Greenfire Preserve Summer News And BLM In Wyoming Comes Into WWP's Legal Crosshairs

Online Messenger #61

Summer News From Western Watersheds Project's Greenfire Preserve

With 90 acres of uplands seeded with native sage-steppe plant species, WWP Greenfire Manager Stew Churchwell is watering the plantings to ensure germination and a good start on the upland restoration.

New growth is also appearing on the over 2000 native shrubs planted in May by a dozen Wilderness Volunteers thanks to the hard work of WWP Board member Debra Ellers and WWP member Dale Grooms of Boise.

Additional hand sowing of sage brush seed will be carried out this summer and fall on the restoration area.

A pair of Peregrine falcons is raising two chicks on the Preserve on the south-east cliffs overlooking the river. The confirmation of the two chicks by Idaho Department of Fish and Game staff is welcome news.

Bullock's Orioles are nesting in the Cottonwood trees at Stew's house and the surfeit of grasshoppers in the fields are providing ample food for hundreds of neotropic migrants.

Returning chinook salmon have been spotted in the East Fork of the Salmon River already, and WWP anticipates that staging of salmon will continue until spawning commences around mid-August.

WP has been cooperating with the Shoshone-Bannock tribes of Fort Hall in the installation and protection of steelhead trout egg rearing trays which have been located in a side channel of the river at the island above the main house at Greenfire. WWP is hopeful additional steelhead will survive the demanding trip to and from the Pacific Ocean because of these egg placements.

WWP's University of Idaho summer interns Subit Chandran and Jonathan Suk are continuing their data collection on creeks on the Salmon-Challis National Forest. They are using a McNeil Core Sampling Device (generously donated by WWP Board Member Gene Bray) to determine if the level of surface fines and cobble embeddedness for many salmonid spawning streams is exceeding Forest Service maximum standards of 30%. This information will be used in efforts by WWP to restore salmon and bull trout streams on National Forest lands in central Idaho. To date Jonathan and Subit have sampled areas on the Wet Creek, Pass Creek, Thompson Creek, Morgan Creek, and Basin Creek watersheds.

About 20 elk have been summering on the Greenfire Preserve this year, perhaps out of safety concerns relating to the recently identified wolf pair (the male is B-2 one of the oldest wolves known in central Idaho at the age of 13) and four pups located within ten miles of the Preserve. This pair is the second pack of wolves found this year in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area since B-107 was located with an unknown male and their five pups in the Horton Peak area on the east side of the Sawtooth Valley in April. These two packs of wolves cannot be relocated or killed in the SNRA thanks to WWP's injunction against the Forest Service which has been extended through this year.

Western Watersheds Project and American Lands Alliance Send Notice of Intent to Sue the Wyoming BLM over Thermopolis Hobby Rancher Frank Robbins' Legal Settlement With The BLM

As part of the initiation of WWP's new office in Pinedale, Wyoming, WWP has sent notification to the BLM in Wyoming that WWP and ALA will sue the BLM unless changes are made to the Settlement with Frank Robbins which will comply with federal law.

LOOK AT the Notice Letter sent to the Wyoming BLM (.doc)

Thanks to Advocates For The West Attorney Laurie Rule for her hard work on this case!

Here is today's (7/8/03) news article from the Casper Star-Tribune.

Thermopolis Rancher's BLM Deal Threatened

By BRODIE FARQUHAR Star-Tribune staff writer

A unique settlement between a Thermopolis-area rancher and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has prompted a conservation group to file a "notice of intent to sue" the BLM and void the controversial deal.

The threatened lawsuit is on behalf of Western Watersheds Project, an Idaho-based group concerned about management of grazing on federal lands, as well as American Lands Alliance of Washington, D.C. Both groups are members of the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign, which seeks federal legislation for a voluntary federal grazing permit buyout program to compensate ranchers and restore public lands.

The document alleges that the settlement between rancher Harvey Frank Robbins and the BLM violates the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, Taylor Grazing Act, Endangered Species Act and the Code of Federal Regulations.

"Our notice has several purposes," said Jon Marvel, director of Western Watersheds Project. One is that Marvel wants the BLM to comply with federal law.

"Secondly, we want to draw public attention to the political interference in this case," Marvel said. Political interference always causes damage to federal lands, he said. "This is a perfect example," he said.

Marvel said this threatened lawsuit and his group's imminent opening of a Wyoming office in Pinedale constitutes "a much more substantial effort in Wyoming to bring BLM and Forest Service management of grazing lands into compliance with federal law."

Notice of the intent to sue was faxed to the Cheyenne and Worland offices of the BLM on Monday by Lauren Rule, staff attorney for Advocates for the West - a Boise-based, nonprofit, conservation law firm. She said the Robbins settlement was unprecedented, brokered by top officials of the Bush administration's Department of the Interior.

Rule said the lawsuit would be filed against BLM's top officials in Wyoming and Washington, D.C., but would not be aimed at Robbins -- only his settlement with the BLM and the BLM officials who authorized the settlement.

Advocates for the West has filed numerous lawsuits against agencies of the federal government, Rule said. "This time the field office (Worland) was doing a pretty good job," she said.

BLM records show that because of Robbins' continuing violations of his grazing permit restrictions, Worland officials refused Robbins' request for a grazing permit on his newly purchased Owl Creek ranch. They also canceled Robbins' grazing permits on his two other ranches (later stayed for judicial review) and were actively contemplating seizure of Robbins' livestock.

Rule said the potential lawsuit could be filed in either the federal district court of Wyoming or the District of Columbia. She said formal filing could take place as early as mid-August. The Endangered Species Act component of the potential lawsuit needs 60 days advance notice, she explained. That means the ESA complaint (that BLM did not consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over grizzly bears observed on Owl Creek allotments) could be filed separately or added as an amendment in 60 days.

Cindy Wertz, spokeswoman for the Wyoming BLM headquarters in Cheyenne, said the notice of intent has been received and is being forwarded to the BLM Solicitor's Office in Lakewood, Colo., a Denver suburb. "Until our solicitor has reviewed the notice, we can't comment," she explained.