September News: Auction, Land Board, Dewatering and Greenfire Revival

Online Messenger #19

WWP Loses Idaho School Endowment Land Grazing Lease Auction

On Monday September 10, 2001, Western Watersheds Project was outbid by Sulphur Creek livestock's manager, Judd Whitworth, for the right to a ten year grazing lease on over 7000 acres of Idaho school endowment land located in the headwaters of Goldburg Creek in the Pahsimeroi Valley of central Idaho.

This is the lease which had been cancelled one year ago by the Idaho Department of Lands because of a continuing history of non-compliance with lease terms and conditions for livestock management by Sulphur Creek Livestock. On appeal, the Idaho Land Board reinstituted the lease for its final year with a 25% reduction taken from total cattle numbers and season of use.

At the auction, rancher Judd Whitworth's final bid (after nineteen bids back and forth starting at $100) of $9,501 won the auction by one dollar. WWP's final bid was for $9,500. Whitworth was required to pay the full amount of his bid at the end of the auction thereby doubling his cost per AUM on the lease when the bid amount is factored over the ten year lease period. WWP regrets losing the auction but again has shown that ranchers are willing to pay significantly more than the State of Idaho is charging.

Idaho Land Board Rejects WWP's Appeal of a Denial of Lease Reclassification

On Tuesday September 11, 2001 just minutes after the collapse of the World Trade Towers, the Idaho Board of Land Commissioners denied an appeal by WWP of an Idaho Department of Lands decision not to reclassify a 680 acre grazing lease in Owyhee County, Idaho to a miscellaneous lease for protection of sensitive species habitat.

WWP had applied for the reclassification of the 680 acre Sam Noble Springs lease 22 months ago (in November 1999) in order to provide a test case of the Land Board's willingness to change the classification of a grazing lease to a "higher and better use". WWP had proposed to pay twice as much as the current grazing lease fee per year for a ten year lease in order to protect habitat for the Columbia Spotted Frog, a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act, and had also offered to install perimeter fencing on the lease at WWP's expense.

The Sam Noble Springs area at the headwaters of Rock Creek is the site of one of the largest known hibernaculum for the Columbia Spotted Frog. Cattle grazing has been shown to be a very significant risk factor for the survival of spotted frogs which need cover and connected water course for reproduction and migration survival.

The Land Board ignored its constitutional fiduciary responsibility to the school children of Idaho to manage the school endowment lands for the "maximum long-term financial return" and to "carefully preserve" these lands when they voted unanimously to issue a new ten year grazing lease to rancher Joe Black. The Land Board even questioned ranch manager, Chris Black, on the beneficial effects of grazing on spotted frogs. Rancher Black commented that without cattle to "keep the ponds open", the frogs would die out because "otherwise the ponds would silt up and disappear."

WWP anticipates litigating this notable decision.

Attorney-Ranchers Fold Under WWP's Lawsuit to Stop the Dewatering of Fourth of July Creek

On Saturday September 15, 2001, attorneys and hobby ranchers Jack Furey and Louis Racine agreed in writing to stop diverting any water from Fourth of July Creek, a tributary of the Salmon River in central Idaho's Sawtooth Valley. The creek is occupied habitat for chinook salmon, bull trout, and steelhead trout, all of which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The dewatering of the creek constitutes a "take" of listed fish species under the ESA. Furey and Racine, who is a former Idaho State Fish and Game Commissioner, have historically diverted 98% of the water from Fourth of July Creek to irrigate a 90 acre pasture for cattle from May until November every year. WWP has withdrawn its motion for a temporary restraining order since water is no longer being diverted; however, the larger lawsuit filed by WWP in late August 2001 will continue in order to prevent dewatering of the creek in future years.

Greenfire Revival a Big Success

More than 50 people joined WWP on September 14-16, 2001 at WWP's 440 acre Greenfire Preserve on the East Fork of the Salmon River for a celebration of the start of riparian and upland restoration at the preserve. Salmon were seen in the river and thousands of willow, alder, river birch and cottonwood shoots are starting to recover the riparian zone on over a mile of the river since livestock were permanently removed last November. Visits were also made to WWP's recovering 640 acre Lake Creek lease about twelve miles from the Preserve. Other wildlife sighted during the weekend included a merlin (attacking a rock dove), great horned owls, a rattlesnake, deer, coyotes, bats, ouzels, otters and kingfishers. The White Hawk Pack wolves, which are nearby, did not make their presence known.