Martin Duran, owner, and operator of Luna Canyon Cattle Company, usually grazes his cattle in Carson National Forest and relies on his allotted area to raise his herd. “So we have—we’re permittees up in the Carson National Forest, which is up in the northern part of Mora County, southern part of Taos County—we’re right in that ridge kind of between Mora, Taos,” Duran says.
However, he says this year he won’t be able to do so. “We’re looking at about 280 cows that are going to be impacted by this, probably ten ranchers and that’s just our allotment. Our grazing association in Chacon,” Duran says.
Duran is a fourth-generation Cattle Rancher. His sons are the fifth. This year they are faced with having to cut the size of their herd in half due to the forest closure and lack of grazing space—meaning a loss of tens of thousands of dollars for their business.
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“I sell 20-30 cows for slaughter every year. And well, I’m not gonna have 20-30 calves to sell. So, that cuts probably in half of what I’m gonna be able to sell and I have already contracted with people that have already sent in deposits for calves in the fall,” Duran says.
Without the national forest land to graze, Duran has to choose between leasing pastures—which can be quite costly—or feeding his herd hay they’ve stored for winter. “Now my hayfields, I have two choices: I can look for a pasture to lease which is anywhere from 15 to 20 dollars per head per month; or, I can graze them in my hayfields and I’ll have no hay this winter,” Duran says.
Grass-fed cattle get more money than hay-fed. The forest service says ranchers may not be allowed to graze their allotted areas because the foliage hasn’t grown to acceptable levels due to the severe drought conditions.
“Just based on the drought conditions across New Mexico and Arizona we work with our ranchers every year just to look at the conditions on the allotment really look at that available foliage, and then we’ll determine how many livestock we can run on those allotments,” says Anthony Madrid, deputy director of wildlife, fish, rare plants, and rangeland management with the Southwestern Region of the USDA Forest Service, “There [are] ranchers this year that have been reduced from their typical number. We just have not been able to grow the foliage with the dry conditions that we’ve been receiving.”
In addition to restrictions due to the drought, there are also fires that continue to rage in many national forest areas. “There is a closure order on many of the fires around New Mexico right now so specifically while the firefighters are working to suppress those fires and really while there is that fire danger there [are] some closures out there that will not let anybody in except for those firefighters or first responders,” Madrid says.
Madrid says the forest service is working with various ranchers on getting exemptions in some areas of the forest to allow them to check on their cattle, care for them, and allow them to continue grazing. The ranchers are banking on the coming monsoon season to help with the conditions and allow the cattle back into the forests.
“I’m not sure what we’ll do but like I said, we’ve survived droughts before. Never this bad. But we’ve survived them before so I’m sure we’ll adapt. We’ll adapt and we’ll grow the herds again,” Duran says. “This isn’t just me. There’s gonna be a lot of us, a lot of us affected.”
Duran says the lack of grazing area and downsizing of herds like his will probably mean falling cattle prices at market and could lead to higher meat prices. “[For] people that take their animals to the auctions, prices will start falling especially now during the summer because it’s so dry and people don’t have grazing. Markets tend to fall during the summer months because it’s so dry, especially now during the droughts,” Duran says. “At the auction, those market prices will go down. But that never affects the prices in the store. Prices in the store will go up.”
The Forest Service says there are 144 grazing permits throughout Carson National Forest and 74 grazing allotments. Madrid says with the permit, the grazing fee in the national forests is usually $1.35 per head of cattle per month. Madrid says ranchers affected by the drought and seeking assistance should contact Farm Service Agency.