WWP Appeals Forest Service Grazing Decision on the Sawtooth National Recreation Area

Online Messenger #70

Western Watersheds Project and the Boulder-White Clouds Council on Monday (11/24/03) filed an appeal of a U.S. Forest Service decision that supports continued grazing on the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in the East Fork of the Salmon River Valley. The Appeal affects the Upper and Lower East Fork cattle allotments.

In March, the Forest Service released a draft environmental impact statement that proposed a nearly 50 percent reduction of livestock grazing on the Upper and Lower East Fork Cattle grazing allotments on the eastern slope of the White Cloud Mountains.

However, the Forest Service's final decision, issued Sept. 30 by Sawtooth National Recreation Area Ranger Debora Cooper shortly before her departure for Alaska, will allow livestock grazing to resume at higher levels than those of the past three years once certain resource conditions are met.

The decision also clears the way for 15 miles of fencing at the 9000-foot level, at a cost to taxpayers of at least $150,000, in order to keep cattle out of sensitive high elevation areas. "As anyone can tell from reading the record of decision, a lot of political pressure has been brought to bear on Area Ranger Deb Cooper, and it has resulted in this unfortunate decision," said Jon Marvel, executive director of WWP.

About 23,500 acres specified for permanent closure in the draft environmental impact statement would only be temporarily closed.

The conservation groups also contend that the decision fails to assess the issue of "substantial impairment" of wolves by livestock on eight other allotments within the SNRA.

In April Federal District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill renewed an injunction that fully protects wolves on public and private lands in the SNRA even if predations of livestock by wolves occur in the area.

Winmill ruled that the Forest Service violated the Organic Act that created the SNRA by failing to consider whether livestock grazing is substantially impairing wolf populations. He added that the Organic Act does not include grazing as a "historic" or "pastoral" value.

Despite the presence of wolves in the area, some 4,470 sheep and 2,500 cattle are allowed to graze on 28 Forest Service allotments in the SNRA.

WWP and the Boulder-White Clouds Council also maintain that the Forest Service's decision fails to give priority under the Organic Act to the remnant Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep on the Lower East Fork Allotment.

The White Cloud Bighorn Sheep herd may have as few as 37 individual members, a figure that reflects an 80 percent decline in population in the past 10 years, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Marvel noted that the majority of the public's input on the draft environmental study was essentially ignored. Of 219 written comments, 130 supported the termination of livestock grazing through a four year phase-out, and 65 recommended curtailed grazing. Only 17 supported ranching.

The appeal will be reviewed by Intermountain Region Forester Jack Troyer. If Troyer upholds the decision, WWP and the Boulder-White Clouds Council anticipate further litigation.

25,000 Letters Sent Out to Public Lands Ranchers

Please Contact Your Congressional Representatives And Support These Bills

The National Public Lands Grazing Campaign of (of which WWP is a co-founder) mailed out 25,000 letters last week (with the great help of Forest Guardians) to all federal grazing permittees in the United States apprising them of the filing of the National and Arizona Grazing Voluntary Grazing Permit Buy-out legislation entered in Congress by Congressmen Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and several other co-sponsors including Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA). The Bills are H.R. 3324 (the National Buy-Out Bill) and H.R. 3337 (The Arizona Buy-Out Bill).

Readers wishing to read and download the actual letter to all federal grazing permittees or download a copy of either of the Federal bills may do so at the NPLGC web site: http://www.publiclandsranching.org/

WWP strongly recommends that readers of the WWP Online Messenger contact their Representatives in Congress and urge their support for this legislation which has received widespread backing from individual ranchers (especially in Arizona) but strong opposition from national agricultural groups like the Farm Bureau and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and some recidivist Congressmen like Reps. Flake and Renzi of Arizona and Rep. McInnis of Colorado who prefer to maintain the closed market of the status quo.

Here is a recommendation for taking personal action:

Only Congress can create a voluntary grazing permit buyout program. Please contact your Congressional representative and two United States senators and request they support the "voluntary retirement of federal grazing permits" for ecological, economic, fiscal, social and political reasons. If you don't know who your federal elected officials are or how to contact them, you can visit these web sites:

* http://www.house.gov/ and enter your zip code or
* http://www.senate.gov/ and enter your state where indicated.

