Western Watersheds Project extends our wish for a truly rewarding new year to all readers of the Online Messenger. WWP looks forward to a productive and successful year restoring the west.
WWP's Central Idaho Director, Stew Churchwell, reports that so far this winter WWP's Greenfire Preserve on the East Fork of the Salmon River has welcomed over one hundred mule deer, a contingent of elk including some very large bulls, four feral horses, numerous coyotes, otters, and a bald eagle.
In a surprising turn of events in the first week of January, 2003, WWP has been informed by the Idaho Department of Lands that the Department will recommend to the Idaho Land Board that the Lacey Meadows grazing lease on 16,000 acres of Idaho endowment land in Clearwater County, Idaho be cancelled for failure to comply with the terms and conditions of the lease.
Readers will recall that WWP was the high bidder for this grazing lease four years ago, but the Idaho Land Board awarded the lease to the low bidder, the Lacey Meadows Grazing Association.
Since then WWP won an Idaho District Court decision from Judge Deborah Bail which required the Department of Lands to hold a contested case hearing on the Lacey Meadows lease and another disputed lease (the 6000 acre Robinson Hole lease) which were both awarded to the low bidders. Judge Bail also ruled that until the hearing was held and the issue resolved, the ten year lease provided to the Lacey Meadows Grazing Association was terminated.
In the meantime, the Idaho Department of Lands had continued a temporary annual lease to the Grazing Association. The contested case hearing had been scheduled for January 14-16 but has now been indefinitely postponed with the agreement of WWP.
The Idaho Land Board will address the issue in February or March. With three newly elected members, there is no way to prejudge how the Land Board will respond to the Department's recommendation that WWP receive the Lacey Meadows lease, but, no doubt there will be considerable political pressure to deny WWP the lease!
History buffs will appreciate knowing that it is on this very same Lacey Meadows lease that the hungry Lewis and Clark expedition first encountered the startled but friendly Nez Perce Indians on the Weippe Prairie in September 1805.
WWP has learned that the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) has ordered all irrigation water users in central Idaho's Pahsimeroi Valley to install headgates and measuring devices on their irrigation diversions before taking any water this year. The Order may result in some water use being denied this year if irrigators do not comply with the Order in a timely way.
WWP has been very involved in the issue of water diversions in the upper Salmon River watershed (which includes the Pahsimeroi River) where listed chinook salmon, steelhead trout, and bull trout are routinely killed by unscreened and unmeasured irrigation diversions which often completely dewater creeks and the Pahsimeroi River itself. One of WWP's successful lawsuits has stopped the dewatering of Mahogany Creek in the Pahsimeroi Valley.
WWP hopes that this enforcement action is just the start of a more assertive plan of action by the IDWR to prevent illegal water use in Idaho.
On December 18, 2002, Western Watersheds Project and the Committee For The High Desert filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Boise, Idaho against the Salmon-Challis National Forest for violations of the National Environmental policy Act (NEPA) and the 1995 Recissions Act which ordered a schedule for environmental review for all Forest Service grazing allotments.
The Salmon-Challis National Forest has failed to meet the Recissions Act Schedule and is continuing to authorize livestock grazing with little or no environmental analysis. Numerous grazing allotments on the Forest have allotment management plans which are thirty to forty years old.