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For the week of May 7 - 13, 2003


Grazing debate pits new versus old West

Craig calls for balanced management efforts

Information meeting Monday

Sawtooth National Recreation Area Public Information Officer Ed Cannady will speak and answer questions about the U.S. Forest Serviceís draft environmental impact statement on the Upper and Lower East Fork cattle allotments at a Monday meeting in Ketchum.

The meeting will be at Old Ketchum City Hall on Monday, May 12, at 6 p.m.

Express Staff Writer

A slice of Central Idahoís scenic, rugged, publicly owned mountains appears to be one of the next battlegrounds in an ongoing debate that pits the stateís agricultural heritage against recreation, biodiversity and endangered species.

Frog Lake in the White Cloud Mountains took center stage about five years ago when mountain bikers discovered cattle in the lake during a time of year when they were not allowed there. Under a new plan by the U.S. Forest Service, public lands grazing on the east slope of the White Clouds would be curtailed by more than half. Photo courtesy Ed Cannady

In response to growing concerns about the impacts of cattle grazing on streams, wetlands, sensitive plant and animal species, as well as on recreation, the U.S. Forest Service proposed early in April to reduce the size and scope of grazing allotments on the east slope of the White Cloud Mountains by roughly half.

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, in a recent interview at the Sun Valley Lodge, said the Forest Service is taking the easy way out, and should try harder to manage the area within existing parameters. A local recreation and wild lands advocate said grazing should be eliminated from the area altogether. The areaís cattle ranchers and the stateís cattle industry advocacy group have been silent on the issue.

The Upper and Lower East Fork cattle allotments are 131,000 acres of steep, rocky and timbered terrain, 23,700 acres of which the Forest Service estimates to be suitable for grazing. The allotments also contain high mountain lakes and alpine streams, which are increasingly popular destinations for backpackers, mountain bikers and cows.

Don Wiseman, a Wood River Valley mountain biker, recalled a 1998 or 1999 encounter he had with cattle at Frog Lake, a scenic, high-elevation tarn that would be off limits to cattle under the Forest Serviceís new plan.

He and friends mountain biked up Big Boulder Creek toward the lake.

"It was just one of those spectacular days," he said. "We got to Frog Lake, and we went to a point where the Forest Service has horse tie-downs, and itís a nice spot. And we looked out across the lake, and we saw cattle in the lake mooing and (defecating). They were under the trees and in the shallow of the lake.

"We could count about 20. On the ride out, we ran into more, just standing in the creeks and making huge mud holes."

The cows, which werenít supposed to be in that area at that time of year to begin with, have been given too much leeway for too long, Wiseman said.

"Iím not a proponent of grazing as itís been going on," he said. "Instead of pulling on our emotional strings and talking about ĎThe Westíówhere does this argument end? My family were ranchers and farmers. I kind of have a feel for it. Itís a tough life.

"I think the ranchers should have a right to make a living, but when they are permit holders they have to follow the rules. On public land, which the public owns, we have to ask why the permits are still being given out even though there are very big violations of the requirements of the permit."

But Craig said that the proposed reduction of the size and scope of the grazing allotments could force the areaís ranchers out of business. He said he views the Forest Serviceís draft environmental impact statement on East Fork grazing as a "product with no intent to sustain grazing in the East Fork, period."

"Iím not going to sit here and micromanage, but I really view it as an elimination. When you reduce grazing by 60 to 70 percent, you make it uneconomical to graze. The numbers donít make it worth getting the cattle to the allotment."

Craig said he believes the Forest Service has lost its understanding of the value of balance in public lands management, both to sustain the environment and the economy. He said he has been through many grazing reductions in his lifetime in Idaho, and the evidence appears to indicate that public lands agencies have targeted grazing for reductions.

"The easy option is elimination," he said. "I donít mean to be critical, but people with backpacks are reasonably easy to manage, and they donít do much damage, if any. To manage them, you donít have to break a sweatóIíll be that bluntóto go out and manage something where thereís no use going on, or very little damage."

Craig said he is not happy with the three alternatives cited in the draft EIS: maintaining the status quo, partial elimination of grazing or complete elimination or grazing.

"They say that one alternative is not to change, but (say) it is not acceptable. If itís not acceptable, why put it in there?" Craig asked.

In the middle of the debate is the Forest Service, which says it is trying to take the middle road.

"We have consistently failed to meet grazing standards under the current grazing management system," said Sawtooth National Recreation Area Public Information Officer Ed Cannady. "The preferred alternative is our best attempt to find a way to graze in the East Fork and meet these standards."

Cannady said the Forest Service recognizes that the issue is likely to attract a lot of attention.

"It attracts a lot of attention, especially in Custer County where their identity and, to a certain degree, their economy, are related to agriculture," he said.

"Weíre trying to find a way to do the right thing."


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