Friday, February 29, 2008

BLM backs Soda Mountain Wilderness

By Paul Fattig
Mail Tribune
February 28, 2008

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management supports creating the proposed 23,000-acre Soda Mountain Wilderness in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Luke Johnson, the agency's deputy director, made the announcement Wednesday while testifying before the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests.

"We believe these areas are manageable as wilderness, and we support the designation," Johnson told the subcommittee chaired by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Johnson was testifying in response to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Voluntary and Equitable Grazing Conflict Resolution Act (Senate Bill 2379), introduced late last year by Wyden and U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore.

In addition to creating the wilderness in the 52,947-acre monument, the bill would provide one-time federal payments to ranchers holding BLM grazing leases on the monument. The BLM opposes this portion of the bill.

Also testifying Wednesday were Ashland resident Andy Kerr, consultant for the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, and longtime Ashland area rancher Mike Dauenhauer. Both supported the bill.

There are 11 ranchers with grazing leases allowing 2,714 active animal unit months (AUMs) in the monument, according to the BLM. An AUM is the amount of forage needed for one cow and calf for a month.

The proposed buyout is $300 per AUM, making the total buyout slightly more than $800,000.

The bill benefits all factions, from cattle ranchers to the environmental community, Dauenhauer, president of the Jackson County Stockmen's Association, told the subcommittee.

Because his grazing lease is "tied up in the monument," it no longer has any value, he said, adding, "It has turned from an asset to a liability."

The buyout would be a bargain for the government since the alternative would likely be years of litigation over the matter, costing much more, he indicated.

"The most amazing part of this journey has been the coming together of the environmental and the ranching communities," he said, noting the two factions often disagree.

Kerr concurred.

"The legislation furthers the public interest and the purposes for which the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was established," he testified. "Enactment of S. 2379 will enhance the protection and restoration of a botanically diverse ecoregion that serves as a loading dock to the Klamath-Siskiyou ark."

Created in 2000, the monument, located where the Cascade and Siskiyou mountains intertwine east of Ashland, was the first in the nation established solely on the basis of its rich biodiversity. The monument is in the BLM's Medford District.

In his testimony favoring the wilderness, Johnson cited the biodiversity within the proposed wilderness, calling it a "jewel of biological variety."

Although the BLM supports the goals of the bill, it doesn't the grazing buyouts or the requirement calling for the agency to construct and maintain fencing to exclude livestock from allotments that are retired, Johnson said.

"The amounts authorized appear insufficient to complete the work anticipated by the bill," he said, adding the agency doesn't have alternative sources of funding.

However, the agency is committed to working with the committee, the sponsors and stakeholders on the issues, he said.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Homes may overtake old ranch

By Lourdes Medrano

Back in the early 1970s, when Arizona rancher Don Martin chose to run cattle in northern Pima County, the chances of being squeezed out of business one day seemed remote.
That day now looms.
The Arizona State Land Department recently announced plans for a 15,900-home development on land that includes the area where Martin's cows graze around his Rail X Ranch.
Martin is the only rancher who would be directly affected by the 9,100-acre proposed Arroyo Grande. But the plan, which also includes commercial development, has prompted strong opposition from residents of neighboring Catalina.
Martin is philosophical about the development plan.
"I can't do anything about it. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen," he said, sounding resigned.
Martin owns some private land in the area, he said. But he leases most of it — nearly 26,000 acres of state trust land — for a ranching operation that straddles the Pima-Pinal county line.
The State Land Department's proposed development of Arroyo Grande would make way for about 38,000 residents next to unincorporated Catalina, where about 8,900 people live. Just south, Oro Valley is working to annex the state land before it is developed.
Development gobbles up ranches
Vague talk of new housing in the area goes back several years, Martin said. But specific plans, with numbers attached, are new to him.
Still, word of the 14-square-mile development holds little surprise. Urban growth already has gobbled up big chunks of his other ranch land southeast of Tucson.
"They're all close to town, that's where all this kind of development is occurring," Martin said. "It doesn't happen way out in the country."
Ranching near cities and towns has advantages and disadvantages, Martin said: Ranchers have no trouble selling land that is in high demand, but encroachment can displace ranchers prematurely.
State trust land is part of the roughly 10 million acres that Arizona received from the federal government when it became a state in 1912. Most of the proceeds of sales or grazing leases benefit public schools.
Deputy State Land Commissioner Jamie Hogue said that of the remaining 9.2 acres, about 8 million are held in grazing leases that generated $2.5 million in revenue last year.
"We have a vast amount of land in the remote areas," she said.
Her office keeps a close watch on grazing leases such as Martin's, which are near cities or towns, because of the potential for development. In most cases, Hogue said, ranchers can hold on to their leases until development is imminent.
Grazing lease can be canceled
Like other ranchers, Martin has a 10-year grazing lease the state can cancel at any time. Such leases also can be converted into special land-use permits that allow grazing on a temporary basis, Hogue said.
The rancher's lease, which expires in 2015, also could be amended, she said. Doing so would exclude some of the land closer to North Oracle Road, which is slated for development, and allow Martin to keep some of the land.
Hogue emphasized that it will be some years before new houses are built.
"By 2015, I can say a portion in the Arroyo Grande could still be part of his grazing lease," she said, referring to Martin.
The rancher figures a worst-case scenario might still allow him to keep slightly more than half of the state land for grazing, most of it in Pinal County.
But he said it might not be cost- effective to keep operating at diminished capacity.
"All the expenses would still have to be paid, but the income would be cut in half," he said.
The rancher said he tries not to waste time worrying about the possible demise of the Rail X Ranch.
When the time comes, he'll be prepared to leave the land, he said.
For now, he just keeps working.
Taking land, ruining wildlife
Imposing and slender at 82, Martin still has a hand in his ranching businesses.
At the Rail X Ranch, he leaves most of the management to his sons, Scott and Matt.
Scott Martin is not thrilled about the proposed development — and not just because of the impact to his family's livelihood.
"We have other ranching interests, so that's not going to stop our way of life, even if it does happen," he said of Arroyo Grande.
"But this development is a big mistake. It's jumping the gun. It's taking all the land and ruining the wildlife."
At the Rail X, longtime ranch hand Richard Ellis continues to take care of the day-to-day duties.
Ellis, 64, lives with his wife, Glenda, in one of two small ranch houses next to the main house, an old adobe with additions that remain empty. Martin's daughter, Jennifer King, and her family were the last to live in it.
Ellis, with help from another part-time worker, looks after the cattle and maintains the property.
He and his wife like the still-mostly-tranquil ranch, Ellis said, but they have noticed the demographic changes taking place around the Rail X since they moved in 18 years ago.
Fencing and dense vegetation separate the ranch from North Oracle Road. From their vantage point, Ellis and his wife can spy houses that have sprouted nearby in the last few years.
"There's not much you can do about it," Ellis said. "Progress is moving in all around us."
Progress has meant having to share the state land with more people. Ellis said some, like riders of all-terrain vehicles and target shooters, can pose problems.
Martin's cattle for now still roam freely on desert land studded with cholla and mesquite trees, the silence occasionally punctured by the roar of an engine.
Drought forces grazing cutbacks again

By Steve Miller, Journal staff

For the fourth straight year, drought is prompting Forest Service officials to reduce the amount of livestock grazing they will allow on the Fall River Ranger District of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland.

The drought looks likely to continue based on the latest forecasts, and vegetation throughout most of the Fall River district is in tough shape after an eight- or nine-year drought, according to Bob Novotny, rangeland specialist for the district.

“Nothing in Fall River County looks good right now,” Novotny said. “It’s just because of the drought.”

The Fall River District covers roughly 320,000 acres in Fall River, Custer and Pennington counties.

The reductions will affect more than 100 ranching operations, Novotny said.

