A little history…….
In 1880 Wilford Pace began ranging his cattle in the area around what is now Capitol Reef National Park and Torrey, Utah, taking advantage of the vast open ranges of the region. By 1896 following Utah being granted statehood, the region was still sparsely populated largely by cattle ranchers and their herds. It was a vast and unforgiving land where cattle roamed free and grazed upon open range. It was a tough and lawless land where cattle rustling was rampant and as the saying goes, it was a land where “God had made the men and Samuel Colt made them equal.”
In January 1969 in literally the last hours of Lyndon Johnson’s administration, the president signed a proclamation to increase the size of Capitol Reef National Monument by 600 percent. The new monument lands now encompassed a great deal of land believed by the local residents, and by the federal multiple-use land management agencies, to be essential winter grazing lands. The outrage of the local communities toward this “federal land grab” exemplified the deep-rooted local belief in a right to graze the land. Previously, the Bureau of Land Management had oversight of these lands with a focus on the “land’s best use” which traditionally was assumed to be grazing (now recreational use has exploded in these areas).
In 1971 what had been a national monument was granted National Park status and designated as Capitol Reef National Park. Because of this new designation, the open range grazing rights, which had been enjoyed by the Pace family for nearly a century, were suspended. Then patriarch and grandson of Wilford, Guy Pace was disturbed by this turn of events and enrolled Orrin Hatch to accompany him to Washington DC. There they sought and were successful in reinstating the right of the Pace family to move its herds through the National Park twice each year from their summer to winter range and back again. The cattle would be driven approximately 50 miles cross country over the rugged terrain, which in large part now included Capitol Reef National Park. Although successfully reinstated, this right was not however granted in perpetuity. It would cease and expire forever upon the death of the last of the offspring of Guy Pace.
Watching them drive the cattle down the highway and through the park on Halloween and seeing the parks emphasis on the history of the area got me thinking and reading what I could find about the issue. Studies suggest that most of the documented resource damage — including overgrazing, erosion, and the introduction of exotic plant species — occurred between 1900 and 1950. Despite the teachings and beliefs of the Mormon Church, its settlers began to alter the landscape almost upon their arrival, with their agricultural and development activities. Most of the environmental damage occurred when huge herds of cattle and sheep were allowed to roam the ranges of the Waterpocket Fold in unrestricted and unmonitored competition. Moving forward the deep scars of resentment and animosity between the park and the local communities seems to be healing, compromises can ensure long-range integrity of the park while appeasing the local communities. In my mind, allowing this twice annual cattle drive through the park not only provides that compromise, but also gives the park visitors a glimpse of history and tradition.
More about Capitol Reef National Park to come……..