By Michelle Dunlop
Three days before an area rancher was set to turn 900 sheep onto public lands, a federal judge put the brakes on grazing a section of the forest.
"There's not a lot you can do when a judge comes up with a plan to manage the forest," said John Faulkner of Faulkner Land and Livestock Co. This week, U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill ended grazing on a portion of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area for the 2006 season. The judge agreed with Western Watersheds Project's concern that grazing will damage the Smiley Creek allotment that Faulkner's sheep use. The decision comes after the Hailey-based environmental group won a court decision against the Forest Service claiming that the agency violated federal guidelines when preparing an environmental impact statement on four allotments, including Smiley Creek.
"This is a long overdue and an important victory for fish and wildlife in the SNRA," said Jon Marvel, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. Originally, Western Watersheds sought to end grazing on all four allotments then narrowed its request to the Smiley Creek and Baker Creek regions, asking Winmill to stop grazing there permanently. The judge agreed to stop it for one year, but only for the Smiley Creek allotment.
A spokeswoman for the Forest Service declined comment on the case. The agency's attorney did not return phone calls at press time.
Winmill observed that Faulkner, the only livestock producer using Smiley Creek, will lose money from the ruling.
However, "what tips the balance here is the presence of sensitive species of fish, and the substantial degradation of fish habitat and riparian conditions caused by grazing," Winmill wrote.
Most likely, Faulkner now will send his sheep to Forest Service lands in the Idaho City Ranger District. But the judge's decision may force Faulkner to hire more help and will delay the sheep's release by at least a week.
"It's not going to be good for sheep," Faulkner said.
During the 2006 grazing season, the Forest Service had planned to allow grazing on nearly all of the 10-mile stretch of Beaver Creek and the 7.5-mile stretch of Frenchman Creek in the Smiley Creek allotment. The Forest Service assessed 44 percent of Beaver Creek as functioning at an "unacceptable risk" and 38 percent of it as "at risk." Both Frenchman Creek and Beaver Creek contain Chinook salmon, bull trout and steelhead trout n fish considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The agency noted in its environmental impact statement that grazing contributed to sediment load in the stream n one of the problems affecting the threatened fish.
In her declaration to the court, Forest Service Ranger Sara Baldwin had stated that the agency's grazing restrictions for Smiley Creek were consistent with the agency's plan and would "avoid the resource degradation." The Forest Service monitored several sites in the allotment for grazing use and riparian conditions and found improvements in 2005. Yet, Winmill noted, none of those monitoring sites were along Beaver Creek and only one was along Frenchman Creek. The agency did not evaluate water quality issues that impact fish, Winmill wrote.
"The bottom line is that sheep will be grazing nearly the entire length of two creeks containing sensitive species of fish and fish habitat adversely affected by past grazing," Winmill wrote.
Winmill has ordered the Forest Service to prepare information to supplement its environmental impact statement before the beginning of the 2007 grazing season.
Marvel's Western Watersheds also won a case last year against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over livestock grazing on 800,000 near Jarbidge, forcing the BLM to reduce grazing and redo its environmental assessment of the area.
Here is the News Release:
On June 14, 2006 Western Watersheds Project filed a petition with the Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, to list the Big Lost River Whitefish as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
WWP also petitioned for an emergency rule to immediately list the species because of the high risk to its continued existence.
The Big Lost River Whitefish is native only to the Big Lost River watershed in central Idaho. In the last century there has been a 78% reduction in its historic occupied habitat and the numbers of the species have been reduced to less than 1.5% of its historic populations.
The greatest threats to the continued existence of the Big Lost River whitefish comes from dewatering of rivers and streams caused by agricultural diversions, livestock grazing, whirling disease and the introduction of non-native fish like rainbow trout.