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Mogollon Meandering: Guns, Cows and Roads

This is the third part in a four-part series about John Davis’ trek around the Mogollon Rim in Arizona.

These are the three big factors that make the Mogollon Plateau dangerous as a wildlife corridor. On the third day of my little scouting trip, this dubious threesome made me glad I had only two legs, else I suspect I’d have been shot. After crossing Route 3 southeast of Mormon Lake, the habitat seemed relatively intact for awhile, but after crossing a power-line that punches through otherwise lovely Bergmann Park grassland, the density of roads and off-road vehicle routes became scandalously high. The US Forest Service ought to be ashamed — and given an ecological ultimatum, to repair the motorized damage it has facilitated on public lands. Thousands of good people could be given meaningful work physically closing and rehabilitating all these unneeded, habitat-fragmenting backcountry roads and ruts.

Even more pervasive than roads on Coconino National Forest are ranching infrastructure and livestock. Cattle fence and erosion and pollution from their trampling and defecating mar the forest and its waters. I came to the uncomfortable conclusion during TrekWest that – though motorized recreation, logging, and energy development all need our constant vigilance as major threats to public lands – livestock grazing remains the most pervasive degrader of biodiversity and water quality, and the most intractable social challenge. Some ranches are big corporations where little empathy is given or deserved, but some are still family operations, run by nice people struggling to make a living. Compassion all around is needed;  and a good start toward reducing livestock damages on public lands while also supporting rural families would be encouraging voluntary retirement of grazing leases and generous compensation to the former lessees.

As they did to me on TrekWest, livestock heightened my challenges on this minor amendment to PaseoWild II. By the end of day three, my water filter was clogged from pumping murky stock-tank water and the handle broke. Note to Mogollon walkers (and I wonder if we can safely exempt native quadrupeds?): carry anti-bacterial solution, as well as a water filter. Natural water bodies here are few and far between and sullied by cow manure and trampling. I do hope the natives have greater intestinal fortitude than have we modern people.

Gratefully, though, this third day, I saw as many Elk as cows, a couple dozen, in several herds. I also saw Cougar tracks again, on a rough old jeep trail deep in the pine/juniper savanna. Clear skies again allowed me to sleep on open ground, fading away to Coyotes singing back to bugling Elk.

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