This is important news for management of public lands in sage-steppe country.
A federal judge has directed the Bureau of Land Management to rethink the way it manages grazing across thousands of acres of southern Idaho, especially the impact livestock have on sage grouse and other threatened species.
Following the intense Murphy Complex Fire that swept through southern Idaho a couple summers back, wiping out 76 sage grouse leks, intense political pressure to turn the cows back out quick largely eclipsed consideration for sage grouse, pygmy rabbits, and other wildlife displaced onto the remaining habitat spared the blaze. To give an idea of the regard for habitat in this part of the country, Ralph Maughan took photos of cattle grazing post-burn – Bad practice when one hopes to restore the landscape.
Given the critical importance of the remaining habitat in Jarbidge country, conservationists quickly filed suit to ensure wildlife wouldn’t take the short-end of the stick given BLM’s plan to fold and continue “grazing-as-usual” on over 625,000 acres following the fire.
When fire (or any catastrophic event) wipes out huge swaths of wildlife habitat, how should that affect management of wildlife values versus livestock on those remaining landscapes so important to remaining wildlife ?
The answer (Decision) :
Citing the “large scale habitat losses” that have occurred in the Jarbidge area, the court ruled, “Grazing-as-usual cannot continue in the unburned areas.” (Decision, ¶ 72). The court ordered BLM to “maintain or enhance” habitat for sensitive wildlife species, including sage grouse; and that BLM must “ensure” that wildlife goals and watershed needs “will be satisfied” before allowing any increases in grazing. (Decision, ¶ 76).
“This ruling confirms basic common sense,” said Western Watersheds Projects’s Executive Director, Jon Marvel. “Wildlife suffer from loss of habitat, and after a catastrophic event like the Murphy Fire, we have to protect remaining habitats or we are going to lose imperiled wildlife populations entirely. We are pleased that Judge Winmill recognized that BLM’s grazing-as-usual is harmful to wildlife, and that he ordered BLM to protect sage grouse and other wildlife in the Jarbidge area.”
“This is an important legal ruling,” added WWP’s lead attorney Laird Lucas, “because fires, weeds, grazing, and other forces are causing widespread losses of sagebrush habitat around the West. Climate change will only make the situation worse. It is vital that we move past the old ways of managing our public lands which harm wildlife and water resources. The court’s ruling forces BLM to acknowledge this reality.”
Brian Ertz is Western Watersheds Project’s Media Director