On April 13, 2005 federal District Judge B. Lynn Winmill signed a Judgment affirming a legal settlement between Western Watersheds Project and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that stops the proposed destruction of over 40,000 acres of western juniper forests in the Jim Sage Hills and a small area in the Cotterel Hills of southern Cassia County, Idaho near the Utah border.
As part of the Bush Administration's Healthy Forests Initiative The Burley Field office of the BLM had proposed to remove between 90% and 100% of the juniper trees across 135,000 acres of public lands in the Jim Sage Hills. Included in the BLM's proposal was the removal of 90% of old-growth juniper trees 300-600 years old ! The impetus for the proposed project was the availability of federal funding for forest health activities and the purported protection of the rural-urban fire interface even though there are no communities of more than 300 residents within ten miles of the Jim Sage Hills. The BLM also claimed that the project would eliminate hiding cover (junipers) for mountain lions that may prey on the reintroduced Jim Sage bighorn sheep herd.
An unspoken part of the proposed project was the creation of additional forage areas for cattle to graze so as to avoid potential reductions in livestock use on public lands that have been badly degraded by ongoing cattle use. Most of the lower elevation public lands in the Jim Sage Hills have been converted from native sage-steppe vegetation to monocultures of the exotic annual cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) and introduced perennial grasses like crested wheatgrass and intermediate wheatgrass.
The terms of the legal settlement require the BLM to abandon the project and leave in place about 500 acres of juniper forest that was chained in November 2004 before WWP's lawsuit was filed. Readers who might wish to know more about the archaic tool of chaining public lands to remove native sagebrush and pinyon/juniper forests can read more in Lynn Jacobs book, Waste of the West.
Readers can learn more about the Jim Sage Hills juniper eradication project by reviewing WWP's Biodiversity Director Katie Fite's article (BLM Plans Destruction of the Jim Sage Hills for Cattlemen) in the Winter 2005 Watersheds Messenger.
The BLM has also agreed to pay WWP's legal costs as part of the settlement.
Readers are encouraged to review these two articles about the Frank Robbins legal settlement with the BLM in Wyoming. Because the very unusual deal (which was litigated by WWP) between Robbins and the Department of the Interior was negotiated at very high levels of the Department of the Interior's Solicitor's Office at the time that office was headed by Boise attorney William Myers, it has become a factor in the U.S. Senate's confirmation process for Mr. Myers appointment to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The two stories are from last week's edition of Westward, a Denver based weekly and from today's (April 14, 2005) edition of the Casper Star-Tribune. They can be read at the following web sites:
Western Watersheds Project is now the North America Distributor for Vanessa Schulz's film Cost of Freedom, and a home page link has been added to the WWP web site (http://www.westernwatersheds.org) allowing for a secure online purchase of DVD's of the film which chronicles the travails of one of the original wolves reintroduced into Idaho in 1996.
The film is both a wonderful and gripping story with tremendous insight and meaning about the relationship of wolves and humans across the world. WWP will receive a part of all sales of the DVD and encourages readers to consider a purchase.
WWP has also posted a copy of a joint paper by Katie Fite, WWP's Biodiversity Director and Janine Blaeloch, the executive director of the Western Land Exchange Project. It is entitled "Quid Pro Quo Wilderness - A New Threat To Public Lands".
At 11:00 A.M. On Saturday May 14, 2005, WWP will host the annual board and members meeting at the Greenfire House at WWP's Greenfire Preserve on the East Fork of the Salmon River in central Idaho. There is plenty of camping space and room for campers and motor homes. Potluck dinner on Saturday night; pancake breakfast Sunday morning.
For more information and to RSVP please call or email the WWP Hailey office: firstname.lastname@example.org; 208-788-2290.