Letters From the West

Risch focuses on sage grouse in talks with Jewell about Interior

sally-jewellREI CEO Sally Jewell goes before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Thursday for her confirmation hearing for Interior Secretary.

She already knows what Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch wants her to think about: sage grouse.

Risch, Idaho’s member of the committee that will decide whether to send her nomination to the floor, spoke to Jewell at length last week, said Risch. Jewell’s nomination comes as the Bureau of Land Management announced grazing cutbacks on three of four permits in the southwest corner of Owyhee County.

Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch

Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch

The four allotments are the first of 75 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. And they come as Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has been working on a sage grouse plan for the state that would have required the ranchers to meet the same standards but would have given them some time to do it.

With Winmill looking over its shoulder, BLM officials were unwilling to give the ranchers, who have known this day was coming, more time. So Risch told Jewell of his success putting together an Idaho Roadless plan for 9 million acres of national forest that brought the Idaho Conservation League and Trout Unlimited to his side when it was challenged in Winmill’s court.

“She shares my passion for the collaborative process and she was unaware the state had a product that was produced by a collaborative project and the BLM had a product that was just the opposite,” Risch said in a telephone interview.

Since the conservation league and the Nature Conservancy are working with the governor, following his model, he wants Jewell to consider supporting Otter’s approach, which he believes will pass Winmill’s muster. And since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been more open to Otter’s plan than the BLM, he wants to make sure she talks to them, since, like the BLM she would be their boss.

“She also now has a clear understanding that the department has an agency, the BLM, that manages soil and plants and an agency,  the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that manages species that have issues with each other regarding the management of sage grouse in Idaho,” Risch said.

So he will listen closely to what she says about the issue when he gets to question her publicly Thursday.

“Given her commitment to the collaborative method one would hope she would be able to resolve these issues the way Idahoans would like them to be resolved,” Risch said.


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