As proposed, a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument would significantly expand the acreage protected by the Sawtooth National Recreation Area by including the East Fork of the Salmon River basin, much of which is grazed by cattle. Grazing on public land is therefore likely to become a focal point as varying interest groups grapple over language in a draft national monument proclamation.
The Idaho Conservation League, the main driver of the proposal, has stated that even though it believes the area has been degraded by grazing, it can accept continued grazing in a national monument. However, it would like to see a provision for the voluntary sale and permanent retirement of grazing permits. Dani Mazzotta, ICL’s central Idaho associate, said such a provision would most likely be included in separate legislation, as occurred for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.
Jon Marvel, executive director of the Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project, said his organization would be among those willing to buy grazing permits for retirement to protect watersheds and wildlife habitat. He said several of the ranchers who graze on BLM land in the East Fork basin had expressed an interest in selling their permits.
The owner of one large cattle ranch, however, said she would not be.
“We absolutely could not run our operation if we did not have the BLM allotment,” Mary Jaffe told the Idaho Mountain Express.
Brian Bean, whose environmentally conscientious Lava Lake Land and Livestock company grazes about 2,000 ewes in the Boulder and Pioneer mountains, said he thinks the area does deserve some added protections, particularly to curtail off-trail motorized use.
“Backcountry motorized travel is a problem in Idaho, and it’s a problem in our backyard,” he said. “Every rancher hates it—they don’t like to see their country scarred.”
Bean said that in some cases, voluntary buyouts would make sense, but he emphasized that they would have to be relinquished in genuinely willing transactions.
“It can’t be engineered so that somebody just gives up,” he said. “It can’t be a ‘willing seller’ who’s been put under so much pressure that it’s become almost impossible to operate.”
In many cases, Bean contended, grazing and conservation can coexist.
“I think we’ve demonstrated for 15 years that we have been able to do that,” he said.
But Marvel and others contend that any sheep grazing interferes with reintroduction of bighorn sheep into the area, due to potential transmission of a fatal pneumonia from domestic sheep to wild sheep. Marvel said a presidential proclamation could eliminate grazing in part of the monument, as it did in the Sonoran Desert National Monument in Arizona.
“We absolutely could not run our operation if we did not have the BLM allotment.”
A Bighorn Sheep Management Plan drafted by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in 2010 states that even though quantity and quality of winter range limit bighorn numbers, the East Fork of the Salmon area could sustain “significantly more” bighorns. The plan recommends that management include habitat improvement and separation of domestic and wild sheep.
“[T]he East Fork population appears to still be disease-limited, as evidenced by very low lamb-ewe ratios since the die-off in the early 1990s,” the plan states.
According to the plan, that die-off reduced the 1990 population by about half.
The ICL is advocating joint management of a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument by the Forest Service and the BLM. However, Marvel contends that the BLM has been unwilling in the Boulder-White Clouds and elsewhere to substantially curtail livestock grazing to protect environmental values.
“The BLM is a huge problem if it’s engaged in the management of a national monument,” he told the Blaine County commissioners during a meeting on Nov. 19. “In my view, it’s just not going to work.”
In an interview, Marvel said the BLM’s Challis Field Office has allowed cattle grazing to degrade the East Fork of the Salmon area’s few springs and wetlands, and has consistently valued livestock use over wild horses. He contended that the BLM and Forest Service do not coordinate their policies well now, and there’s no reason to believe they would do so through joint management of a national monument.
“Any time you have different objectives for management, or in the case of the BLM a much lower level of monitoring, then you have a different outcome,” he said.
BLM Challis Field Manager Todd Kuck defended his office’s grazing policies, saying action is taken whenever the impacts of grazing fall below standards set forth in management plans. He said there’s no easy solution to keeping cattle out of wetlands.
“We do have some springs that are fenced off, but then we have an issue with the wildlife that also need to use the area,” he said. “If there’s an important water source for wildlife, then we’re probably not going to fence that off.”
According to BLM Public Affairs Officer Sarah Wheeler, about 70 percent of the Challis Office’s Wild Herd Management Area, which contains between 185 and 200 wild horses, would fall within the proposed national monument boundaries. Kuck said some animal-unit months of the area’s grazing capacity are set aside for wild horses, but the limiting factor for the horses is in winter, when cattle aren’t on the land.
Most stakeholders in the national monument issue say they’re waiting to see specific draft proclamation language before they decide whether to support designation. Bean said that language needs to be such that it could not be interpreted differently by a court than what the stakeholders had agreed to.
He said proposed proclamation language should be arrived at through a process of “dialogue not characterized by invective but by thoughtfulness.”
“What we’d like to see is a process of genuine public engagement,” he said. “I think [the area] can be protected in a way that the grazing community is not disenfranchised.”
However, Bean warns, “the devil is in the details.”
Greg Moore: email@example.com