Wolves, Grizzly Bears, Bighorn, Big Lost River Whitefish, Copper Basin, and more ...

WWP Online Messenger #129

Please Testify In Person Or By Email For The Northern
Rockies Wolf Management Hearing in Boise Today (July 19)
Written Comments Are Due By August 6, 2007

Photo © U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

On Thursday July 19, 2007 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be holding a hearing in Boise, Idaho on a proposed 10J rule that would greatly increase the killing of wolves in the Northern Rockies with little justification.

WWP encourages members of WWP and supporters of wolves to testify at the hearing and provide written comments to the very bad two rule changes for managing wolves that are under consideration by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The hearing today (Thursday, July 19th) is in Boise, Idaho from 7:00-9:00 p.m. at the Boise Convention Center on the Grove, 850 Front St. regarding modifying the 10(j) rule for killing wolves. There is also an Open House from 6:00-7:00 P.M. at the same location.

WWP’s Media Director Brian Ertz expects to be broadcasting the hearing on streaming video. Check the WWP Blog to see the state official's testimony before FWS.

Suggested comments and much other information for taking action on these proposed rule changes can be found at the Defenders of Wildlife web site and the Idaho wolves web site.

Western Watersheds Project Adds Staff In Three States


Western Watersheds Project is proud to announce the addition of WWP staff in California, Arizona and Idaho:

Dr. Michael J. Connor of Reseda, California has joined WWP as California Science Director. Mike has many years of experience working to protect habitat for the listed desert tortoise and is also an expert in the habitat needs of the threatened Mohave ground squirrel. He will be working with WWP California Director Todd Shuman on BLM and Forest Service management issues in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains and the huge swaths of BLM managed public land in the California desert. Welcome Mike !

Debra Ellers, former long-time Board president of WWP and now a resident of McCall, Idaho is the new Western Idaho Director of WWP. Dale Grooms will be assisting Debra with onsite monitoring and GIS mapping as WWP’s Western Idaho Data Specialist. Debra and Dale will be monitoring public lands from north of Boise to the Clearwater River in north-central Idaho. Their knowledge of the back country in those areas and especially the Seven Devils mountain range is unparalleled. Please be sure and read Debra’s article in the Summer 2007 Watersheds Messenger. Welcome back Debra and Dale !

Rebecca Sullivan has recently joined the legal staff of Advocates For The West’s Boise Office (http://www.advocateswest.org) to work on litigation for Western Watersheds Project. WWP is proud to be helping fund Rebecca who is an accomplished graduate of Dartmouth College and Georgetown University Law School. Welcome Rebecca !

Brian Ertz of Boise, Idaho who has been WWP’s webmeister for the last year is now joining WWP staff as WWP’s Media Director. Brian will be working with WWP board member Dr. Ralph Maughan to increase and sophisticate WWP’s online and web based outreach efforts over the next several months. Welcome Brian !

Erik Ryberg is now the Arizona Director for WWP headquartered in Tucson, Arizona. Erik is also a licensed attorney in Arizona and a graduate of the University of Idaho law school. Erik will be addressing public lands management throughout Arizona and parts of New Mexico. Welcome Erik !

WWP also extends a warm welcome to 2007 summer intern Anne Michelle Frost of Idaho Falls, Idaho who will be working with WWP Wyoming Director Jonathan Ratner out of WWP’s Wyoming Office.


WWP Starts Up Copper Basin-Big Lost River Initiative


Copper Basin
Copper Basin
Photo © Ralph Maughan

In early June 2007 staff and board members of Western Watersheds Project started up WWP’s Copper Basin Initiative during a campout at the relict aspen clone in Charcoal creek in Copper Basin. Staff and Board members also spent the entire day of June 28, 2007 touring the watershed with Diane Weaver the new Lost River District Ranger for the Forest Service.

The Copper Basin and the entire upper Big Lost River watershed is a huge area of public land administered by the Salmon-Challis National Forest’s Lost River ranger district and two Field offices of the BLM, the Upper Snake Field office and the Challis Field office.

