Friday, July 23, 2010

Plans made to retire grazing permits

Western Watersheds partner in deal

Express Staff Writer

The Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project has entered into a partnership that could bring millions of dollars in conservation funds to preserve Idaho public lands.

El Paso Corp. is donating $20 million to two funds dedicated to conserving sagebrush habitat in Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, Nevada and Utah. The donation comes in response to concern over the environmental impact of the construction of the corporation's 680-mile natural gas pipeline from Wyoming to Oregon.

Jon Marvel, executive director of Western Watersheds, said the funds would mainly be used to buy and permanently retire grazing permits on public lands, which he views as crucial for protection of sagebrush habitat.

"There's never been anything like this before," Marvel said.

Part of the donated funds, $15 million, will be donated over 10 years to a new non-profit called the Sagebrush Conservation Fund. The remaining money will be donated to an Oregon-based conservation fund.

For the first five years, the funds can only be used in the counties the pipeline runs through, or counties adjacent, including Owyhee County.

After the five-year period, the funds may be used anywhere with sagebrush habitat. Marvel said he hopes to eventually use the money to purchase grazing permits from willing sellers in Blaine and Custer Counties.

Katherine Wutz:

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