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Wednesday, April 21, 2004


Craters of the Moon decision appealed

BLM defends management decision

"The BLM in Idaho shows it is incapable of managing even the most unique wild landscapes for the American people."

KATIE FITE, Western Watersheds Project biodiversity director

Express Staff Writer

A Hailey-based environmental group has filed an appeal against the Bureau of Land Management for its alleged decision to permit increased livestock grazing in the Laidlaw Park area of Craters of the Moon National Monument.

The action, filed by Western Watersheds Project with the Department of the Interior's Office of Hearings and Appeals, follows a decision by BLM Shoshone Field Office Manager Bill Baker to allow livestock to graze at levels greater than recent averages on public lands the group said are already degraded by grazing.

Though permitted levels of livestock use will remain similar to those in the past, the grazing allotment has not been used at its capacity for some years, said WWP Executive Director Jon Marvel.

"The BLM in Idaho shows it is incapable of managing even the most unique wild landscapes for the American people," said WWP Biodiversity Director Katie Fite. "The shifts in grazing use and additional water projects will mean many more cattle and sheep will graze the monument. That will be the death knell for sage grouse, which BLM's own documents show are already in sharp decline there."

Doug Barnum, a supervisory natural resource specialist with the Shoshone Field Office, clarified that permitted livestock levels are not on the rise.

"As far as their permitted use, it is not being increased," he said.

In defending his decision, Baker said he would not expand on details "due to litigation."

"However, BLM issued a decision addressing the Idaho Standards and Guidelines that evaluate resource conditions and make subsequent management prescriptions as they relate to livestock grazing.

"This decision follows all applicable laws and the Craters of the Moon National Monument proclamation."

Under a 1999 proclamation from former President Bill Clinton, the Craters of the Moon National Monument was expanded by hundreds of thousands of acres to include the entire Great Rift, a sweeping expanse of molten lava rock and high-elevation desert that spans the Snake River Plain. The U.S. Park Service and BLM are jointly managing the monument expansion, and a new master plan has been in the works for two years.

Marvel said he is afraid the BLM’s decision for livestock use in Laidlaw Park might not jive with the park’s new management plan. Marvel said he has reason to believe the agencies are leaning toward a conservation-oriented management plan, "which clearly conflicts with increased livestock use."

"So we feel that the BLM should not be making a decision that may conflict with the new management plan," Marvel said.

"We have seen ongoing, continuous abuse of the public lands, and they’re proposing to increase it substantially," Marvel continued. "The reality is, with this decision, it permits ranchers who are part of the Laidlaw Park Grazing Association to increase their use without difficulty. We know that much lower levels of use have caused problems. It makes no sense."

According to WWP, the land in question provides critical habitat for sage grouse, antelope, pygmy rabbits, burrowing owls, sage thrashers, loggerhead shrikes and other sagebrush-dependent wildlife.

WWP contends that the BLM's decision flies in the face of the monument proclamation for Craters of the Moon. The proclamation identifies objects of scientific interest, including sagebrush plant communities that provide essential habitat for sensitive sage grouse populations. The area’s habitat, in fact, was one of the reasons for designating Craters of the Moon as a national monument.

"The kipukas—windows of sagebrush steppe among lava flows—provide a window on vegetative communities of the past that have been erased from most of the Snake River Plain. ... These kipukas represent some of the last nearly pristine and undisturbed vegetation in the Snake River Plain, including 700-year-old juniper trees and relict stands of sagebrush that are essential habitat for sensitive sage grouse populations."


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