WWP believes that this magnificent area of public lands deserves better management than it now receives and that if it did the landscape could support much larger populations of native species including elk, deer, moose, bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain goats, antelope, wolves, bear as well as sage-steppe dependent species like sage grouse, pygmy rabbit, Brewer’s sparrow, sage thrashers, horned toads, northern shrikes, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, fishers, wolverines, white tailed jack rabbits and many other native species.

WWP thinks of the upper Big Lost River and Copper Basin as an opportunity to restore a major watershed of the west that is more scenically spectacular than the Lamar River Valley in Yellowstone National Park and that has the potential to support as much wildlife as that wonderful western watershed !

For some great photos of Copper Basin please visit WWP Board member

Dr. Ralph Maughan’s blogsite


WWP Joins As Lead Plaintiff In Lawsuit To Block Grizzly Bear Delisting

Grizzly Bear
Photo © U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Western Watersheds Project is the lead plaintiff in litigation filed in federal District Court in Idaho to overturn the delisting of the Greater Yellowstone Population of grizzly bears. WWP is joined in filing the litigation with the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Center for Biological Diversity, Great Bear Foundation, and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. The groups are represented by counsel Doug Honnold of Earthjustice’s Bozeman office and WWP’s attorney Laird Lucas of Advocates For The West’s Boise office.

Here is an excerpt from the news release filed in early June about this important litigation:


Lawsuit Filed to Restore Protections for Yellowstone Grizzly Bears

Boise, ID: Conservation groups today filed a lawsuit in Idaho federal district court challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to eliminate Endangered Species Act protections for the Yellowstone area’s iconic grizzly bear population. The legal challenge asks the court to restore the threatened status of the Yellowstone grizzly population because of ongoing habitat destruction caused by global warming, insufficient bear numbers, and inadequate legal protections.

More than 230 scientists urged FWS not to delist the Yellowstone grizzly bear population because it is too small and isolated for long-term viability. The Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to truck bears from northwest Montana to Yellowstone to maintain genetic diversity in the population.

While the Fish and Wildlife Service counts grizzlies throughout the Yellowstone area in assessing recovery, its delisting proposal contains no habitat protections for more than 40 % of currently occupied grizzly bear habitat in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Clearcutting, roadbuilding, livestock grazing and oil and gas development remain a threat on federal land surrounding Yellowstone National Park.

Doug Honnold, an Earthjustice attorney representing the conservation groups, says that “Yellowstone’s grizzlies face a double threat: much of their current habitat is not protected and even in the heart of the ecosystem warming temperatures are decimating the bears’ most essential food.”

Yellowstone grizzlies rely on high-fat seeds of whitebark pine as a key food source in critical months before hibernation. Warming temperatures have enabled mountain pine beetles to kill high-altitude whitebark pine trees at alarming rates. When whitebark pine seed cone crops fail, Yellowstone grizzly bear mortalities skyrocket and the number of grizzly cubs the following spring plummets. Louisa Willcox of the Natural Resources Defense Council states that the decline of whitebark pine spells disaster for the bears that depend on them. “Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes that 20,000 polar bears are threatened by global warming, but has failed to acknowledge that Yellowstone’s grizzlies habitat is also declining due to global warming,” says Willcox.

The government’s decision to delist will also subject the bears to hunting in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.

The full Complaint filed in this litigation can be downloaded as a PDF file.

