Initiative to Protect and Restore Copper Basin and the Big Lost River Watershed

The Copper Basin and the Big Lost River Watershed are located just over Trail Creek Summit east of Sun Valley, Idaho. This is an area of enormous beauty and is worthy of protection. We have concluded a focused effort will allow for the recovery of fish and wildlife habitat, plant species, and water quality. In fact, we believe that these valleys have tremendous potential for a robust restoration and that the area could ultimately compare to Yellowstone Park’s Lamar River Valley with its abundance of fish, wildlife and beauty. We envision streams free of pollutants, pronghorn racing across a fence-free landscape and the diverse balance of the natural world fully restored.

Federally subsidized livestock grazing is the most pervasive and least regulated source of fish and wildlife habitat degradation in this area. To protect and restore Copper Basin and the Big Lost River watershed, our goal is to create a livestock-free area for wildlife on these public lands through the execution of a three-year, multi-faceted approach.


As one of the west’s most effective environmental watchdog organizations, Western Watersheds Project (WWP) works to protect and restore over 250 million acres of public land in the west which is home to a stunning array of birds, fish, mammals, amphibians, other wildlife and rare plants. WWP’s primary focus is to identify, address, and end potential or existing private abuses of public land due to livestock grazing, which is a primary cause of degraded ecosystems and species loss throughout the west.

WWP provides oversight of the actions by land management agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service to ensure they are managing our public lands in compliance with important environmental regulations and laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Western Watersheds Project works on behalf of all of us who believe that our own health and well-being is dependent upon the health of the streams, rivers, plant species and wildlife that surround us.

Western Watersheds Project’s plan to protect and restore the Copper Basin and the Big Lost River watershed will focus on two primary efforts:

  1. Enforcement of Laws and Regulations

Federal land management agencies are legally required to assess the impacts of livestock grazing on water quality, wildlife habitat, fisheries and riparian areas. Unfortunately, little or no comprehensive environmental analysis has been done on the four grazing allotments in the Copper Basin and the Big Lost River Watershed. Therefore, grazing continues unabated without regard to its impact on the environment. Given that the Forest Service – which manages nearly 85% of the allotments – has never conducted environmental analyses on two of the allotments and that the most recent analyses by the Forest Service of the other two allotments occurred more than 41 years ago, there is a rare opportunity to apply legal and regulatory pressure on the Forest Service and the BLM (which manages the remaining small portion of the allotments) to conduct updated environmental analyses and to determine if current grazing activities are in compliance with important federal environmental laws.

  1. Permanent Protection of the Land Through Voluntary Retirement of Grazing Permits

Permanent protection of these lands from livestock grazing can be obtained through voluntary retirement of the permits granted to the permit holders. Permit holders will be offered monetary compensation for voluntary relinquishment of grazing permits

Numerous examples of voluntarily relinquished and retired federal grazing permits exist across the West. In the last 10 years, the National Wildlife Federation successfully negotiated the retirement of over 600,000 Forest Service administered acres of grazing permits in the Greater Yellowstone area. In 2013, the Sagebrush Habitat Conservation Fund negotiated the permanent retirement of 130,000 acres of BLM managed grazing allotments in Owyhee County, Idaho. Western Watersheds Project is a board member of the Sagebrush Fund and was instrumental in achieving that grazing retirement with privately raised philanthropic dollars. WWP has demonstrated success in achieving permanent grazing permit retirement and this is a critical apart of the initiative to protect and restore the Big Lost River Watershed and the Copper Basin.

WWP’s work will focus on the four allotments in the Copper Basin and the Big Lost River Watershed that are managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management:

  • Wildhorse Allotment – 120,000 acres
  • Copper Basin Allotment – 120,000 acres
  • Antelope Creek Allotment – 60,000 acres
  • Boone Creek Allotment – 80,000 acres

WWP Will Enforce Laws to Protect and Restore Copper Basin and the Big Lost River Watershed:

  1. Ensure Proper Management of Grazing Allotments

WWP’s existing staff will closely monitor grazing activities in the Big Lost River Watershed and the Copper Basin in order to identify potential abuses of the land, including lack of compliance with federal laws such as the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

  1. Monitor and Educate

WWP will systemically monitor water quality, fish and wildlife habitat on the four grazing allotments in the Big Lost River Watershed and Copper Basin. Data obtained from this monitoring will be used to help educate community members, ranchers, governmental agencies and policy makers on the environmental impacts of livestock grazing on water, fish and wildlife in this magnificent area.

  1. Advocate for Voluntary Retirement of Grazing Permits

Permits cannot be voluntarily relinquished – either through donation or sale of the permit – without the authorization of the agency responsible for managing the allotment. WWP will advocate for voluntary grazing permit retirement by the USFS and BLM .

  1. Work with Current Permit Holders to Achieve Permanent Grazing Permit Retirement

Concurrent with efforts to obtain federal statutory authorization to enable ranchers to voluntarily retire grazing permits on land managed by the BLM and to obtain ‘administrative retirements’ on land managed by the USFS, WWP will facilitate communications with allotment permit holders to discuss the financial, environmental, and recreational benefits of voluntary retirement of their grazing permits.

When WWP’s initial efforts are successful, funding the permanent retirement of grazing permits will begin.

Once Copper Basin and the Big Lost River Watershed are free of grazing, there will be a gradual natural regeneration of the biological diversity of the ecosystem. Within the first year, there will be substantially less sediment in the streams and new willows and vegetation will begin to grow along the banks. This rejuvenation will benefit all fish species. In addition, new aspens and other native trees and shrubs will sprout on the mountainsides as will native plants that are sheltered by sagebrush, thus improving wildlife habitat. The removal of fences will restore migratory corridors for pronghorn and elk. Additionally, improved recreational opportunities for fishing, hiking, biking, camping and animal viewing will occur. Western Watersheds Project is confident that the success of this initiative will provide a framework for similar habitat restoration and protection projects throughout the West.

Utilization Cage Wildhorse Allotment

Utilization Cage, Wildhorse Creek Mesic Meadow, Wildhorse Allotment


Please email to learn more about our project, Initiative to Protect and Restore Copper Basin and the Big Lost River Watershed. All contributions to restore the Copper Basin and Big Lost River Watershed are tax-deductible.

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