He said the reductions in the number of cattle allowed will vary greatly. In the area around Oelrichs, reductions will begin at 30 percent, but there can be adjustments up or down, depending on the range conditions.

Some allotments will be cut back 50 percent or more. Others, including some that were rested last year, could have much smaller reductions, Novotny said.

In addition the “turnout” date, when cattle will be allowed to move onto the federal grazing lands, has been delayed until June 1. Typical turnout dates in years with adequate moisture are May 1 or May 15.

The grazing permits generally allow ranchers to run livestock on the federal land until September or October. Some ranchers voluntarily reduced their numbers and pulled their cattle off the allotments early last year, Novotny said.

Some permittees didn’t graze any cattle on their allotments last year.

Ranchers such as Dave Dunbar of Oelrichs and Mark Tubbs of Edgemont don’t dispute the drought situation. But they say the grazing reductions bite into their income. “It’s going to affect the whole community’s income,” Dunbar said.

They also worry that the Forest Service won’t allow more grazing even if the region gets good rain this spring, bringing the grass back. “I don’t think the Forest Service is flexible enough to change their opinion,” Dunbar said.

Tubbs said he can live with the later turnout date. “But if we get some rain in the spring and the grass grows, it ought to be used. When they first came out with their plan to cut all their (cattle numbers) they said they didn’t care whether it rained. We barked a little bit and they changed their attitude,” Tubbs said.

Tubbs said some ranchers in his area have private land mixed in with the government land, so the restrictions will hurt them especially hard. “Some of these guys are in terrible situations,” he said.

Novotny acknowledges that the Forest Service won’t be very flexible this year, except on individual cases. “We need some recharge. Any kind of grazing on these plants is a stress.”

He said Forest Service officials know how desperate many ranchers are for forage. “But we have to protect that resource.”

Novotny said spring rains might green the grass up, but the root systems, which have shrunk during the drought years, need time to recover. He said one good spring won’t cure the ills from a long-term drought.

Novotny said one rancher reported digging down six feet when he put in a pipeline and not finding any moisture.

Grazing has been cut back on the district every year since 2005, Novotny said. The district was dry from 2000 to 2004, but enough rain fell in a timely manner to produce adequate grass.

Grazing reductions on the federal ground are determined using a formula developed by South Dakota State University and the University of Nebraska.

Many ranchers in the area have sold off some of their cows, putting less pressure on the grass. But that sell-off has also reduced the number of calves they have to sell in the fall. Some, Novotny said, have sold all their cows, in effect, getting rid of the factory that produces calves and income.

Some ranchers now buy yearling cattle in the spring, graze them over the summer and sell them in the fall.

“One permittee said he wouldn’t have an animal on the allotment or on his own place this year,” Novotny said. “He is running out of hay.”

Ranchers in drought-stricken areas have had to buy expensive hay from elsewhere and pay the high fuel costs to ship it.

The region has gotten some snow cover this winter, Novotny said, which has helped protect the plants from winter kill.

Meanwhile, Forest Service officials and ranchers are waiting anxiously to see how much moisture falls in the critical months ahead, when the region normally gets a good portion of its annual precipitation.

Dunbar said everybody is short of forage. “There’s just nothing left. We have to have rain this spring or it isn’t going to matter. We’re going to all be out of the cattle business.”

Contact Steve Miller at 394-8417 or

Monday, February 25, 2008

Canines vs. cattle

Star-Tribune environment reporter

LANDER -- The Popo Agie Ranch, just four miles south of town, has a 70-acre hay meadow which rises from an aspen- and cottonwood-sheltered river basin, rolling east and empty into the foot of Table Mountain.

The meadow, and the adjacent 4,000-acre pasture, was once used for a modest but profitable cow-calf operation.

Today, if visitors roll over the wooden platform bridge across the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River, they'll notice a few corralled llamas, a handful of horses, but no cows.

When wolves moved into the area, rancher Dave Vaughan got out of the cow-calf business, he said.

In his barn last week, on a bright and windless winter morning, Vaughan used a tin can to scoop grain for the horses, as he described the events that precipitated his decision to call it quits.

"As soon as we lost those calves, I said, 'I'm not going to do this anymore,"' he said.

Vaughan, who retired from the Air Force in 1982, was lucky to have his pension from the service, and he didn't have to rely on the income from the ranch, he said.

Wolves were confirmed on Vaughan's ranch in January 2003 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but he's pretty sure they arrived in 2002.

That's when he saw his calf survival rate take a sudden dip, he said.

On average, about 96 percent of Vaughan's new calves survived every year, and in recent seasons he'd had two years with 98 percent and two with 100 percent survival.

By the start of this decade Vaughan had managed the ranch for almost 20 years, and he'd kept meticulous records and statistics.

Suddenly, in 2002, his calf survival rate dipped to 90 percent. And in 2003, after wolves were confirmed in the area, only 85 percent of his new calves lived -- an unprecedented number for his operation, he said.

In the winter before the 2003 calving season, gray wolves were running the cows, consistently moving them around and keeping them nervous, Vaughan said. The added stress took a 10 percent bite out of his profits.

"We started calving on the 17th of February, and the first calf that was born was dead. Out of my 70 mother cows, I ended up with seven dead calves," he said. "They were stillborn from the stress of the wolves being there."

All told, in 2003 Vaughan lost 13 calves, "which is totally unheard of," he said. "The only thing you can get compensated for is confirmed kills. Not stress. But the stress causes them to abort calves. And out on our pasture, which is six miles long and two mile wide, sometimes you don't find any evidence of the ones they do kill; the wolves eat everything sometimes, even the tag."

Vaughan welcomes last week's announcement that wolves will be removed from federal Endangered Species Act protection soon.

"I'm not against wolves, but I'm against too many wolves. And we've got to manage the wolf population just like we do the elk population, the deer population, the antelope population," he said. "And I think that's why the good Lord put us here on this earth, because we're smart and we need to manage what we have."

"We don't want to eliminate them, we just want to be able to shoot them if they come on and threaten our livelihood. And that's where we're at now. I think the delisting is a good thing both for the wolves and for the people."
'A real efficient killer'

Star-Tribune environment reporter

One morning Joe Thomas sat atop a hill with binoculars, scanning his pasture land, when he spotted two wolves coming down from the timberline.

They approached his 1,000 head of cows from two different directions, picked out a small group and started herding them around.

"The older ones were teaching the younger ones how to hunt," Thomas said. "They were working in a half circle, like a good set of stock dogs would. I got to witness the whole thing."

Over the years, wolves have killed about 20 calves on Thomas's ranch near the Greybull River, 20 miles west of Meeteetse. Last year the canines killed six.

"They are a really efficient killer," he said.

It was a dumb thing to reintroduce wolves into the Northern Rockies, Thomas said, but now that they're here, he's learned to adapt, and he said he's accepted that Wyoming will need to manage them for the long run.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that it will remove wolves from protection under the federal Endangered Species Act at the end of this month. And barring a court injunction, Wyoming will assume management of its 359 wolves at the end of March.

Thomas's ranch lies within Wyoming's trophy game management zone, as defined by the state's management plan, which means it will be illegal, in most cases, to kill a wolf there without a permit.

But after delisting, a provision in the plan allows stockgrowers to shoot wolves if they are attacking or "harassing" livestock.

Thomas, however, isn't overly excited about the prospect of the new provision.

"It's not as easy as they make it sound, because it's your word against somebody else's," Thomas said. "Instead, I think it will be better to just take pictures, cover the evidence with a tarp and work with the game warden."

And if he does witness wolves harassing his livestock, and he decides that it's necessary to shoot at them, he's not going to take any chances, he said.

"I'm going to photograph it before it happens, when it happens and after it happens," Thomas said.

Since wolves have moved into Thomas's region, both the cattle and the wolves have adapted to each other, Thomas said.

