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Hundreds Utah livestock may be lost in heavy snow

By John Hollenhorst | Posted - Mar. 1, 2010 at 6:03 p.m.


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SOUTHERN UTAH -- Hundreds of cows could be dead or dying in southern Utah. Ranchers can't be sure because heavy snows buried much of the region, and many ranchers have been unable to locate their cattle.

The Dugout Ranch is known for spectacular desert scenery, not for snow. But this year, about 180 of its cows are lost in heavy snow, somewhere in the high country.

"Way back behind even this ridgeline, right there," says Chris Montague, director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy's Utah chapter.

The Dugout Ranch has been owned by The Nature Conservancy since 1996, but it's still managed by ranching icon Heidi Redd. They flew emergency feed in a few days ago but found only one cow, according to Montague.

"We really are worried, and part of the worry is that we can't get up there," Montague says.

It's a similar story for ranchers across southern Utah.

"We don't know the extent of the damage because we can't locate a lot of the livestock that are out there," says Brent Tanner, with the Utah Cattlemen's Association.

Snow has blanketed many areas for weeks, crusting over on top and making it difficult for cows to forage for feed.

"The storms have driven them into box canyons, washed out gullies; and so we're having difficulty getting into there with the snow and the mud," Tanner says.

Conditions vary from place to place. One rancher went looking for his cows on horseback, cell phone camera in hand, and found conditions weren't too bad.

"She's the little girl I been hunting all day. I'm going to take her home with me, but I can tell you right now she's got a calf somewhere," rancher James Keyes says in some cell phone video he shot.

Interstate 70 is the dividing line. Snowpack well below average to the north and well above average to the south -- up to 250 percent of average.

"I suspect that we will find dead animals, yes." Tanner says.

"Maybe they are just out of sight, down in the canyon heads, and they're doing better than we think," Montague says, "but we are worried."

The cows are especially vulnerable at this time of year because they're either pregnant or have just given birth. Losses can add up quickly; each cow is worth about $1,000. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of cows are unaccounted for.

E-mail: jhollenhorst@ksl.com

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