Federal Court Bars Livestock in Jarbidge, Bruneau Watersheds

Online Messenger #56

In response to a lawsuit filed by Western Watersheds Project and the Committee for the High Desert, a federal court has ordered the Bureau of Land Management to close several pastures to livestock grazing in the Jarbidge Resource Area of south-central Idaho.

The area comprises more than 1.7 million acres of primarily public lands within the Jarbidge River and Bruneau River watersheds. The lands are home to bull trout, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, redband trout, red-tailed hawks and more than 300 other species of wildlife.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Mikel Williams granted the conservation groups' motion for a preliminary injunction barring livestock grazing in selected pastures. He also ordered the BLM to abide by its own findings that show livestock grazing in Jarbidge RA has violated federal standards of rangeland health.

"This decision represents a watershed moment for the Jarbidge," said Todd Tucci, attorney for Advocates for the West, representing WWP and CHD. "No longer can the BLM and ranching corporations continue to indiscriminately trash our public lands. They will be held accountable for the abysmal conditions in the Jarbidge -- conditions that the BLM admits are caused by livestock grazing." The BLM's own reports indicate that 84 percent of Jarbidge RA is in "poor" or "recently burned" condition.

"The record in this regard supports the likelihood of continued injury to the rangeland health . . ." Williams ruled, "and the injury would be irreparable, absent any protective measures in the form of modifications to the current grazing management practices."

Willams noted that the BLM "failed to take any action" prior to the 2003 grazing season despite the agency's damage assessment of Jarbidge RA that triggered WWP and CHD's lawsuit.

"The Jarbidge BLM tried to fly below the radar screen here," said Jon Marvel, executive director of WWP. "Because the agency has demonstrated that it is incapable of enforcing our environmental laws, we are forced to sue in order to protect lands that belong to all of us. The BLM must hold themselves and the ranching giants accountable."

WWP and CHD sued the BLM in November 2002 for its failure to revise livestock grazing practices in Jarbidge RA despite the agency's finding that livestock grazing caused "raw" streambanks, incised stream channels, increased soil erosion into critical bull trout habitat, adverse effects to slickspot peppergrass and many other ecological impacts.

Jarbidge RA is familiar territory to hunters, hikers, anglers, birders and other public-lands users for its unique natural, recreational and cultural resources. But the area also serves as the public-lands feedlot for some of the country's biggest ranchers and ranching corporations, including Brackett Ranches and J.R. Simplot, the potato billionaire.

"This decision sends a message that the Bracketts and Simplots of the ranching industry are not above the law," said Katie Fite, conservation director of the Committee for the High Desert.

The Jarbidge Resource Management Plan, completed in 1985, requires the BLM to improve rangelands in poor condition; improve sage grouse nesting; protect bighorn sheep habitat; and protect and enhance sage grouse habitat to maintain or increase sage grouse populations.

Since that time, Jarbidge RA has suffered significant degradation and loss of wildlife habitat due to livestock grazing. Bull trout were listed under the Endangered Species Act. Slickspot peppergrass was proposed for listing. The U.S. Air Force expanded its military training facilities in the area. Sage grouse populations have plummeted, while exotic weed populations and off-road vehicle use have soared.

For readers who may be interested, the Docket Sheet for this case can be accessed at the following URL: http://www.id.uscourts.gov/wconnect/wc.dll?usdc_racer~get_case_jb~1:2-cv...

Groups Seek to Limit Program to Spray for Mormon Crickets

Four conservation groups have asked the federal court for the District of Idaho to temporarily halt an Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APPHIS) program to aerially spray Malathion and other toxic insecticides on 20 million acres of federal land in southern Idaho.

The APHIS program to kill Mormon crickets violates critical environmental laws designed to protect human health, water quality and the environment, according to representatives of the Idaho Conservation League, Xerces Society, Western Watersheds Project and the Committee for the High Desert.

"We have grave concerns about the impacts that this program will have on human health and water quality," said Justin Hayes, program director of ICL. "APHIS is proposing to apply some very toxic insecticides very near people and right on top of some waterways."

The insecticides that APHIS intends to use are classified as highly toxic to fish and extremely toxic to aquatic invertebrates.

The groups are especially concerned about the impacts on aquatic life because the APHIS proposal would use planes to spray directly over intermittent waterways and immediately adjacent to rivers and canals, thereby allowing the insecticides to drift into these waters.

Equally alarming, the spray program would only provide a 500-foot no aerial spray zone around schools. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies at least one of the insecticides as a "potential human carcinogen."

Commercial beehives would receive a 1-mile no-spray buffer, and rivers with bull trout a 0.5 mile buffer. Waterways without endangered fish would receive significantly less protection.

The APHIS spray program would employ broad-spectrum insecticides that would kill nearly all insects - including bees and other beneficial, native pollinators - in the targeted areas. The insecticides would also have direct and indirect effects on many other species in the areas, eliminating an essential food source for birds such as meadowlarks, mountain bluebirds, pheasants and sage grouse.

"The highly toxic, broad-spectrum insecticides that APHIS is proposing to use will wreak havoc on the complex communities of invertebrates that inhabit the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem where they are applied," said Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society, an international association devoted to the conservation of invertebrates.

Hoping to avoid a permanent halt to grasshopper-control efforts on public lands, the groups have urged APHIS to scale back its plan and employ other methods, such as biological controls, to keep the grasshoppers in check.

The groups also recommend alternative means of applying the insecticides to limit drift and reduce the variety and amount of insecticide used.

"Insects play a critical role in ecosystems, especially the pollination of plants," said Black. "When you try to control grasshoppers you need to strike a balance, not eliminate virtually all the insects in an area."

"APHIS is proposing to use Malathion and other poisons on large blocks of wild public lands well-removed from any croplands," said Katie Fite of CHD. "These chemicals kill insects essential for sage grouse and songbird chick survival, and they will harm the adult birds too. "

"APHIS has failed to examine the impacts of this proposal in violation of our most fundamental and important environmental laws," said Todd Tucci, an attorney with Advocates for the West. "In fact, APHIS even ignored the EPA's own concerns over this project's impacts on public safety and the environment."

Advocates for the West, which represents the four conservation groups, made it clear to APHIS that the groups do not want to halt all grasshopper-control actions this summer. In a letter to APHIS officials, Advocates said the spraying program "can be better tailored to avoid unnecessary environmental harm or threats to public health, and (we) are willing to discuss . . . ideas in that regard with you."

APHIS representatives did not respond to the letter, forcing the groups to pursue litigation.