Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Forest may examine cattle fence in detail
Forest Service says more analysis might be needed for fence, corrals in pronghorn path.

Bridger-Teton National Forest officials say they will likely take a closer look at the environmental consequences of building fences and a corral proposed at a grazing allotment in the Gros Ventre River drainage.

Jackson District Ranger Dale Deiter said Monday he will consider a more stringent analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act for proposal to construct a corral and two sections of fence in the pronghorn migration corridor in the Gros Ventre. Officials had previously recommended a “categorical exclusion,” a level of analysis reserved for activities that do not have a significant effect on the environment.

Deiter said the fences and the corral would likely necessitate an “environmental assessment,” a more in-depth look at the possible environmental consequences. Deiter stopped short of committing to such a study.

Deiter called grazing on the Upper Gros Ventre a “valid use.”

“It’s really just about the management we are going to employ on the land,” he said. Protecting the pronghorn migration corridor and keeping cattle on the allotment are two goals for the Forest Service, he said.

“What we’re trying to deal with is distribution on the allotment.”

The proposal comes after 550 cow-calf pairs cattle owned by ranchers Shane Christian, of Pavillion, and Jack and Amy Robinson of Jackson, repeatedly wandered off the Upper Gros Ventre allotment last summer and onto the 178,000-acre Bacon-Fish reserve. Conservation groups purchased the Bacon-Fish allotment in January 2007 to provide additional grazing opportunities for big game such as elk, and to provide options for managing large carnivores. Part of the 178,000 acres is a forage reserve where infrequent grazing could be allowed.

One new extension would link to an existing fence near Soda Creek, part of which was recently removed by conservation groups to benefit wildlife. The other, located northwest of Lake Creek, is new and would intersect a pronghorn migration corridor from the Upper Green River Valley to Grand Teton National Park.

The corral, which has already been constructed, is located near Slate Creek. The corral is necessary as a drop-off point because the upper portion of the Gros Ventre Road isn’t passable by tractor trailers hauling cattle, according to Forest Service officials and the ranchers.

Environmentalists have said the fencing and the corral could impede wildlife movement.

Conservation groups have also suggested that trailing the cattle from Slate Creek to the allotment could damage resources. Deiter agreed the land between the corral and the allotment is crucial winter range.

“I haven’t seen anything that suggests we are having impacts trailing to the allotment,” he said. “I think, for a lot of reasons, Slate Creek would be the best option” for the corral.

Gros Ventre rancher Glenn Taylor, who spoke at a meeting Monday, agreed.

“You have to have a site where you can deal with those trucks, and that’s the best site,” he said.

Greater Yellowstone Coalition representative Lloyd Dorsey urged a more comprehensive look at the fencing and the corrals.

“Isn’t the Forest Service concerned about foreclosing on options that could be looked at in a more comprehensive analysis?” he asked Deiter. “I would hope [Bridger-Teton] moves slowly when they make decisions up there that can impact public resources.”

Louise Lasley, public lands director with the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, said that the Forest Service should take a better look at how unloading cattle at the corral in the spring coincides with the pronghorn migration near the corral “right at a critical bottleneck.”

When Kniffy Hamilton, forest supervisor with Bridger-Teton, asked about a removable fence on one part of the corral, Taylor objected.

“I would like to see that proposal as labor friendly as possible,” he said. “Why burden these fellas with more work than they need to do? These people aren’t trust babies; they’re trying to make a dollar out of this.”

Jack Robinson agreed. “I don’t want to be building this and taking it down every year,” he said.

Robinson also said he doesn’t expect the cattle to figure out how to stay on the Upper Gros Ventre allotment on their own.

Deiter said that the fencing might not be necessary if people would be more tolerant about cattle leaving the allotment.

After the meeting, another conservationist took issue with Deiter’s suggestion that the public tolerate some leakage of cattle onto Bacon-Fish reserve.

“The logic that permittees should somehow be exempt from their contractual obligations, that kind of attitude just doesn’t cut it with me at all,” said Jonathan Ratner, Western Watersheds Project Wyoming office director. “You need to control your livestock.”

Ratner said he’s seen tractor trailer trucks negotiate Gros Ventre road numerous times and said the corral and an associated 12-acre holding pasture belongs on private land. Further, he said calling the proposed fences “wildlife friendly” is a misnomer.

“There is no such thing as wildlife friendly fences,” he said. “All fences impact wildlife.”

Ratner also took issue with the fact that taxpayers, not the cattle owners, would pay for the fencing and corral.

“For some reason, in the livestock industry, the players have this sense of entitlement that this is just their do,” he said.

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