The annual Western Watersheds Project members and board meeting was held at WWP's Greenfire Preserve on May 6, 2006. Attendance was quite good with about 45 in attendance including a number of new members and excellent food and drink was available. The weather cooperated with beautiful spring weather. All 12 members of the Greenfire wild horse band attended across the river from the Greenfire House. Some visitors enjoyed a trip to the Bowery Hot Springs for a soak.
Appreciation plaques were awarded by WWP Board President Kelley Weston to retired and retiring board members Dr. Don Johnson and Gene Bray for twelve and thirteen years of service to WWP. Thank you Don and Gene !
At the afternoon annual WWP board meeting new board members Dr. Bruce Hayse of Jackson, Wyoming, Dr. Erin Anchustegui of Boise, Idaho and Dr. Ralph Maughan of Pocatello, Idaho were voted onto the WWP board along with returning member Dr. John Carter of Mendon, Utah.
The East Fork of the Salmon River rose above flood stage on Sunday May 21, 2006 at WWP's Greenfire Preserve after hot weather and a very large snow pack interacted to produce an enormous run-off. The flood waters overtopped both of Greenfire's pump station headgate diversions and brought huge cottonwood trees down the river. The Preserve's East Fork bridge central abutment in the middle of the river continues to hold so far, notwithstanding the battering it is taking!
In an apparently unprecedented decision from the Department of the Interior's Office of Hearings and Appeals, Judge James Heffernan of Salt Lake City awarded WWP over $42,000 in attorneys fees in WWP's appeal win over the Nevada BLM in the Spanish Ranch-Squaw Valley allotments northwest of Elko. Those funds will go to the hard working WWP attorneys at Advocates For The West (http://www.advocateswest.org) in Boise. WWP would like to extend thanks to attorney Todd Tucci and WWP's own Biodiversity Director Katie Fite for the success in that appeal affecting over 500,000 acres of public lands.
WWP is still awaiting a decision in another important administrative appeal of a BLM decision in Owyhee County, Idaho affecting the 70,000 acre Nickel Creek allotment. The allotment is a critical area for sage grouse habitat and has numerous streams and springs that have been badly abused by cattle over many years. The Phoenix-based administrative law judge in the appeal provided thoughtful oversight to the weeklong hearing in Boise last year, and WWP is anticipating a favorable decision in the case.
WWP has settled its litigation against the Salmon-Challis National Forest over the management of the Spud Creek grazing allotment near WWP's Greenfire Preserve in the East Fork of the Salmon River watershed in central Idaho. The case claimed the Forest service failed to comply with its Land and Resource Management Plan by issuing an annual operating instruction to the permittees on the allotment without requiring them to maintain the fences and livestock watering systems on the allotment.
WWP brought this case because our subsidiary Valley Sun L.L.C. Is the majority grazing permittee (as a preferred applicant) on the Spud Creek allotment. Valley Sun is not currently grazing livestock on the allotment, but the Forest service was requiring that Valley Sun carry out numerous onerous maintenance work on the allotment without requiring the same level of compliance from the other cattle permittee on the allotment, Wayne and Melodie Baker.
The settlement, negotiated successfully by Advocates For The West attorney Judi Brawer for WWP, requires a new analysis of grazing on the allotment and mandates that the Forest Service determine if there is sufficient water in one unit of the allotment, the Joe Jump pasture, to permit any livestock grazing at all. In the meantime that unit will be rested from livestock use.
Ironically this allotment may be closed forever if Congressman Mike Simpson's CIEDRA wilderness bill (http://www.house.gov/simpson/ciedra.shtml) passes into law, because the Bakers have agreed to see all their East Fork grazing permits and have them retired permanently. That bill is still controversial for proposed land transfers to Custer County and various motorized recreation guarantees but may be marked-up as soon as mid-June 2006.
WWP attorney Todd Tucci has successfully settled an Endangered Species Act lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to comply with the law's requirements for a 90 day finding on a listing petition for the Columbia Sharp-Tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus columbianus) filed by WWP and several other conservation groups. The Service has now agreed to a timetable that will be court-enforced for the 90 day finding and a later 12 month determination of qualification for listing under the ESA.
The largest remaining population of this charismatic upland bird species (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/lewisandclark/record_species_193_15_4.html) is in Idaho. It formerly was abundant in many other western states but has declined greatly in numbers. The Columbian Sharp-tailed grouse was first reported by the Lewis and Clark expedition in May of 2006 in what is now Oregon.
At 8:30 A.M. On Friday May 26, 2006 at the federal court house in Boise, Idaho, Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill of the federal district of Idaho will hear oral arguments in WWP's North Sheep litigation against the Sawtooth National Forest. Readers will recall that Judge Winmill has already decided the case in WWP's favor, and he will now determine the remedies and injunctive relief in the case. WWP, through the able and excellent work of attorney Laurie Rule of Advocates For The West Boise office, is asking for the largest allotments, Baker Creek and Smiley Creek, to be closed pending the Forest Service bringing its analysis of the land's capability to sustain domestic sheep grazing into compliance with the National Forest Management Act of 1976.
These two large allotments (about 90,000 acres) are permitted to John Faulkner of Gooding, Idaho one of the largest remaining sheep ranchers in the west and one of the largest grazing permittees in the United States on Forest service administered land.
Another permittee, Lava Lake Land and Livestock of Hailey, Idaho, has already agreed not to graze the North Fork-Boulder allotment in 2006 because of this litigation.
WWP and other conservation groups are considering initiating litigation against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contesting the Service's denial of a listing petition for the greater Sage Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), a beautiful native denizen of the sage-steppe (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/lewisandclark/record_species_064_8_4.html) that has suffered huge declines in population and suitable habitat.
Readers' emailed thoughts on this possibility are welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bush administration's Department of the Interior (soon to be headed by current Idaho Governor and non-conservationist Dirk Kempthorne) has issued a Supplement to its 2005 Environmental Impact Statement for revised BLM grazing regulations affecting 160,000,000 acres across the western United States. While the final regulations have not been issued as yet, WWP anticipates that they will be in the next two months.
WWP also anticipates that it will be litigating those regulations when they do become final as, in their draft form, they remove many environmental protections and reduce or eliminate public involvement in the management of livestock on public lands while increasing the power and benefits for ranchers who would gain property rights to water sources on public lands as well as ownership of fencing and water developments.