WWP Files Litigation To Stop Risks To Native Wildlife
From the National Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho

Photo © Northern Arizona University

In Late June 2007 Western Watersheds Project joined with the
Center For Biological Diversity in filing litigation over illegal use of public lands by the federal Sheep Experiment Station in eastern Idaho. WWP is represented by Attorneys Mark Fink of CBD and Todd Tucci of Advocates For the West’s Boise Office. Interested readers can
download the Complaint in this litigation. Here is the news release for this important legal action:

Conservationists File Suit Over Illegal Sheep Grazing in Yellowstone Area Groups Seek to Protect Bighorn Sheep and Other Endangered Species

SILVER CITY, N.M.— Two conservation groups sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture today over the illegal grazing of domestic sheep on more than 100,000 acres of public lands in and near the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem of Idaho and Montana. The presence of these domestic sheep, and management actions taken on their behalf, hurts sensitive and endangered native wildlife such as Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, lynx, gray wolves and grizzly bears.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project filed suit against the Sheep Experiment Station, Agricultural Research Service and Forest Service, all agencies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Sheep Experiment Station itself manages about 48,000 acres, where it is grazing sheep without any environmental analysis or consideration of impacts to endangered species. The Sheep Station also grazes sheep on over 54,000 acres of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management allotments, where its permits have expired, management plans date back to the 1960s, and little to no analysis has been completed.

“It’s not the 1870s anymore,” pointed out Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “But the federal government is allowing grazing in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, with its world-class wildlife herds and rare animals, without permits — as if the West was still open range.”

“The Sheep Experiment Station is a relic of the past,” said Jon Marvel of Western Watersheds Project. “It is time to protect our wonderful native wildlife on these public lands lest we risk losing them.”

The conservationists point to systemic violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and the Public Rangelands Improvement Act. The conservation groups also sent the agencies notice of intent to sue under the Endangered Species Act.

The 100,000 acres of public land where the sheep are grazed include important connective habitat for any wildlife attempting to travel between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the large wilderness and roadless areas of central Idaho.

WWP Send 60 Day Notice Letter On the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service’s Failure To Protect The Big Lost River Whitefish

Photo © Idaho Department of Fish and Game

In late June 2007 Western Watersheds Project mailed a 60 Day Notice Letter under the Endangered Species Act to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The letter notifies the agency that WWP intends to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service for its failure to meet legally required deadlines to respond to WWP’s June 2006 listing petition for the Big Lost River Whitefish.

The Fish and Wildlife service has not completed the required 90 day finding as to whether a full status review of the whitefish is needed or a twelve month finding of whether the species is warranted for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The Big Lost River whitefish in central Idaho is native only to the Big Lost River a watershed that has been isolated from any other surface waters for more then 10,000 years. The Big Lost whitefish population has diminished by as much a 95 % in the last 60 years and now occupies less than 15% of its former habitat.

Major reasons for the decline of the Big Lost River whitefish include dewatering of rivers and streams for irrigation of hay fields for livestock production, direct cattle impacts to occupied streams and rivers, whirling disease, competition from introduced species of fish including brook trout, rainbow trout and cutthroat trout, and diminished water flows and higher water temperatures caused by climate change.

WWP is ably represented in the whitefish case by attorney Judi Brawer of Boise.

WWP’s Payette National Forest Litigation Results in
Major Benefits For Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep

Western Watersheds Project has won another public lands victory protecting native wildlife by preventing grazing by domestic sheep in Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep habitat next to the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area in western Idaho.

WWP and our litigation partner the Hells Canyon Preservation Council brought litigation in April 2007 to block turn-out of domestic sheep on allotments that the Payette National Forest had determined to be at high and very high risk of transmitting fatal disease to Bighorns from domestic sheep. The Payette National Forest had declined to act to protect Bighorns, but immediately after the litigation was filed the Forest reacted by banning domestic sheep grazing in most of the very high risk Smith Mountain allotment and all of the Curren Hill allotment in the western part of the Payette National Forest.

In subsequent appeals and federal court hearings WWP and our partner have prevailed, and so this year for the first time in almost 120 years there will be no domestic sheep grazing immediately adjacent to Hells Canyon. WWP’s excellent legal counsel in this case is Laurie Rule of Advocates For The West.

WWP Summer 2007 Newsletter (The Watersheds Messenger)
Is Mailed And Now Is Available Online

Western Watersheds Project’s summer 2007 Watersheds Messenger has just been mailed to all WWP members and is now available for review at WWP’s web site in two formats.

Readers interested in seeing the online editions can visit these URLs:

PDF version: