Group threatens suit over cattle grazing
By SHANNON DININNY
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
YAKIMA -- An environmental group announced plans Wednesday to sue Washington state if it approves a proposal to allow cattle grazing on portions of Central Washington's Whisky Dick Wildlife Area, a parcel of rural sagebrush situated between the state's two remaining sage grouse populations.
The Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project contends that the state must first produce an environmental impact statement before allowing 160 cattle to forage on two pastures in the Whisky Dick area, about 110 miles east of Seattle. The two pastures proposed as grazing land comprise 8,418 acres of the 28,549-acre wildlife area, a rolling series of ridges and canyons above the mid-Columbia River.
"Our major concerns are they're not properly analyzing what they're doing, and that this project would seriously jeopardize one of the last undisturbed sage-steppe habitats in Central Washington," said Miles Johnson of Western Watersheds in Hailey, Idaho.
Cattle grazing on public lands has been an issue in parts of the West for decades. Western Watersheds has repeatedly raised questions about the proposed grazing on Whisky Dick, as well as on the Asotin Wildlife Area in the state's southeastern corner.
The group contends that the grazing violates the Endangered Species Act by harming the rare shrub-steppe ecosystem and adjacent streams that support a number of endangered and declining species, including sage grouse, loggerhead shrike, chinook salmon and bull trout.
Whisky Dick, in particular, sits between the state's two remaining sage grouse populations, and sightings have occurred in the area. Sage grouse are listed as a threatened species by the state.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife bought 17,027 acres in the Whiskey Dick area from private landowners in 1966 to expand winter range for deer and elk herds and to improve upland game bird habitat.
The remaining acreage is owned by the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Under the proposal, grazing would occur for 30 days this spring.
Fish and Wildlife officials say the grazing management plan is part of a larger process to improve land management in the area with the cooperation of local landowners, conservation and environmental groups, and others.
Moderate grazing by livestock removes older, rank grass and increases the availability of more-nutritious spring or fall regrowth for elk, thereby reducing chances elk will forage on farmland, according to Fish and Wildlife.
The area in question has not been grazed by livestock for 10 years.