Cows, What a many Splendored Thing

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Last week I went out with a co-worker to check out what was going on in the Jarbidge Field Office where Western Watersheds Project has won a court victory that ends corporate ranching on 450,000 acres of public land. When we arrived we found cattle on several of the allotments even though the injunction is in place.

The ranchers are asking the judge to stay the injunction and say that they have met all of the terms of the stipulated settlement agreement (SSA) which has expired. They argue that utilization monitoring has shown that they have not exceeded the terms and conditions of their permits or the SSA and, because of this, sage grouse habitat has improved. Even if they have met the terms and conditions of their permits and the SSA, which I won’t say one way or the other, the BLM’s Analysis of the Management Situation (AMS) notes that the Jarbidge suffered the cumulative loss of 800,000 acres of sagebrush-steppe habitat from 1982 through 2006, such that 46% of the JFO is no longer sage-steppe habitat. This doesn’t even account for the massive fires which have burned since 2007 such as the Murphy Complex of 2007 and the Long Butte Fire in 2010. Sage grouse and other sage steppe dependent species are in dire straits in the Jarbidge and as the WWP press release says:

“Recent data from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game shows that sage-grouse populations in the Jarbidge Field Office are in a free fall, with declines of over 90% since 2006 alone. For example, in the Browns Bench area of the Field Office, total male sage-grouse lek counts are down from 185 in 2006 to 29 in 2010, and some areas are in an even steeper decline.”

Jarbidge FO Pastures.  Click for larger view.

Jarbidge FO Pastures. Click for larger view.

While my biggest concerns lie with the plight of the wildlife there, I also find it startling that the Jarbidge Field Office has essentially turned into a livestock feedlot. Even recreation values have been totally eliminated here. The whole Field Office has been fenced into small pastures with what amounts to a weeping sore in each caused by cattle that congregate at water troughs surrounded by feeding tubs with some kind of molasses slurry, salt blocks, and even oat hay. On top of that is the droning of military jets overhead, some of them containing training pilots from Singapore.

I guess this is what they mean by “multiple use”.  I call it a cowpocalypse.

Judge overturns BLM grazing decision

This is what WWP calls “low hanging fruit”

Ely Sheep Grazing Allotments. The orange polygons represent bighorn sheep distribution and the red polygon represents the Warm Springs sheep trail. Click for larger view.

For the last several years I have been appealing grazing decision issued by the Ely District of the BLM and, over and over again, the District only considers alternatives which maintain the status quo even when they have identified problems on the allotments that are either caused by or exacerbated by livestock grazing.

The decision that was overturned and remanded back to the Ely District was for sheep grazing on 8 allotments encompassing 1.3 million acres of the Egan Field Office.  In their decision the BLM only considered two alternatives, one which would have renewed the previous 10-year decision without any changes; and one which would have renewed the permit with very minor changes in seasonal use, and placed very weak utilization standards on different components of the vegetation but kept the exact same number of grazing AUMs.  They didn’t consider a no grazing alternative or an alternative which would have reduced grazing levels at all.

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Obama Administration Refuses to Reform Public-lands Grazing Fee

Fee is only $1.35 to graze a calf cow pair for a month.

Obama Administration Refuses to Reform Public-lands Grazing Fee
For immediate release – January 18, 2011

Contacts: Greta Anderson, Western Watersheds Project, 520.623.1878
Mark Salvo, WildEarth Guardians, 503.757.4221
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, 928.310.6713
Brent Fenty, Oregon Natural Desert Association, 541.330.2638
Ronni Egan, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, 970.385.9577

Tucson, Ariz. – After a lengthy delay, five conservation organizations finally received an answer today from the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture concerning the artificially low fee federal agencies charge for livestock grazing on public lands. Claiming higher priorities, both agencies declined to address the outdated grazing fee formula. The government’s response was prompted by a lawsuit filed by Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and Oregon Natural Desert Association.

Conservation organizations submitted a petition in 2005, asking the government to address the grazing fee formula and adjust the fee in order to cover the costs of the federal grazing program, which costs taxpayers at least $115 million dollars annually according to a Government Accountability Office report. Conservationists contend that Americans lose even more in compromised wildlife habitat, water quality, scenic views, and native vegetation.

