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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, March 31, 2004


Grazing reduction proposed

Sheep ranching focus
of environmental study

To get involved:

According to Kurt Nelson, Ketchum District Ranger, the Forest Service is interested in public comments regarding the North Sheep DEIS and proposed action.

"The public review and comment period is open for the next forty-five days, ending May 10," he said. "We are asking the public to provide us with specific facts or comments that they feel we should consider as we make our decision regarding this proposed action. It is important for us to know if we have adequately addressed all of the issues involved in these areas of public rangelands."

Copies of the document are available online at http://www.fs.fed.us/r4/sawtooth or by visiting a Sawtooth National Forest office.

Express Staff Writer

Due to increasing environmental and recreation concerns, the U.S. Forest Service is proposing to curtail one of the Wood River Valleyís most historic industries.

In its North Sheep Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which was released for public review on Monday, the Sawtooth National Forest and Sawtooth National Recreation Area suggest a reduction of public land open to sheep grazing in four Central Idaho management areas by roughly 20 percent.

In the document, released two months behind schedule, the Forest Service proposes to eliminate sheep grazing in Adamís Gulch in the Wood River Valley, lower Smiley Creek in the Sawtooth Valley and several alpine cirques throughout the region.

Gooding rancher John Faulkner, one of the sheep men who will be affected by the decision, said he is concerned about the potential changes, but not overly so.

"I donít want to see it any tougher than it is," he said. "Itís going to cut us somewhat. Iím sure of that."

Meanwhile, Hailey activist Jon Marvel, executive director of Western Watersheds Project, said he would continue to push for complete elimination of sheep grazing in the four allotments.

"We will definitely appeal" if the proposed changes are made, Marvel said.

Sheep ranching is an integral part of the history of the Wood River Valley. In fact, Ketchum holds the record for being the greatest sheep and lamb shipping station in Idaho, and, for a time, ranked second only to Sydney, Australia, as the sheep shipping capitol of the world.

But the number of sheep permitted to graze in the Sawtooth National Forest has been on the decline since the early 20th century. In 1907, 364,000 sheep were permitted to graze on the forest. Today, there are fewer than 25,000 sheep, and those that remain are coming under increasing scrutiny.

As the population of the Wood River and Sawtooth valleys has increased, recreation-related conflicts have risen.

"We believe that our proposed action addresses many natural resource issues found on these allotments," said Sara Baldwin, Sawtooth National Recreation Area ranger. "We also believe that the proposed actions reflect many of the concerns that we have heard from the public, especially those who recreate in some of these areas."

The 320-page draft document covers four grazing allotments totaling 147,200 acres. The 63,561-acre Baker Creek and 34,074-acre North Fork-Boulder Creek allotments are administered by the Sawtooth National Forestís Ketchum Ranger District. The 42,084-acre Smiley Creek and 7,494-acre Fisher Creek allotments are administered by the SNRA.

Three ranching outfits run livestock on the four allotments.

According to the draft document, the Forest Service proposes to continue authorizing sheep grazing in the subject areas, but land available for grazing will be reduced by approximately 30,500 acres, primarily in the Adams Gulch area north of Ketchum and in high-elevation zones that include sensitive landscapes and mountain goat habitat.

The elimination of grazing in Adams Gulch and several high-elevation areas will constitute an approximately 36 percent reduction in acreage included in the Baker Creek Allotment, Nelson said.

The draft document also cites two additional alternatives: continued grazing under existing management guidelines and an end to grazing in the area. The alternatives are strikingly similar to those included in an environmental impact statement the Forest Service released last summer to address cattle grazing in the East Fork of the Salmon River drainage on the east slope of the White Cloud Mountains.

Nelson and Baldwin said the decision they are facing is not easy or simple.

"We will continue to listen carefully to all interests," they said in a press release. "We do this because we not only have legislated mandates to properly manage these natural resources, but we care deeply about the effect that our decisions have on the lifestyles and economic well being of all who use and depend on the national forests."

Specifically, the preferred alternative in the draft document proposes to close Adams Gulch to livestock grazing to eliminate the potential for recreation conflicts but allow ranchers to trail sheep through the drainage to reach other allotments.

Lower Smiley Creek would also be closed to livestock grazing to eliminate concerns regarding fish and wildlife habitat, but ranchers would continue to be allowed to trail sheep through the area to the high elevation portions of the allotment.

High elevation terrain in Baker Creek, Prairie Creek and the North Fork of the Big Wood River would be closed.

Permanent corrals in Smiley Creek and North Fork of Boulder Creek would be replaced with temporary structures.

Livestock would be managed to reduce the spread of noxious weeks.

An "adaptive management strategy" would be implemented to achieve desirable grazing conditions.

According to the project summary, monitoring is a key aspect of adaptive management.

"A monitoring plan has been developed to track progress toward desired conditions Ö If monitoring indicates the need for management changes, such changes will be documented Ö If problems persist after two years of altered management, further management changes will be made. If conditions remain unsatisfactory after five years, the suitability of the allotment for livestock grazing will be re-evaluated."

Conversely, if conditions are deemed satisfactory, management could be changed to allow more use.

For his part, Faulkner sounded laid back about the issue.

"As far as the grazing goes, thereís no problem there," he said. "Itís just trying to get along with recreationists. Thereís a lot of country there as long as they just let us use it, and I think they will."


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