Letters From the West

BLM says 18 of 25 renewed Owyhee grazing permits require grazing cuts

Sheep graze on public land in Owyhee County

Sheep graze on public land in Owyhee County(BLM photo)

Eighteen of 25 renewed grazing permits unveiled Friday include reductions in the number of cattle and sheep Owyhee County ranchers will be able to graze on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The agency issued a final environmental impact statement for renewing 25 livestock grazing permits on allotments in the Jump Creek, Succor Creek, and Cow Creek watersheds in western Owyhee County. It will publish proposed decisions Nov. 8.

The EIS includes analysis of how the alternatives meet environmental laws and BLM’s Idaho standards for rangeland health, a series of guidelines to ensure that the desert ecosystem is functioning. The standards help agency scientists determine that the native grasses and shrubs are healthy, that streamside areas and watersheds are thriving and that habitat for sage grouse and other endangered species is protected.

The ranchers own proposals were picked as the preferred alternative in six of the allotments. Seasonal grazing reductions and a rest and deferment program were preferred for seven of the allotment while a program of postponement and delay of grazing was preferred in 11 of the allotments. Two allotments were merged.

“The analysis in the EIS is based on resource objectives in the resource management plan for the area and on the goal of meeting Idaho Rangeland Health Standards,” said BLM Owyhee field manager Loretta Chandler. “We chose management actions that allow us to meet those objectives.”

The 25 allotments are part of 68 grazing permit renewals the BLM was ordered to conduct by U.S. District Judge B Lynn Winmill after a lawsuit by Western Watersheds Project, an environmental group that opposes grazing. The bureau has until the end of 2013 to renew the remaining permits.

The potential impacts of renewing permits for other allotments are being analyzed in less detailed environmental assessments. The BLM determined a full EIS was necessary for this group of permit applications due to potentially significant impacts to bighorn sheep populations in the area and because several of the allotments overlap priority habitat for greater sage-grouse.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West