The wolves have the cows trained now, and they are able to herd them at will. And when the cattle see a wolf, they group together, with the younger ones in the interior.

It is the wolves' intelligence and their ability to adapt that has Thomas skeptical about the potential success of wolf hunting seasons in Wyoming.

"What you're going to force them to do is go nocturnal," he said. "Right now they're not scared of anyone or anything. They have no fear at the moment, but once we start hunting them they'll have fear, and they'll go nocturnal, making them even harder to manage."

In terms of business, the benefit of being inside the trophy game area is that ranchers there will still be able to get compensation for their losses to wolves.

"Still, it hurts you," Thomas said. "If you lose a female calf and you only get paid for her that fall, and she might have been a replacement, you may have lost a productive female. It's hard to calculate."

Friday, February 22, 2008

BLM sells seized livestock in Nevada

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has auctioned 58 head of cattle and 21 horses that were seized near Winnemucca for unlawful grazing.

The federal agency said the cattle, formerly owned by Inger Casey, were sold for $17,287 on Feb. 1 to three separate bidders from Oregon and California.
They were among 117 cows impounded by the BLM on Jan. 21 for trespassing on public lands.

BLM said the remaining cattle, except for two, were reclaimed by their owners.
In a separate impound, the BLM on Jan. 24 seized 95 horses for trespassing near Fort McDermitt along the Nevada-Oregon line.

The state brand inspector determined 30 were estrays with no known owner. Those animals were turned over to the Nevada Department of Agriculture, the BLM said.
According to the agency, another 30 were owned by Leonard and Larry Crutcher. Owners of two others relinquished title to their animals. Of those, 21 horses were sold at auction Feb. 15 for a total of $1,495, the BLM said.

The BLM said the remaining 11 unsold horses likely will be put up for bid at a future auction.
Settlement Reached in Lawsuit Over Illegal Sheep Grazing in Yellowstone Ecosystem

BOISE, IDAHO, Feb. 21 -/E-Wire/-- The Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project reached a settlement this week with the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in eastern Idaho to resolve a lawsuit filed last summer. The settlement requires the U.S. Sheep Station to analyze the environmental effects of the sheep grazing under the National Environmental Policy Act and to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the impacts of the sheep grazing on threatened and endangered species. The Sheep Station is part of the Agricultural Research Service within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The presence of these thousands of domestic sheep, and management actions taken on their behalf, harms sensitive and endangered native wildlife such as Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, lynx, gray wolves, and grizzly bears - and yet these impacts have never been examined on the thousands of acres that are directly managed by the U.S. Sheep Station in southeastern Idaho and southwestern Montana. Analysis of impacts on the even larger tracts of national forest and Bureau of Land Management public lands is decades out of date and was cursory.

Diseases transmitted from domestic sheep threaten bighorn sheep herds. "The largest concentration of bighorn sheep in the world is jeopardized by the lawless grazing that has been taking place," said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Lynx, wolves, and grizzly bears are further at risk from the sheep grazing by predator control measures, since steel leghold traps and strangulation snares, aerial gunning, and poisons are all typically used to prevent wildlife from preying on domestic sheep.

The U.S. Sheep Station was established in 1915, and the National Environmental Policy Act was enacted in 1970, so this environmental analysis is decades overdue. "The door will now be open to allow members of the public to learn about how this experiment station's programs affect wildlife," said Robinson. "This settlement will allow people aside from the agencies and livestock industry to participate and submit their opinions on how these lands should be treated."

The U.S. Sheep Station itself manages about 48,000 acres, where it has been grazing sheep without any environmental analysis or consideration of adverse impacts to endangered species. The Sheep Station also grazes sheep on over 54,000 acres of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land. Many of the environmental impacts take place within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as well as within habitats that wildlife use in attempting to travel between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the large wilderness and roadless areas of central Idaho.

"If these experiments are indeed necessary, there must be a more appropriate place than within such important habitat for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, and other wildlife," said Jon Marvel, director of the Western Watersheds Project.

Under the settlement agreement, the environmental analysis is required to be completed by November 28, 2008.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Land trade between BLM, state would protect land, help Santa Teresa

By Diana M. Alba Sun-News reporter

Article Launched: 02/19/2008

LAS CRUCES — The federal government is proposing a multi-pronged land trade with the state that would free up land for a Union Pacific railroad facility in Santa Teresa, secure acreage for recreation in mountains near Las Cruces and protect habitat for a threatened bird species near Roswell.

Under the proposal, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management would give the New Mexico State Land Office a total of about 13,300 acres near Santa Teresa and on Las Cruces' West Mesa. In exchange, the land office would give up some 9,400 acres west of Roswell and 3,900 acres in several mountain ranges near Las Cruces.

The BLM began discussions with the state land office more than a year ago, after Union Pacific had expressed interested in acquiring land near its track in Santa Teresa, said Tim Sanders, assistant district manager for the BLM's Las Cruces office.

Union Pacific is seeking to re-locate shipping yards in downtown El Paso to Santa Teresa. It plans to build a $150 million fueling and freight-shipping center at the new site.

Sanders said the BLM first proposed to trade the Santa Teresa parcels to the state, which will work out a sale or lease to Union Pacific. He said the BLM doesn't often lease land for commercial purposes and isn't well-quipped to do so, reasons it didn't want to deal directly with the company.

"The state land office has a greater ability to make land available for commercial and industrial uses than the BLM," he said. "The federal process are pretty complicated and lengthy, so it's sometimes easier to transfer it to the state and let them work out commercial leases."

In addition, Sanders said, the agency preferred arranging a trade with the state because it wanted to obtain state trust lands it had been eyeing around Las Cruces.

"It gives us a vehicle to acquire those important recreation and wildlife lands," he said.

Deputy Land Commissioner Dennis Garcia said the land office is interested in acquiring the acreage because of Union Pacific's plans.

"We'll be picking up some land in the Santa Teresa area, which in the future will have a better use than what's there now," he said.

The state land office would gain about 3,400 acres in Santa Teresa. About 1,800 acres of that is being sought by Union Pacific.

Sanders said so many parcels are being proposed overall because it's more efficient for the BLM to make several trades at one time, rather than piecemeal. He said the total value of state land being traded must roughly equal that of the federal land and each BLM parcel will undergo an environmental review before it's traded. He emphasized none of the proposals are set in stone.

Around Las Cruces

Also as part of the trade, the BLM would give the state land office about 3,500 acres on Las Cruces' West Mesa and a 320-acre parcel east of the city. Those acreages would likely become available for development eventually.

Sanders said the BLM identified property on the West Mesa to trade to the land office so the agency could gain other recreational land.

"We know there has been a lot of discussion about encouraging growth to the west and taking some of the pressure off the farmland," he said. "The best way to accommodate growth is to transfer land out of our ownership."

Garcia said the parcels near Las Cruces were selected by the land office to acquire partly because they're in the likely path of development. He said the office also wants to consolidate state trust land.

Garcia said the land office has had no discussions with potential developers about the parcels because the land exchange with the BLM is only in the beginning stages.

A proposal to trade a 320-acre BLM parcel east of Las Cruces has drawn criticism from some local officials because it's east of Weisner Road, a north-south route some believe should be the easternmost boundary of the city's growth.

But Sanders said the parcel is identified for possible sale or exchange in a 1993 land-use plan that guides BLM decisions. In addition, he said, the federal government in the trade would gain a nearby parcel that's about twice the size.

"There's a lot more coming into federal ownership than is going out," he said.

Las Crucen Steve Fischmann, a member of the Quality Growth Alliance of Doña Ana County, said he's been briefed by the BLM about the land trade plans. He said parcels identified for both development and added protection appear to make sense.

"It looks fairly well thought through," he said. "All in all, we're feeling very positive about the direction things are headed."

Lands the BLM would gain in Doña Ana County because of the trade are:

• 1,239 acres surrounding the Robledo Mountains temporary wilderness area, northwest of Las Cruces.

