Western Watersheds Project and the Idaho Conservation League have filed a motion in federal District Court in Boise to close several livestock grazing allotments and protect wolves in Idaho's Sawtooth National Recreation Area during the 2003 grazing season.
WWP and ICL contend that the U.S. Forest Service has not met a court-ordered timetable for environmental reviews of eight allotments identified as "problem" areas for grazing in the SNRA. These allotments are primarily in the Sawtooth Valley, where sheep operators have had a long history of management violations.
Last year, sheep were repeatedly found in areas that are closed to grazing. The discovery reinforces WWP and ICL's claim that many SNRA grazing permittees violated the terms and conditions of their permits in 2001 and 2002.
WWP and ICL also want the court to renew an injunction issued last summer that protects wolves from "predator control" actions due to conflicts with livestock in the SNRA. The previous injunction, issued July 19, 2002 by District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill, expired at the end of the 2002 grazing season.
Citing violations by the Forest Service in its management of the SNRA, Winmill ruled that wolves in the area could not be killed even if predations of livestock occur.
"Now is the deadline to close these allotments or stop killing wolves in the SNRA," said WWP executive director Jon Marvel.
"Even with the judge's ruling last year, the Forest Service has done nothing to alter livestock grazing in the SNRA to help keep sheep off the wolves' dinner table and wolves off the Wildlife Services' hit list," said ICL's Linn Kincannon. "We will continue to press for wolf protection."
Recent monitoring indicates that wolves are in the SNRA and surrounding areas, despite the fact that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents in April 2002 killed the entire Whitehawk pack of 11 wolves. Winmill's decision last summer also bound the FWS to protect wolves in the SNRA.
Former FWS biologist Roy Heberger, who supervised the wolf reintroduction program in Idaho, noted that at least two pairs of wolves are known to be in the same areas occupied by the Whitehawk and other packs exterminated due to conflicts with livestock.
"It is vital that these wolves and possible incipient packs in and around the SNRA be protected from control actions, which would only perpetuate the substantial impairment of SNRA values," Heberger said in a declaration to the court. "It is certainly foreseeable that the wolves now known to be present in and around the SNRA will come into conflicts with livestock in coming months, absent significant changes in livestock grazing management on the SNRA."
"The fact that these wolves are known to have been present in and around the SNRA since the Whitehawk pack was killed underscores the importance of ensuring against future wolf-livestock conflicts that would trigger 'control' actions to kill wolves under the wolf reintroduction program," said WWP counsel Laird Lucas.
The Forest Service's own monitoring reports for the 2002 grazing season reveal that livestock permittees continued to violate the terms and conditions of their permits and allowed livestock to graze in areas occupied by wolves.
In the past three years, at least 30 wolves have been killed or removed from areas in or near the SNRA due to conflicts with livestock. Some 4,470 sheep and 2,500 cattle are allowed to graze on 28 Forest Service allotments in the SNRA despite the presence of wolves.
On 2-10-03, the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project and George Wuerthner filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect the Montana fluvial arctic grayling under the Endangered Species Act. In 1994, the agency used a loophole in the law to indefinitely delay listing of the grayling as an endangered species while at the same time declaring that listing was necessary. Since then the grayling has continued to decline and is now threatened with rapid extinction.
Once found throughout the upper Missouri River drainage above Great Falls, the fluvial arctic grayling has been reduced to a single self-sustaining population in a short stretch of the Big Hole River above Divide Dam. A primary factor in this range decline was dewatering of rivers for irrigation. Continued irrigation in combination with four consecutive years of drought have resulted in drastic declines in the remaining population in the Big Hole River.
A member of the salmon family, arctic grayling are widely distributed across Canada and Alaska. Populations of arctic grayling have also been established in many lakes in Montana and other states, where previously they did not exist. Historically, fluvial [i.e. river-dwelling] populations of arctic grayling existed in only two places in the lower 48 states: Michigan and the upper Missouri River of Montana. The Michigan population went extinct by the 1930s, and populations in Montana were restricted to the Big Hole River by the end of the 1970s.
Eight citizen groups are suing the U.S. Forest Service for failing to reform the fee charged for grazing livestock on National Forests in the Western US. The 2003 grazing fee of $1.35 per month for a cow and her calf is one tenth of market rates and is the minimum allowed by regulation.
The extremely low grazing fee fails to cover the basic administrative costs of the federal grazing program. In October 2002 the Center for Biological Diversity released a report showing that the federal grazing program costs taxpayers $124 million at a minimum, and likely as much as $1 billion annually in subsidies and other costs after subtracting fee receipts.
Over ten years ago, the US Departments of Agriculture and Interior and the General Accounting Office established that the formula used to calculate the fee is mathematically flawed, as it subtracts increases in the costs of production twice. As a result the fee has barely risen above the $1.35 minimum, while market rates on equivalent private ranchlands have increased to almost 10 times greater.
The Forest Service proposed to reform the fee formula in 1994, but never announced a final decision on the reform, and kept on using the flawed formula.
"The Forest Service charges about as much to run a cow on public lands as it costs to feed a pet hamster. The U.S. taxpayer is being fleeced by this bargain basement sale of public resources." stated Peter Galvin, Conservation Biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity. Galvin added "Livestock grazing on public lands is one of the major causes of species endangerment in the U.S."
Joining the Center in this action are American Lands Alliance, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Committee for the High Desert, Forest Guardians, Oregon Natural Desert Association, the Nevada Outdoor Recreation Association and Western Watersheds Project.
Bill Marlett, Oregon Natural Desert Association said that: "Low grazing fees coupled with big federal deficits means that monitoring and mitigation of cow-damaged rangelands will go neglected. It's not just the American taxpayer who gets the shaft, but the streams, soils and wildlife on all of our Western public lands."
Katie Fite, Conservation Director of the Committee for the High Desert, added: "The livestock industry claims that public lands ranchers have to invest more time and resources on federal lands than on private rangeland. This may be true in some cases, but USDA research in the mid 1990s showed that costs for private land ranchers average about $40 a cow higher than for public lands ranchers - exactly the opposite of what industry claims."
Charles Watson, of the Nevada Outdoor Recreation Association added that: "The low fee has encouraged overgrazing, massive erosion and invasion by noxious vegetation, leading to the huge fires that have destroyed millions of dollars of private property in the West in recent years. The Forest Service has known about the flaw in the fee formula for years. It's high time they fixed it."
The lawsuit, which requires the Forest Service to make a final decision on the reform of the grazing fee formula, was filed in Federal District Court in Washington D.C. today, Wednesday Feb 26, and will be argued by Eric Glitzenstein of Meyer and Glitzenstein.