After six summer seasons I have grown to anticipate our seasonal traditions. Each year, the end of summer brings the departure of our summer help. The end of the year always signals the start of the winter season - and the return of guests we only see that time of year. The sun's return to the northern hemisphere, signals the end of the winter season and the anticipation of the coming green! And, of course, as spring begins to color our world, we anticipate the return of warmer temperatures and oru special summer friends who grace us with their company year after year. And, of course, we look forward to meeting the new folks who will find their way to our door.

One tradition, however, which doesn't really affect us - and yet affects us a lot - is the arrival and departure of the cattle which graze around the resort. Cattle grazing on public lands has been a controversial topic. Some see cattle as leeches up the land, depleting our natural resources without adequate compensation. Others see cattle as beneficial to the eco-system.

While sometimes I address topics trying to present a balanced view of both sides of the subject, that is not the purpose of this post. Today's post is first and foremost a support of cattle grazing on our public lands. This is one Elk Lake tradition I greatly appreciate. Why?

Especially in a dry year, I look forward to the cattle's return. Granted, cattle are not the best respectors of private property. And, with Montana's 'fence out' law, the burdon of keeping these critters (who often epitomize the old saying 'the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence) falls on us.

None the less, the service provided by these sometimes too friendly animals far outweighs any frustrations their presence may cause. What service? You may ask. Grass removal. Or, more properly - grass removal and fertilizer application.

In a political climate where we no longer manage our forests, the fire danger gets higher and higher with each passing year. If, to add to the fuel load created by the dead, dying, and overcrowded trees, we add a heavy grass fuel load, we are guaranteed the forest (when it burns) will burn hotter and longer and to more devastating effects. So, with each passing year, the presence of the cattle around the resort, consuming at least some of the fuel, is more and more welcome.

Furthermore, as wildlife refuges in some areas(such as Red Rocks National Wildlife Refuge) have found the cattle grazing helps the smaller mammals and birds by depleting the heavy grasses which actually limit or even prevent their ability to survive in the grasslands. Thus, by simulating the activity of bison, or by just doing what they do best, the cattle grazing our national forest lands are doing us a favor (at least in the vast majority of cases).

I have probably already given away this point - but I have spent considerable time in the past around cattle operations. I appreciate the perspective this has given me - not only as to the value the cattle provide, but also to the difficulty and challenges the rancher experiences.

As I've said in previous posts, there is little which gives me a greater thrill than hearing a wolf howl up the draw. However, that wolf's howl can be a precurser to the death of some rancher's stock.

Perhaps your response is, "Serves them right. After all, their cattle are trespasser's on the wolf's territory." Well, that is a point which could be argued. However, as the recent kills just outside of Ennis and Dillon, Montana prove, the wolves are opportunits who will each wherever and whatever is easy and 'good'. So, location is not the only key.

However, this is one risk the cattle rancher takes. And it is not just wolves which provide them a challenge. There are wolves, but there are also bears (Grizzly and Black), and cougars to prey upon these slower moving domestic animals. Furthermore, there are noxious weeds which poison numerous cows - some years being worse than others. Tall Larkspur has taken a heavy toll in our area the last few years.

Another challenge few people who have not been involved in this business can comprehend is keeping track of and caring for cattle who are running on such vast sections of land. I doubt there is a much more practical example of the proverbial 'needle in a haystack' than that of the rancher seeking to watch over his cattle on these vast areas of land.

My finally reason for enjoy the traditional cattle which run around Elk Lake is: cattle come with ranchers. While these hard worker, peace loving (at least the ones I know), quiet folks tend to get a bac rap from the more liberal side, I have yet to meet a 'real' rancher who didn't work twice as hard and twice as long for about half the pay of his / her city counterpart. So, when it comes to making friends worth keeping, the farmers and ranchers of this great country are some of the best.

So, while the cattle have gone and the ranchers are back at their home places buttoning things down and stocking things up for the coming winter, I wish them all the best and look forward to their return next year!

Lady of the Lake

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