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For the week of June 19 - 25, 2002


Judge orders reform on wolf, cattle issue

Forest Service must give wildlife precedence over livestock

"Plus, it will force the Forest Service to be more creative with how it deals with livestock, which is what we wanted them to do all along."

LINN KINCANNON, Idaho Conservation League central Idaho director

Express Staff Writer

Federal agencies must devise new strategies for dealing with wolf and livestock conflicts in central Idaho’s White Cloud and Sawtooth mountain ranges, according to a federal court ruling last week.

In an 11-page decision issued June 13, U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill ordered the U.S. Forest Service to give wildlife precedence over livestock in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and to complete overdue environmental studies on grazing allotments.

The 1972 law that established the SNRA gives all wildlife precedence over livestock, Winmill ruled.

"The (SNRA) statute is clear," the judge wrote. "Congress identifies, as one of the primary ‘values’ of the SNRA, the conservation and development of ‘wildlife,’ which would include the gray wolf. Certain other values, including grazing, were to be developed conditionally—that is, developed only ‘insofar as their utilization will not substantially impair’ the development of wildlife such as the gray wolf.’"

But those regulations must be balanced with rules established when wolves were reintroduced in the mid-1990s, he said. Those rules direct the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to move and eventually kill wolves that prey on livestock.

"Neither trumps the other," Winmill found. "Both must be examined by the Forest Service."

The ruling was a victory for Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project and the Idaho Conservation League, who filed the lawsuit against the Sawtooth National Forest almost a year ago after members of the White Hawk wolf pack were killed in the Sawtooth Valley for preying on sheep.

Since then, federal wolf managers have killed the entire pack, generating widespread concern.

In the past three years, 27 wolves have been killed or moved out of the White Cloud Mountains and the East Fork of the Salmon River valley in or adjacent to the SNRA.

"I’m happy because the judge ordered the SNRA to finish their analysis of grazing, which will be better for the ranchers and better for conservation," said ICL Central Idaho Director Linn Kincannon. of Ketchum. "Plus, it will force the Forest Service to be more creative with how it deals with livestock, which is what we wanted them to do all along."

WWP Director Jon Marvel, of Hailey, was more frank.

"It’s a great decision," he said. "They (the Forest Service) got their butts kicked. If I were a rancher on public lands on the SNRA, I’d be a little anxious."

Marvel alluded to grazing allotments, like ones in the East Fork of the Salmon River valley, that haven’t been updated in many years. In many cases, salmon and bull trout have received Endangered Species Act listings in the interim. Now Winmill has ruled that wolves must also be considered in environmental documents.

Forest Service regional spokesman Dan Jiron said the court order is being reviewed, but forest managers have said, even previous to Winmill’s decision, that the status quo will be difficult to maintain on those grazing allotments following revised environmental studies.

However, Idaho Woolgrowers Association Director Stan Boyd, chairman of the Idaho Wolf Oversight Committee, called the ruling "totally wrong" and expressed concern that it could further polarize wolf reintroduction advocates and critics.

"When they brought the wolves in, the rules were all spelled out and those were the guidelines we were to follow," he said. "There were a lot of people in livestock who weren’t happy with that, but those were the rules."

Some ranchers have worked with environmentalists to accommodate wolves by voluntarily moving their herds, but now the Forest Service could force ranchers to move their sheep when wolves move into an area.

"The cowboys have to give up some of the unbridled management discretion they’ve had on these federal lands," said Laird Lucas, the attorney who represented the environmental groups.


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