• 407 acres around Box Canyon, west of Las Cruces, sought because of its proximity to a BLM-controlled dam.

• 1,280 acres for recreation in the Doña Ana Mountains, north of Las Cruces.

• 935 acres near the Organ Mountains for recreation.

• 77 acres for wildlife near the Rio Grande in the Fort Selden area.

Sand Ranch

Also under the proposal, Sanders said the BLM would gain about 9,400 acres of state trust land that are part of the Sand Ranch west of Roswell.

The ranch, located in Chaves County, includes a mix of federal, state and private land. Las Cruces developer Philip Philippou owns some parcels within the ranch.

Sanders said the BLM selected the land to provide habitat for the lesser prairie chicken, a declining bird species.

Public input

The BLM is seeking public comments on the proposed land exchange through March 26. An open house about the proposal is scheduled for 4 to 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at the agency's Las Cruces office, 1800 Marquess St.

The agency, after a request from Doña Ana County commissioners, will hold a second public input session in the southern part of the county. A date hasn't been set.

Diana M. Alba can be reached at

The proposal

Land that would transfer from the BLM to the state land office:

Doña Ana County:

• West Mesa - 3,522 acres

•East Mesa - 320 acres

• Santa Teresa - 1,851 acres for an eventual Union Pacific facility and 1,578 acres in additional state trust land

State trust land that would transfer from the state land office to the BLM:

Doña Ana County:

• Robledo Mountains - 1,239 acres

• Box Canyon - 407 acres

• Doña Ana Mountains - 1,280 acres

• Organ Mountains - 935 acres

• Seldon Canyon - 77 acres

Chaves County:

• Sand Ranch area - 9,360 acres

Source: U.S. Bureau of Land Management

If you comment

A public comment period about a proposed land trade between the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the New Mexico State Land Office is under way through March 26. Submit comments to:• • BLM Las Cruces District Office, c/o Lorraine Salas, 1800 Marquess St. Las Cruces, 88005
National Biomass And Carbon Dataset Now Available For US

ScienceDaily (Feb. 19, 2008) — Scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center working to produce the "National Biomass and Carbon Dataset" for the year 2000 (NBCD2000) are releasing data from nine project mapping zones. Through a combination of NASA satellite datasets, topographic survey data, land use/land cover information, and extensive forest inventory data collected by the USDA Forest Service -- Forest Inventory and Analysis Program (FIA), NBCD2000 will provide an invaluable baseline for quantifying the carbon stock in U.S. forests and will improve current methods of assessing the carbon flux between forests and the atmosphere.

According to Dr. Josef Kellndorfer, an associate scientist at the Center and project leader, "The availability of a high resolution dataset containing estimates of forest biomass and associated carbon stock is an important step forward in enabling researchers to better understand the North American carbon balance."

As part of the NBCD2000 initiative, begun in 2005 and funded by NASA's Earth Science Program with additional support from the USGS/LANDFIRE, mapping is being conducted within 67 ecologically diverse regions, termed "mapping zones", which span the conterminous United States. Of the nine completed zones, 5 were finished during a 2-year pilot phase. Work on the remaining zones will be completed at a rate of roughly one zone every seven days. The project is scheduled for completion in early 2009.

Wayne Walker, a research associate at the Center who is also working on the project adds, "The data sets that are now available should be of interest to natural resource managers across the U.S. For the first time, high resolution estimates of vegetation canopy height and biomass are being produced consistently for the entire conterminous U.S."

Within each mapping zone data from the 2000 Shuttle Radar Topography Mission are combined with topographic survey data from the National Elevation Dataset (NED) to produce a radar-based map of vegetation canopy height. Subsequently, the map is used to generate estimates of actual vegetation height, biomass, and carbon stock using survey data from the U.S. Forest Service -- FIA program and ancillary data sets from the National Land Cover Database 2001 (NLCD2001) project. The NLCD2001 data layers are crucial inputs to the NBCD2000 project as they provide land cover and canopy density information used in the stratification/calibration process.

Diane Wickland, the program manager for NASA's Terrestrial Ecology Program, comments,

"Because this is the first systematic, regional-scale study that uses radar data to quantify carbon storage in vegetation, the end result will not only provide valuable information on how well we can do with existing data, but will allow us to see how we might improve and refine requirements for future, more capable missions like DESDynI, which has been recommended by the National Research Council Decadal Survey on Earth Observation."

All NBCD2000 data products are being made available for download on a zone-by-zone basis and free of charge from the NBCD2000 project website located at

Adapted from materials provided by Woods Hole Research Center, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


From : Jon Marvel

Subject : [wwpmessenger] Harv Forsgren Called

Date : Tue, Jan 08, 2008 05:01 PM


Today Harv Forsgren the new Region 4 Forester called me back and we discussed many things.

Among them was setting up a meeting in person with Harv, and he agreed to do that. I will let everyone know when that is happening and where.

I also asked him to involve himself on bighorn sheep issues in the Region (we went over the whole issue) and to help establish Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout as a MIS on the Sawtooth National Forest where there is no MIS aquatic species on the Forest’s south end (Harv is a fisheries biologist).

I also asked him to issue a memo throughout the region that would permit WWP and other interested groups to place grazing utilization cages on Forests throughout the region in cooperation with the agency. He was amenable to that request but we will discuss it further at our meeting.

All in all it was a good start for us.



From : Jon Marvel

Subject : [wwpmessenger] Please Excuse My Mistake

Date : Tue, Jan 08, 2008 05:15 PM

To All Recipients of WWP’s Online Messenger:

Through two touches touch of a key a few minutes ago, I mistakenly sent two emails to WWP’s Online Messenger that were intended for a smaller group of WWP staff and board members. They were entitled: “Harv Forsgren Called” and “Don Pickett Is Peeved”.

Please delete and do not not forward those two emails, and please excuse my mistake. I will attempt to hit the right key next time.

Thanks for your understanding !

Jon Marvel

WWP Online Messenger # 131

WWP and HCPC Win Protection of Bighorn Sheep and Closure Of The Last Domestic Sheep Grazing Allotment On The Nez Perce National Forest

Western Watersheds Project and our co-plaintiff, the Hells Canyon Preservation Council have won another important victory protecting Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep from a fatal disease transmitted by domestic sheep.

This federal court win stops grazing by domestic sheep on the last domestic sheep grazing allotment on the Nez perce National Forest located in central Idaho just east of Riggins, Idaho.

Here is today’s (11/15) story from the Lewiston, Idaho Morning Tribune:

Ruling: Domestic Sheep Must Go

Judge agrees domestic sheep pose threat to bighorn cousins, bars ranchers from turning them out on Allison-Berg grazing allotment

By Eric Barker

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A federal judge ruled ranchers can't turn out domestic sheep this fall and winter on a Nez Perce National Forest grazing allotment where bighorn sheep are known to roam.

The ruling hints at what could be the end to domestic sheep grazing on public land in the Snake and Salmon river corridors where ranchers, wildlife managers and environmentalists have clashed for years over the danger domestic sheep pose to their wild cousins.

Judge Lynn B. Winmill at Boise ruled Tuesday ranchers cannot use the Allison-Berg grazing allotment along the Salmon River during the winter of 2007 and 2008. The judge agreed with arguments by environmentalists, the Nez Perce Tribe and the Forest Service that evidence shows bighorn sheep are prone to die-offs when they interact with domestic sheep.

"A cautious approach is particularly appropriate here because the bighorns sighted near the Allison-Berg allotment are a native species. The loss of this herd would create an irreparable injury to the genetic diversity of bighorns," Winmill said in his decision.

Ranchers argued there is no scientific proof domestic sheep are responsible for spreading a pneumonia-like disease to wild sheep, and the area in question is quite large and occupied by only a few bighorns. They also noted no die-offs have occurred in the area.

