Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project is fighting a proposed decision by the Bureau of Land Management to cancel a permit that allows the conservation group to manage thousands of acres near Challis.
The land in question is owned by Seattle conservationist Gordon Younger, through his company Valley Sun. The permit came with his purchase of a 432-acre ranch, now known as the Greenfire Preserve, in 2000. Marvel said Western Watersheds Project is managing the property.
In late January, the BLM sent a letter to Younger saying the permit for the three BLM grazing allotments connected to the ranch would be canceled for several reasons, including the fact that Younger gave Western Watersheds Project control of the "base property," or ranch, without having filed a transfer notice within the allotted time.
The Jan. 29 letter from BLM Field Manager David Rosenkrance also states that Younger failed to provide the BLM with a maintenance schedule for the allotments and "made false statements or representations in grazing applications."
The permit covers three grazing allotments totaling about 9,000 acres near the confluence of the Salmon River and the East Fork of the Salmon River, about 20 miles from Challis.
The permit was reissued to Younger in 2002 and is set to expire in February 2012.
Western Watersheds Project Executive Director Jon Marvel said the BLM's claim that Younger misled the federal agency as to how the land would be managed is false and that Younger was never required to state his plans for the grazing allotments when he bought the ranch.
"There was never any doubt that Western Watersheds [wouldn't] be grazing on the land," Marvel said in an interview.
However, in an application for non-use of the allotment for the 2007 season, Younger stated that Valley Sun "is in the process of acquiring livestock," but would like to "designate non-use for conservation purposes during [the] 2007 season."
"Valley Sun LLC and Western Watersheds Project have provided BLM with baffling, contradictory and apparently false statements," Rosenkrance wrote in his letter to Younger about the cancellation.
As well, Rosenkrance wrote that in November 2008, the BLM requested proof of ownership of "enough cattle to substantially use Valley Sun's grazing permit" and that the requested information was never provided.
In Marvel's opinion, though, the matter is simply another skirmish in the battle between conservationists, who argue that grazing has a negative impact on fisheries and wildlife habitat, and ranchers and the BLM.
"The BLM is looking for excuses to cancel the permits and hand it over to adjoining ranchers," Marvel said. "It's clear the BLM has a bias for ranchers."
Rosenkrance said he received a protest of the decision from Western Watersheds Project on Tuesday and that it would likely take him at least a month to either issue a final decision or drop the cancellation. If a final decision is rendered, the conservation group can file an appeal.
"This could drag out for a long period of time," said Marvel, who estimated that it could take at least a year to resolve the appeal.
Though he said he wasn't sure why the BLM chose this time to issue the cancellation, Marvel said one possibility is the potential passage of the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act during the 2010 congressional session.
As proposed, CIEDRA would designate 318,765 acres in the rugged Boulder and White Cloud mountains as wilderness. The act would compensate ranchers for allotments "retired" to become part of the wilderness.
Marvel said that by canceling Younger's allotments, the BLM would allow neighboring ranchers, who would likely get the permit, to financially benefit if CIEDRA goes through.
Rosenkrance, however, denied that connection.
"I haven't heard anything about [CIEDRA] in quite a while," he said. "It doesn't have anything to do with the decision."
He also said that if the grazing permit is revoked, the allotment would go into "watershed protection" use, though the BLM could issue a temporary grazing permit for up to three years.
"We wouldn't reissue a 10-year grazing permit to another permitee," Rosenkrance said.
Jon Duval: firstname.lastname@example.org