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When I was about 10, one of my favorite books was "Life in the Ancient World." In colorful language it described key episodes in world history: the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten in mid-13th century Egypt, the 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. and the death of Socrates in Athens in 399 B.C. But the event that really caught my attention was the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria in 48 B.C.

Even at 10, I loved books and I loved libraries. My favorite Saturday activity was to be dropped off at the local library by my father on his way into the office, leaving me to spend the morning wandering entranced through the stacks. Learning about the needless loss of the greatest library of the ancient world angered and saddened me.

Tragically, the destruction of libraries continues, including a remarkable one here in Utah, just a few months ago.

As an adult, I've come to understand that the real essence of a library is information, not the papyrus, paper or code that serves as the means of communication. I've come to appreciate that the natural world that surrounds us is the ultimate library. Each careful observation of the natural world is actually a page in a very long story, pointing back towards the world we came from, pointing forward to the world fast approaching.

Back in 2007, a group was formed whose purpose was to work cooperatively to improve forest health within two grazing allotments, one on the east side and one on the west side of the Tushar Mountains in the Beaver Ranger District of Fishlake National Forest. The Ten Mile allotment, on the east side, included a 47-acre fenced-in area known as the Price Spring exclosure, which protected two spring channels and stands of regenerating aspen. Enclosed areas of this sort are called "exclosures," and their purpose is to allow a scientific comparison of conditions within the exclosure with those on the outside.

The members of the collaboration included the Beaver Ranger District, the grazing permittee, other grazing interests, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and several environmental groups, all of whom shared concerns and questions about the ecological health of the grazing allotments. In April 2009, after hundreds of hours of field meetings and discussions, the collaboration agreed upon a plan designed to generate the information needed to answer those questions.

A key part of the plan was to keep grazing cattle out of the Price Spring exclosure, so that the plant and soil condition of land exposed to grazing over a period of years could be compared with land that was not grazed. All the members of the group agreed to work together in the coming years to implement the required monitoring.

Since 2007 scientists have traveled to the exclosure each year to collect data that the Forest Service needed in order to develop a new grazing plan, grounded in science, designed to ensure the ecological health of the allotment.

These observations, year by year and page by page, were building what could be called the Ten Mile allotment library, whose volumes told a story of mountain mahogany and aspen, blue grass and wheat grass.

Last summer, the grazing permittee unexpectedly asked the Forest Service for permission to allow him to put up to 160 grazing cow/calf pairs inside the allotment for a "few days," and the Forest Service said fine. The permittee proceeded to lock more than a 100 grazing cow pairs inside the exclosure for an extended period, with the predictable result that all the vegetation so carefully studied was eaten down to stubble, the springs trampled and fouled and the ground plastered with cow-pies.

Why did the Forest Service and the permittee decide to torch this library? If this were a detective story, one might guess that both parties were worried that the information being collected was going to reveal too much about the impact of grazing on forest health.

In any case, the Ten Mile allotment library, just like the one in ancient Alexandria, is now ashes. The information it contained, the questions it could have helped answer, the ideas it might have generated, are all now just more dust in the wind. And we are all poorer for its loss.

Scott Berry, Salt Lake City, is president of Wild Utah Project Board.