Winmill said even though science cannot say for sure domestic sheep are responsible for infecting bighorns with the disease, overwhelming evidence shows wild sheep become ill and often die when the two species mix. Because of that evidence, it has long been the policy of many land and wildlife management agencies to keep domestic sheep out of areas used by bighorns. Agencies like the Forest Service have retired or arranged for the buyout of many grazing allotments in places like Hells Canyon where domestic and wild sheep can come in contact with each other.

One holdout of that policy has been the Allison-Berg allotment and other nearby federal grazing allotments on the Payette National Forest. The Hailey-based environmental group Western Watersheds Project, which opposes public land grazing, filed a lawsuit earlier this year to stop the planned turnout of sheep on Allison-Berg and the five other allotments on the Payette Forest.

Before the case was resolved, the Forest Service opted to cancel grazing on the Payette allotments. But it initially approved fall and winter grazing on Allison-Berg, saying there is little evidence bighorn sheep use the area.

Western Watersheds moved forward with the lawsuit and the Nez Perce Tribe, which joined the suit as a friend of the court, submitted evidence showing bighorns do use Allison-Berg. That prompted the Forest Service to revisit the decision and eventually cancel the planned grazing.

But the ranchers who use the allotment had previously joined the suit and asked Winmill to overturn the agency's decisions. Winmill refused.

Mick Carlson of Riggins and his family have used the allotment, which is near the Gospel Hump Wilderness Area on the north side of the Salmon River east of Riggins, for eight decades. He will now have to seek alternative pasture for his sheep and said in court papers not being able to use the allotment would cost him $75,600.

"I have no place to go after the middle of December," he told the Tribune on Wednesday. "I'm going to have to feed hay or truck them out of here and put them on pasture somewhere 150 or 200 miles away."

Although Winmill's decision only applies to the fall and winter grazing season, the tone of his decision should be a strong signal to the Forest Service that all grazing in the area should end, said Jon Marvel, executive director of Western Watersheds.

"As the judge points out, the overwhelming preponderance of the evidence, that is agreed to by the scientists, is that when you bring domestic sheep in contact with the bighorns, the bighorns die," he said. "We will try and encourage the Forest Service to keep these allotments closed because the risk is too high."

Carlson said he is worried that might be the direction the agency is heading but he plans to fight to keep spring and summer grazing open on the allotment.

"They have the upper hand," he said. "I think the basic thing is they don't want any grazing. They didn't give a damn whether it's sheep or not. They just want you out of there."

Marvel also said his group would use the ruling to try to convince other public land managers to cancel grazing allotments in areas where bighorns and domestic sheep can mix.

Barker may be contacted at or at (208) 743-9600, ext. 273.

Western Watersheds Project Is A Regional Conservation Organization Working To Protect And Restore Western Watersheds And Wildlife

Friday, February 15, 2008

Senators support forest restoration

Dianne Stallings

New Mexico's two senators joined forced to introduce legislation aimed at large-scale national forest restoration projects with an eye toward reducing wildfires, restoring ecosystems and creating jobs.

U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici, the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, submitted the Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2008 Tuesday.

Bingaman, a Democrat, and Domenici, a Republican, said the legislation would authorize $40 million annually for landscape-scale forest restoration projects that cover 50,000 acres or more.

Competitive grants would be awarded to restoration projects that are developed in collaboration with local communities. Eligible projects must be in need of ecosystem restoration, utilize the best-available science, encourage the use of restoration byproducts such as woody biomass and be located primarily on National Forest System land.

All of those issues appear tailored to the Lincoln National Forest around the village of Ruidoso, a wildland-urban interface area considered most at risk in the state. In response to a series of threatening wildland fires, the village council approved ordinances covering new construction,

forest management and vacant lots. Local efforts also spawned innovative businesses utilizing biomass energy generation and products created from small-diameter trees.
Officials with the Smokey Bear Ranger District of the national forest targeted portions of federal land for fuel reduction and forest restoration treatment, but in smaller projects than the proposed bill envisions.

"This bill offers a unique approach to conducting comprehensive ecosystem restoration at a landscape scale," Bingaman said. "We're now spending billions of dollars a year trying to suppress wildland fires, and this bill will help us get a better handle on controlling those costs. It also will help to make the restoration economy a reality by encouraging the use of restoration byproducts. Healthier forest ecosystems and communities will result."

Domenici added that, "Every year, we see millions of acres of land destroyed by forest fires. These fires far outpace our ability to treat land. Too often, they threaten homes and communities, and ultimately result in millions of tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants added to our atmosphere. This bill is another step in our efforts to increase treatments to federal lands in order to decrease the intensity of wildfires. I look forward to working together with my fellow cosponsors to get this bill adopted."

Conceptually, the senators said the bill is similar to the Community Forest Restoration Act, legislation Bingaman wrote and Domenici supported. As a result of the measure, which was enacted in 2007, millions of dollars was invested in small-scale forest restoration projects in New Mexico. But this legislation, developed by the New Mexico lawmakers with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), would allow the state to compete for bigger grants and treat significantly larger pieces of land.

The Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2008 was referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. A hearing on the bill will be scheduled for spring.
Alexander gets Restore New Mexico award

Dennis Alexander, State Conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in New Mexico, was presented the Restore New Mexico Award today in recognition of the agency's participation and financial support of landscape-scale restoration efforts across the state.

Jesse Juen, Associate State Director for the BLM in New Mexico, presented the award at the annual meeting of the National Association of Conservation Districts in Reno, Nev. on behalf of all New Mexico partners involved in the program.

The NRCS has provided over $4 million in Environmental Quality Incentives Program grants to over 100 landowners with federal grazing allotments to restore degraded rangelands in New Mexico. The BLM, landowners and other partners have been able to match or exceed these funds, greatly enlarging the size and scope of the restoration projects.

"The NRCS has been a major foundation for this effort," said Juen. Restore New Mexico partners have restored 500,000 acres of degraded landscapes in New Mexico over the past three years, and with their continued support we look forward to restoring another 250,000 acres this year."

What started out as a concept to restore and enhance landscapes three years ago has blossomed into Restore New Mexico, Juen added, an effort involving the BLM, NRCS, other agencies, ranchers and other landowners, conservation organizations and the energy industry.

Habitat fragmentation, erosion and the spread of invasive plants have resulted from decades of human impacts and natural ecological processes.

Because fire has largely been excluded from the landscape, there's been a dramatic shift over the past 150 years from desert grasslands with scattered shrubs to vegetative communities extensively dominated by invasive shrubs this has occurred on more than 6 million acres in New Mexico. The result has been reduced grass and herbaceous cover and a significant increase in the amount of bare ground, severely reducing their biological productivity, while increasing their susceptibility to erosion and reducing the quantity and quality of groundwater.

Restore New Mexico efforts are focusing on landscapes dominated by mesquite, creosote, juniper and other invasive species to restore native vegetation, which also benefits watersheds and wildlife habitat. The goal of brush treatments is to reduce their incidence in rangelands to historic levels in many areas, the percentage of brush in a landscape has increased from 10 to 90 percent or more over the past 150 years.

Restore New Mexico partners include ranchers and other landowners, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, New Mexico State Land Office, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts, several Soil and Water Conservation Districts, New Mexico State University, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management.
Sheep versus sheep

Idaho adopts interim policy to curtail spread of disease

Express Staff Writer

It's another example of the New and Old West coming into conflict. This time it's bighorn sheep versus domestic sheep or, more specifically, wildlife advocates versus the sheep herding industry.

During a telephone conference call yesterday, Feb. 14, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission adopted an interim strategy for separating bighorn sheep from domestic sheep.

The policy establishes buffer zones between occupied bighorn sheep range and sheep allotments on federal land statewide. Where the two overlap, however, bighorn sheep will be moved or killed.

