Big Lake Allotment
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By Steve Clark
In 2008 the Arizona Elk Society, ranchers/permitees Dan Heap and Charles Hancock and the Apache- Sitgreaves National Forest signed an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) to rest the three riparian sensitive pastures, Mandan, Blanca Cienaga, and Round Cienaga, for a period of 5 years. The SU pasture portion of the Big Lake Allotment will be put into rotation to provide for pasture resting of other large grassland pastures every year.
Ranchers Dan Heap and Charles Hancock saw the multiple use issue of the area changing from cattle grazing to recreation because of the close proximity to the Big Lake recreation area, and approached the AES about another Burro Creek style project. Other challenges to grazing were the presence of threatened and endangered species in the area, including the Apache trout, which made it difficult for cattle grazing operations and management from the Forest Service perspective.
During the 5 years of rest, the AES will be involved in monitoring the health of the pastures. If the pastures have improved to desired conditions and the trend of consistent drought and timber encroachment have abated, the pastures may be considered for cattle grazing. In 2009 according to the MOU, the AES will remove all of the unneeded fences in the allotment.
Having spent a week in the area during June of 2008, I observed that there are more elk than ever in the pastures conserved by the AES from this allotment purchase and the Burro Creek Allotment purchase from 2005. 2008 has been a great year for moisture which will benefit the elk herds as well as improve the riparian areas.
Recreation and outdoor activities are changing the way the forest is being utilized in this area. Moving the cattle to areas more conducive to grazing makes it easier on the recreational users as well as the ranchers as they can better manage their cattle grazing operations.
Elk and other wildlife are the beneficiaries of more forage and space to move about without pressure from the cattle. Ranchers benefit by moving the cattle to areas of high forage production and low maintenance issues, creating a more economically viable operation. The ability to restore the riparian areas and important headwaters to the Apache Trout and other aquatic species will be another benefit of this purchase.
The Arizona Elk Society would like to thank Dan Heap and Charles Hancock for their vision to work through this project. Thanks also to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, especially Dave Dorum and Chris Bagnoli from Region I. Last but not least, thanks to the employees of the Apache/Sitgreaves National Forest including Jeff Rivera, Vicente Ordonez, Virginia, Mark, Bruce and Kathy. The AES values the working relationship and partnership with all the involved parties in the Burro Creek and Big Lake Allotment Projects.
The funds available for this project were made possible through the AES Habitat Partners of Arizona Program and the sportsmen and women that attend and contribute at our annual banquets. The Arizona Elk Society Projects Committee and Board of Directors would like to thank everyone for their generosity and their help in making this critical purchase possible.