“Today’s long-awaited answer was a huge disappointment,” said Greta Anderson, Arizona Director for Western Watersheds Project. “Year after year, we watch as the government gives a sweetheart deal to public lands ranchers at the expense of taxpayers and the environment. We had hoped the Obama Administration would have done better, but it’s business-as-usual for the western livestock industry.”

“Subsidizing the livestock industry at the cost of species, ecosystems, and taxpayers is plainly bad public land policy,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director with the Center for Biological Diversity, “Today’s choice to continue that policy is both a disappointment and a blight on the Obama administration’s environmental record.” Read the rest of this entry »

War on Trees: Harry Reid, Ag Extension Agents, and Chinese biomass companies promote liquidation of old growth forests……. in Nevada

Pinyon and juniper trees, demonized by ranchers, miners and water mining entities, are being eyed by Chinese “biomass” companies with the backing of politicians.

Pinyon Juniper Forest, Nevada.  Photo - Katie Fite

Pinyon Juniper Forest, Nevada. Photo - Katie Fite

Recently the Nevada Pinyon-Juniper Partnership, aided by USDA, set up a conference to discuss pinyon and juniper trees. At the conference were several players in government and business who have an interest in the removal of pinyon and juniper trees in the Great Basin. Bob Abbey, the director of the BLM, attended the meeting.

Most people don’t think of the Great Basin when they think of old growth forests but the pinyon-juniper forests there are ancient forests with several hundred year old trees that provide important habitats and food for many species of birds like pinyon jays, Clark’s nutcrackers, black throated gray warblers, small mammals, nesting raptors. The charismatic seed-caching Clark’s nutcracker faces catastrophic food shortages in the Rockies due to whitebark pine die-off. It relies on large-seeded pines – and the pinyon pine has a superb large seed that was also vital to supporting Native American cultures in the Great Basin.

The refuge provided by these trees are probably the only reason that central Nevada has any elk at all. They are one of the important components that keep the entire Great Basin Ecosystem together because they retain snow later into the year due to their shade and absorb CO2. Their destruction would promote global warming and desertification by making the area hotter and drier. Read the rest of this entry »

Kevin Richert: This year’s fight with the feds: Otter vs. BLM | Kevin Richert’s columns | Idaho Statesman

When I heard about the Interior Department’s decision to reverse the changes that the Bush Administration made to the policy on wild lands protection I was pleased. However, I remain skeptical at how the policy will be implemented by the current bunch running BLM who I don’t really trust. There is no doubt, however, how Idaho Governor Butch Otter feels about it.

The new policy reverses what the Bush Administration changed and allows the BLM inventory its lands to determine whether they meet the criteria for wilderness. The BLM would then go through a public process whereby lands could be designated as “wild lands”.

For Butch, and his buddies, complete domination over the landscape is not enough. It is unacceptable that anyone, other than the chosen few who maintain control, have any say in how the public’s landscapes are managed. It seems as if their motto is “one cow, one vote”.

Kevin Richert: This year’s fight with the feds: Otter vs. BLM.
Kevin Richert – Idaho Statesman

First major Idaho wildfires of the summer

There is a lot of drying grass due to the long wet spring-

Calmer winds ease firefighting on BLM fires west of Twin Falls, ID. Magic Valley Times News.

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Judge Halts BLM’s Attempt to Revoke Valley Sun’s Grazing Permit for Lack of Use

BOISE — The Department of Interior’s Office of Hearings and Appeals has granted Western Watersheds Project (WWP) a stay of a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decision to cancel Valley Sun, LLC’s (Valley Sun) grazing permit on public lands along the East Fork and main Salmon Rivers in central Idaho. BLM had attempted to cancel the permit for reasons related to Valley Sun’s failure to graze livestock on the allotments. In granting WWP’s request for a stay of the decision, the court cited the threat of irreparable harm to the environment, including endangered salmon habitat, on the steep public lands at issue should the allotments be subject to livestock grazing.

“The stay vindicates our position that public regulators have a primary legal obligation to protect the public interest, land, wildlife and fisheries habitat.” said Brian Ertz, media director for Western Watersheds Project. “In this case, BLM’s loyalties appear to lie with the industry it’s supposed to be regulating.”

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