The Nez Perce Tribe, as well as sportsmen's groups, environmentalists and ranchers, have been watching closely as the state of Idaho and U.S. Forest Service attempt to sort out the problem.

So, what's the problem?

"It's been known for 30 to 40 years that when domestic sheep mix with bighorn sheep populations, the domestic sheep transfer diseases to the bighorn sheep, and there have been some big population die-offs," said Kurt Mack, Nez Perce Tribe rare species coordinator. "We're not sure what the pathogen is. The bighorn sheep die of pneumonia."

Fish and Game's new strategy came in response to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's call for a policy to manage the interaction between the herds by Feb. 15. The governor established a working group led by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Idaho Department of Agriculture in response to judicial orders requiring sheep ranchers to pull their sheep off Hells Canyon allotments.

But Mack said there's a problem with the state's approach.

"It turns the science upside down," he said. "It creates these no-sheep buffers. What it does is it puts the burden of separation solely on bighorns and not on domestics. For one, the domestics are the lethal agent causing the population decline in bighorns.

"This policy says we're not going to manage the lethal agent. We're going to manage the victims. They're killing bighorns to save bighorns."

Although the Nez Perce Tribe has been focusing its efforts in the Hells Canyon and Salmon River canyon areas of the Payette National Forest, the proximity of bighorn and domestic herds is a problem that plays out throughout Idaho, both with mountain and desert populations of bighorn sheep.

Prior to the introduction of sheep grazing to Idaho, there were tens of thousands of bighorn sheep. That number has dropped to a couple of thousand.

The Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project alleges that in the South Hills portions of the Sawtooth National Forest, south of Twin Falls, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has long been considering depleting or eliminating bighorn herds to accommodate domestic sheep ranching.

Jon Marvel, the organization's executive director, contended that that is one of the reasons the department claimed he shoved a Fish and Game commissioner at a meeting in December. According to Marvel, it was merely a smear campaign meant to distance the agency from the perception that it is aligned with the environmental group.

Fish and Game officials said Marvel had been unnecessarily aggressive, and issued a memo to their employees that they should not interact with him. That memo was leaked to the press.

"It was clear that the Fish and Game commissioners who are making this, or attempting to make this (alleged shoving) a story, and appear to have succeeded, are not interested in knowing what happened," Marvel said in late January. "But they are very interested in denigrating me and distracting Idaho citizens from the policy issues of killing bighorn sheep and wolves in Idaho."
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The perception that Fish and Game and Western Watersheds Project were aligned could have come from sheep ranchers themselves.

In a Dec. 24, 2007, letter to Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, South Hills rancher Don Pickett, president of the Pickett Ranch & Sheep Co., wrote:

"It is consistent with our experience to believe that IDF&G may be communicating with Western Watersheds Project with the concerted desire and/or intent of having our sheep removed from all or part of our federal lands, although such motivation may be difficult or impossible to prove.

"Please help us maintain our sheep operation by facilitating whatever process is necessary to relocate these few head of bighorns across the valley to some other location such as the Jim Sage or Albion area."

There are two strains of bighorn sheep in Idaho, the desert and mountain bighorn. Those in the headwaters of the Salmon River and throughout the Snake and lower Salmon River canyons are mountain bighorn. Those in the south hills and Bruneau and Owyhee canyon areas are desert bighorn.

Bighorn sheep graze on grasses and browse on shrubs, particularly in fall and winter, and seek minerals at natural salt licks. They are well adapted to climbing steep terrain where they seek cover from predators such as coyotes, eagles and cougars. They live in large herds, and during the fall rut, rams will seek out domestic sheep herds, Mack said.

There are concurrent processes seeking resolution of the sheep-versus-sheep disease conundrum. The Nez Perce Tribe has been most directly involved in a working group convened by the Payette National Forest.

In 2005 the chief of the U.S. Forest Service upheld an appeal of the Payette Forest Plan by the Nez Perce Tribe and others on the grounds that the plan did not protect the viability of bighorn sheep.

"Without immediate removal of domestic sheep from occupied bighorn sheep habitat bighorn sheep within that habitat are likely at risk of extirpation," the Forest Service concluded.

The Payette National Forest was directed to amend its forest plan to provide better regulatory safeguards to ensure bighorn sheep viability.

By 2007, almost two years after the directive was issued, the Forest Service had not modified domestic sheep grazing regulations, prompting advocacy groups led by Western Watersheds Project to sue the Forest Service in federal court. The suit seeks to prevent the agency from allowing bighorn and domestic sheep from coexisting on several allotments in Hells Canyon and the Salmon River canyon.

Last summer, the Payette National forest assembled a group consisting of representatives from the Forest Service, Nez Perce Tribe, Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, Shoshone-Paiute Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho to assist in developing a set of recommendations that will become a forest plan amendment.

The draft plan, already released, would require ranchers to keep their sheep away from bighorn sheep-occupied range.

The Idaho Woolgrowers Association had suggested that if the issue wasn't resolved, it would consider introducing legislation in this year's legislative session moving control of bighorn sheep from Fish and Game to the Agriculture Department.

Fish and Game Director Cal Groen said the commission's recently adopted interim strategy would be sent to Otter to meet the Feb. 15 deadline. The working group will continue to develop a permanent strategy.

The Nez Perce Tribe was not happy.

"The tribe believes that the Payette National Forest's interim actions reducing domestic sheep grazing in or adjacent to occupied bighorn sheep habitat is a prudent first step toward resolving this issue," said Samuel Penney, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ranchers offered offset grasslands

Bismarck Tribune

The Forest Service met with 16 Billings County ranchers this week and offered to sell each of them up to a section of land to offset the agency's acquisition of the former Eberts ranch.

The ranchers have six months to take their deal or leave it.

The agency received congressional authorization in late December to sell odd lots, ranging from a quarter to a section of land, on the Little Missouri National Grasslands, so the 5,200-acre Eberts' ranch does not increase the Forest Service's net holdings in North Dakota.

However, Congress did not authorize use of the Eberts' ranch as a grass bank. The authorization dictates that the agency must continue leasing out the former Eberts ranch under grazing agreements with the Medora Grazing Association.

The Forest Service bought the ranch last year, renaming it the Elkhorn Ranchlands, to preserve it for its association with Theodore Roosevelt, who free-ranged cattle there in the 1880s.

The deal cost $5.3 million, with all but $500,000 from federal funds.

The ranch borders the Little Missouri River and is just slightly downriver and across from Roosevelt's Elkhorn cabin site, which is owned by the National Park Service.

The Forest Service had hoped to use the former Eberts ranch as a sort of grass preserve available for grazing based on special needs like drought or fire.

That grazing instruction by Congress will be part of the Forest Service's management plan for the ranch, which is in the midst of two-year environmental impact statement.

Forest Service spokeswoman Sherry Schwenke said the agency is preparing a management proposal to address wildlife habitat, restoration, use of the ranch buildings, access and recreation.

Congress also said multiple uses of grazing, hunting and oil development have to continue.

By authorization, the offset offers had to go to ranchers who are already leasing the parcels in conjunction with their privately owned headquarters.

The parcels are all rolling prairie terrain and a sprinkling of odd lots scattered about more cohesive Forest Service grasslands.

The agency will realize at least $1.4 million from the sale, based on a value of between $270 and $350 an acre. The money has to go toward costs of conveyance or other land acquisitions.

She said the Forest Service has four other parcels on standby in case these offers aren't taken.

Congress said the land has to be sold competitively otherwise.

She said the Forest Service is optimistic it will be able to sell the 5,200 offset acres without having to conduct a competitive sale.

"We're hopeful that we don't have to go there," Schwenke said. "If the sales don't add up to 5,200 acres, we'll look at plan B."

(Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 888-303-5511 or
New crop of Western ranchers buck cattle industry to go green

By GARANCE BURKE Associated Press Writer

Article Launched: 02/13/2008 06:18:01 PM PST

CATHEYS VALLEY, Calif.—Seth Nitschke spent his early 20s working at the country's biggest feed lots before he returned home to start a business raising beef cattle fed on the grasses of the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Nitschke, 31, who makes his living herding heifers through pastures near Yosemite National Park, would never call himself an environmental activist, though he's planting saplings to protect nearby streams and runs a light herd to let his pastures breathe.

Unlike some of his conservative counterparts in traditional livestock production, he and a new crop of cattlemen are quietly working to minimize their industry's ecological footprint, and are forging unlikely alliances with environmental groups.

"Look at this grass. If I don't take care of it, that's my livelihood," Nitschke said, kneeling as he examined foxtail shoots popping up near a grove of black oaks. "We dress differently than the eco-folks, we probably vote differently, but in the end there's a lot of ways in which our core values are really close."

Throughout the West, cattlemen and environmentalists have locked horns over grazing practices for decades.

But increasingly, ranchers are buying into the idea that they have a role to play in protecting open space, be it through preserving private wildlands or promoting sustainable grazing techniques that help endangered species flourish.

Near Florida's Lake Okeechobee, the World Wildlife Fund has recruited a group of ranchers to build ditches on their lands to improve wetlands habitat for threatened and endangered birds like the wood stork and crested caracara.

In Wyoming, the Audobon Society is trying to convince oil and gas companies to pay ranchers to maintain sage brush expanses key to the survival of the native, chicken-sized sage grouse. Ecologists fear without the ranchers, gas exploration could do away with the bird's habitat.

In California, 75 ranching organizations, environmental groups and state and federal agencies have signed onto a common strategy to enhance the state's rangelands while protecting its ecosystems.

"This new generation of ranchers knows they have to work on the environmental part of it to survive," said Neil McDougald, a rancher at the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Madera County. "I'll guarantee you the guys driving cows today have a better environmental conscience than the ranchers who were riding around holding up stage coaches."

Still, a history of bad blood between those who live off the land and those who seek to protect it hasn't made coalition-building easy.

Recent research from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization shows that the world's large-scale livestock operations are causing environmental problems ranging from land degradation and air and water pollution to loss of biodiversity.

In last two centuries, foraging has contributed to both the erosion of arid Western rangelands and watershed contamination, said Mel George, a range ecologist at the University of California, Davis.

The environmental movement has hit back by filing lawsuits seeking to ban cattlemen from running their herds on public lands.

Last year, 37.5 million calves were born to U.S. beef producers—the smallest herd since 1951—a decline the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in part attributes to land loss.

Research and government programs highlighting how grazing can benefit the environment have helped make partners out of livestock producers and their adversaries, George said.

The USDA's Grasslands Reserve Program, which works to preserve rangeland through conservation easements and rental agreements, has kept 712,000 acres nationwide from being developed.

The California Cattlemen's Association, The Nature Conservancy and other groups are jointly lobbying to get more money for the program included in the 2008 Farm Bill, said the association's vice president Matt Byrne.

Other popular programs reimburse ranchers when they build fences to keep cows away from sensitive pasturelands or erect water tanks so cows don't foul up creeks, said Sara Schmidt, the Natural Resources Conservation Service's assistant chief for the West.

"When a problem hits closest to home is when people are most willing to sit down at the table and start working through the challenges," Schmidt said. "There's a lot of new energy for this among established ranchers, and particularly among the younger people."

Such efforts not only protect the working landscape, Nitschke says, but are a marketing tool with the eco-friendly customers who seek out his grass-fed filet mignons.

Kelly Mulville, a consultant to cattle owners in Colorado and New Mexico, says environmental stewardship can work in tandem with the profit motive: if ranchers protect their grass, they can feed more livestock.

"We may end up using the same tools that are destroying our environment to repair it," Mulville said. "Still, it's going to take a lot more than beef to save the world."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

ICL scolds Otter for bighorn sheep policy

Environmental group calls it a 'top down approach'

By Matt Christensen
Times-News writer

The state is creating an environment for more lawsuits over bighorn sheep, the Idaho Conservation League said in a letter mailed this week to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter.

The governor is using a "top down approach" to manage Idaho's bighorns, the group wrote, by asking the state departments of Fish and Game and Agricul-ture to develop a plan to keep the species separate. ICL wants the public to have a say in developing a policy.

"Instead of telling the public what is best for a few, the state should ask the public to roll up their sleeves and craft a workable solution," wrote John Robison, ICL's public lands director.

The governor's office had yet to receive the letter Tuesday afternoon, said Jon Hanian, Otter's press secretary, and so could not comment.

However, Otter is expected to make an announcement soon on the state's bighorn policy, which state agency officials say is mostly finished.

Following a year of lawsuits and political posturing over bighorns, the plan is likely to be contentious.

A judge closed grazing allotments last year after environmental groups sued, saying massive bighorn die-offs happened after contact with disease-carrying domestic sheep.

The governor quietly asked the state agencies to find short-term solutions before sheep are turned out on grazing allotments this spring - and before more lawsuits are filed.

Anti-grazing group Western Watersheds Project has hinted at suing the U.S. Forest Service if it doesn't do more to protect bighorns in the South Hills. Southern Idaho sheep ranchers fear a judge could close allotments there.

Cassia County commissioners and sheep ranchers have asked Otter to remove bighorns from federally managed grazing lands in southern Idaho. But state officials say the anticipated plan will likely leave bighorns in the area and include measures to keep the species from mingling, including shooting sheep that interact.

Meanwhile, Otter has formed a working group of state agencies, ranchers and environmentalists to form a long-term state policy. Committee members have said ranchers and the environmental groups are having a hard time finding common ground.

Bighorn populations have declined since their reintroduction to the state in the 1970s. In 1990, the state had about 6,500 bighorns. Today, the number is closer to 3,500. Scientific field studies are yet to prove domestic sheep are to blame for the die-offs, but there is strong evidence that indicates bighorns die from pneumonia carried by domestic sheep.

Matt Christensen may be reached at 735-3243 or at

Sunday, February 10, 2008

BLM and Forest Service Announce 2008 Grazing Fee

The Federal grazing fee for Western public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service will be $1.35 per animal unit month (AUM) in 2008, the same level as it was in 2007. The fee, determined by a congressional formula and effective on March 1, applies to nearly 18,000 grazing permits and leases administered by the BLM and more than 8,000 permits administered by the Forest Service.

The formula used for calculating the grazing fee, established by Congress in the 1978 Public Rangelands Improvement Act, has continued under a presidential Executive Order issued in 1986. Under that order, the grazing fee cannot fall below $1.35 per AUM, and any increase or decrease cannot exceed 25 percent of the previous year’s level. An AUM is the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month.

The annually adjusted grazing fee is computed by using a 1966 base value of $1.23 per AUM for livestock grazing on public lands in Western states. The figure is then adjusted according to three factors – current private grazing land lease rates, beef cattle prices, and the cost of livestock production. In effect, the fee rises, falls, or stays the same based on market conditions, with livestock operators paying more when conditions are better and less when conditions have declined. Without the requirement that the grazing fee cannot fall below $1.35 per AUM, this year’s fee would have dropped below one dollar per AUM because of declining beef cattle prices and increased production costs from the previous year.

The $1.35 per AUM grazing fee applies to 16 Western states on public lands administered by the BLM and the Forest Service. The states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. The Forest Service applies different grazing fees to national grasslands and to lands under its management in the Eastern and Midwestern states and parts of Texas. The national grassland fee will be $1.35 per AUM, down from $1.37 in 2007, and will also take effect March 1. The fee for the Eastern and Midwestern states and parts of Texas will be out later this month.

The BLM, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior, manages more land – 258 million surface acres – than any other Federal agency. Most of this public land is located in 12 Western states, including Alaska.

The Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, manages 193 million acres of Federal lands in 44 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Land agencies could endure heavy cuts

Gazette Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - President Bush's proposed 2009 budget would shrink the funding for every land management agency except the National Park Service.

Under Bush's plan, the U.S. Forest Service discretionary budget would fall $373 million from 2008 levels, to $4.1 billion. Money for state and private forestry programs, research, maintenance, management and law enforcement would decrease from 2008. Dollars would be cut from wildfire preparedness, hazardous fuels suppression and other fire operations but would be boosted for fire suppression.

The overall U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service budget would shrink by $65 million from 2008 levels, the Bureau of Land Management by $30 million and the Bureau of Indian Affairs by $100 million. While Bush proposes the levels as a first step, Congress has ultimate say over how much gets spent.

The Park Service would see a slight overall increase of $14 million, to $2.4 billion. While its operating budget would shoot up by $161 million, its finances for construction and maintenance would drop by $46 million and land acquisition would fall by $48 million.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne touted initiatives in the budget to fight the declining wild bird population, protect ocean and coast resources, boost border enforcement in the Southwest, combat drug cartels, improve education in Indian Country and help conserve and manage water across the country.

The overall requested Interior budget for fiscal year 2009 of $10.7 billion would be a drop of $638 million from 2008 levels. Interior officials said that cuts were made mostly in construction, land acquisition and congressional projects, while the land management bureaus got a 4 percent increase in their operating budgets.

While acknowledging that there are areas where people would say "we wish you could have done more here, or you would have addressed this," Kempthorne said, "But I think Congress will be happy to see many of the additions they have included we have retained and built upon."

The budget drew immediate criticism from key Democrats on Capitol Hill. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said the budget was skewed in favor of oil and gas drilling above other public uses of land.

"This is a true Groundhog Day budget that simply and agonizingly repeats the ludicrous budgetary policies that the Congress and the American people have consistently rejected year after year after year after year," Rahall said. "This budget axes forest programs, undercuts our wildlife refuges, puts programs to save endangered species under the knife, neglects the needs of our national parks and puts a stopper in important water programs."

The National Parks Conservation Association praised the boost in operating funds for national parks but criticized cuts to "other critical park programs that undermine this much-needed operating increase." It said the construction cuts would diminish the ability to address a multibillion-dollar maintenance backlog.

The operational increase for the Park Service will allow another 3,000 seasonal park rangers, Kempthorne said.

The Forest Service, which falls under the Agriculture Department, asked for $982 million for fire preparedness, hazardous-fuels reduction and other fire operations, a decrease of $115 million from 2008. However, it proposed to boost suppression funding from $846 million to $994 million.

"Adequate funds are provided in fire preparedness to fund a minimum of 10,480 firefighters," its budget document says.

The Interior Department is requesting $850 million for fire preparedness, suppression, fuels reduction and burned-area rehabilitation. That's an increase of $42 million over 2008 if supplemental appropriations, which brought the 2008 total to $1.1 billion, are excluded.

Interior asked for $300 million for the Healthy Forest Initiative, including $203 million for the program to reduce hazardous fuels, a slight increase over 2008.

The BLM budget would shrink the amounts spent on land management and endangered species but increase the amounts spent on oil and gas management.

Interior wants to put $22 million toward the Healthy Lands Initiative in southwest Wyoming and seven other states. Kempthorne said it would allow the government to protect sage grouse habitat and other landscapes in the West.

The Indian Affairs budget request is $2.2 billion, a decrease of 4.4 percent from 2008. The agency would lose between $12 million and $30 million each for programs on land and water settlements, roads maintenance, housing improvement, education grants, welfare assistance and construction.

Interior officials said the housing and education programs duplicate programs already run by the Housing and Education departments.

The budget includes $195 million for Payments in Lieu of Taxes, $34 million below 2008. PILT compensates local governments for tax revenue lost on federal lands in their areas. It also includes an extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Act for three years, without selling any public lands as proposed in last year's budget.

The Fish and Wildlife Service budget request is $1.3 billion, a reduction of $65 million, with most of the reduction resulting from lower proposed spending in construction and land acquisition.

The budget proposes to raise the price of the Federal Duck Stamp from $15 to $25.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Study: Elk, cattle could share land

By EVE BYRON - Independent Record - 02/03/08

Researchers say that cattle and elk apparently can peacefully co-exist in the Elkhorn Mountains.

For years, ranchers, hunters and other Elkhorn Mountain users debated whether the 300,000-acre mountain range south of Helena could adequately support both elk and cattle.

In recent drought years, ranchers were told to pull their cattle off public lands early, or take them up later than normal, to ensure elk had enough forage for the winter. That meant ranchers had to feed hay to the cattle or use private grazing grounds longer, which cuts into profits in a business with a slim margin anyway.

As part of an effort to move the conversation forward, the Elkhorn Working Group, composed of ranchers, state and federal officials and others, asked the Ecosystem Research Group to study grazing, grass and the overlap of use between cattle and elk.

“The Elkhorns are a wildlife management unit, which includes elk but also livestock use,” noted Denise Pengroth, the Elkhorns coordinator for the Helena National Forest. “After two years of discussion by the Elkhorn Working Group — which was borne as a result of the conflict between elk use in the Elkhorns and livestock — we felt we needed to understand the distribution of elk and cattle and where they overlap.”

What the study found, according to ERG scientists Mike Hollis and Greg Kennett, is that while both cattle and elk use similar grounds at times, there also are areas where they don’t compete and there seems to be enough forage overall to support them both.

“We have a whole series of specific recommendations that are kind of technical, but the major findings were that you can still manage for those terrific elk herds and accommodate cattle grazing, and not impact the elk herds,” Kennett said.

That finding is important to ranchers like Paul “Brud” Smith of Boulder, who drives his cattle into the upper Elkhorns in the summer for grazing, and shares his private property with the elk in the winter.

“We want this wide-open space, but if you make it too hard for ranchers to exist, pretty soon all we’ll have are subdivisions. That’s my biggest fear,” Smith said. “As ranchers, we love seeing the wildlife — when you’re out there, the wildlife if the icing on the cake — but we need a balance.

“I probably like elk more than most ranchers, but there’s a point where you have to sustain your own operation.”

He noted that growing up in the Boulder area, it was fairly rare to see elk. Their numbers dramatically dropped in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Hollis said.

“In the early 1900s, elk basically were extinct here from heavy mining — they were feeding whole mining camps elk — and harvesting heavily, plus there was the homestead boom and modern weapons,” Hollis said. “Then they got legislative protection, and by the 1960s the populations basically were healthy throughout the state.”

Pengroth said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks estimates about 2,000 elk now roam the Elkhorns, with hunting being the main method of keeping their numbers in check. About 3,400 head of cattle are permitted to graze on public lands during the spring, summer and fall.

Based on the study results, Pengroth said she feels the group now can move away from the livestock-versus-elk debate, and instead focus on creating a healthier overall ecosystem.

That includes stopping the proliferation of trees encroaching onto traditional grasslands around the lower perimeter of the Elkhorns, either by thinning stands or controlled burns, and making a more concerted effort to deal with weeds on both public and private lands.

Smith also wants people to consider whether 2,000 elk is the proper number to manage for, saying he would like to see a number based not only on what forage will allow, but also on landowner tolerance and on hunter and wildlife watchers’ perspectives.

“That number may be more and it may be less,” Smith said. “The study says there’s enough forage … but it’s not just biological. You have to have the whole system work.

“We might have enough food for elk on the Elkhorn Wildlife Management Unit’s federal lands, but one of the big things is the elk don’t know where the management unit stops and private land starts.

“So you might have enough food for elk in the Wildlife Management Unit, but they don’t stay there — they come down to private land. So if you have to manage the whole system, you have to have a cooperative agreement among everyone.”

Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or