the beauty of the Owyhees, which I had not visited for several years.
During our journey into the Mud Flat area and upon our arrival there I was simply shocked to see the damage being done from grazing cattle in this area. Not only were natural waterways destroyed and turned into wallows, the natural lichen crust which is important to prevent erosion was damaged over vast areas by prints from cattle hooves.
We also noticed that there appeared to be logging operations going and that large old junipers had been extracted and logged using chains and skidder cables, that there were piles of slash for burning left all about and that in general the land management practices, if any were certainly not being enforced.
It saddened and sickened me to have to explain to my son, my nephew and the other scouts in the troop how unmanaged cattle grazing and un-enforced policies are wrecking our public lands. It did however serve as a good example of how following 'leave no trace' principles applies to not only backpackers, and campers, but society in general, and that stewardship of public lands is everyone's responsibility.
We plan on returning to the same area we visited again in a year to see if things have recovered, and to compare pictures taken on iPhones and digital cameras over the course of time and see if the area improves or worsens. I hope that we will find good results.