RangeNet A Success In Boulder, Colorado

The two day RangeNet 2003 Conference wrapped up on Friday afternoon November 7 after a successful series of panels. Among the events was a well received keynote speech by former national Director of the BLM, Jim Baca who with humor and clarity advised everyone present to work for the defeat of George W. Bush next year, an eye-opening presentation by Dr. Jerry Freilich of the National Park Service on the intractable problems with livestock production gleaned from his years of work for the Nature Conservancy in Wyoming, and a lucid presentation of the risks of extinction of the Gunnison Sage Grouse by Dr. Clait Braun, the scientist who determined that the Gunnison Sage Grouse is a new species. Many other speakers provided thoughtful and well prepared presentations which will be available for online download in the near future on the RangeNet web site: http://www.rangenet.org

Next Year RangeNet 2004 will be held in either Santa Fe or Albuquerque shortly after the defeat of George W. Bush ! The 2004 conference will be co-sponsored by Forest Guardians (http://www.fguardians.org/) and The Great Old Broads For Wilderness (http://www.greatoldbroads.org/). Both organizations are on the NPLGC steering committee with WWP.

Larry Walker Honored

Also at RangeNet 2003 Western Watersheds Project was proud to honor Larry Walker, the founder of RangeNet, with the second annual Edward Abbey Memorial Hooved Locust Award for his excellence in online education of all cybernauts about the perils of public lands ranching.

WWP Executive Director Jon Marvel presented Larry with a framed award and a beautiful print of a blue wolf by Ketchum, Idaho artist Will Caldwell to honor his hard work.

Readers who might care to congratulate Larry can reach him at this email address: lwalker@rangebiome.org.

Dr. Bruce L. Welch Joins The WWP Advisory Board

WWP is honored to announce that Dr. Bruce Welch of the Forest Service's Intermountain Research Station in Utah has joined the WWP Advisory Board. Dr. Welch recently published, with co-author Craig Criddle, a research publication entitled "Countering Misinformation Concerning Big Sagebrush" which can be downloaded for free at this URL: http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs/rmrs_rp040.html.

Dr. Welch and Mr. Criddle's research paper questions many of the basic assumptions about sagebrush which have been the basis for inappropriate management decisions by the Forest Service and the BLM for decades. WWP strongly recommends this paper to all readers.

WWP Settles its Lawsuit Against the Idaho Land Board For The Sam Noble Springs State Grazing Lease

After a year and a half of negotiation, Western Watersheds Project has settled its lawsuit against the Idaho Land Board over the 700 acre Sam Noble Springs grazing lease in the headwaters of Rock Creek in Owyhee County, Idaho. This site is the largest known hibernaculum in Idaho for Columbia Spotted Frogs, a species at risk across its limited western habitat in Oregon, Idaho and Nevada.

The settlement recognizes that the Land Board and Idaho Department of Lands has now agreed to lease the main frog habitat on the lease (about 130 acres) to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game which will exclude livestock from that area. Disagreements over provision of water for livestock from the spring complex has been settled in a way that should continue to protect the frogs lacustrine habitat which has been severely degraded by cattle impacts.

Many thanks are due to WWP's Biodiversity Director Katie Fite, and WWP attorney Laird Lucas for work on this issue; and a special thanks goes to WWP Board member Gene Bray who has devoted years to preserving this important center of biodiversity in southwest Idaho. Thank you Gene!

WWP Gets A Favorable Recommendation From A Hearings Officer In The 16,000 acre Lacey Meadows Idaho State Grazing Lease

Readers may recall that this lease which was won at auction by WWP in August 2000 but awarded to the low bidder, the Lacey Meadows Grazing Association, is located in the Weippe Prairie in Clearwater County Idaho at the exact location where Lewis and Clark first encountered members of the Nez Perce Tribe who helped the explorers on their way to the Pacific Ocean after briefly considering killing the whole party.

The Hearings Officer in this contested case hearing recently completed his recommendation to the Idaho Department of Lands with a very favorable nod to WWP's proposal to acquire the lease. A final recommendation from the Department of Lands to the Idaho Land Board is expected any day.

WWP hopes to acquire this lease for wildlife habitat and riparian restoration purposes without livestock use before the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark meeting in September 2005, in order to better celebrate this historic moment in a landscape closer to what the explorers first saw two hundred years ago!