Sunday, April 11, 2010

Idaho rancher may lose grazing permit

Mike Hanley, a well-known rancher who helped Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo pass legislation to protect ranching and wilderness in the remote southwest corner of the state, could lose his privileges on public land.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has proposed denying a permit to Hanley, who lives in Jordan Valley, Ore., and grazes his cattle in Owyhee County. Hanley is a historian and author who reached out to environmentalists seeking common ground on wilderness and grazing issues in Owyhee County.

He said he could not talk about the BLM decision, which he is appealing, upon advice of his lawyer. But he said it had nothing to do with the legislation passed in 2009, which he still supports.

It has a lot to do with the Western Watersheds Project, which had challenged 68 grazing permits in Owyhee County demanding the BLM do extensive environmental reviews to protect water quality and endangered species. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill had upheld these challenges, and upon further lawsuits Hanley and others had been forced to reduce grazing.

Now he is in the same boat as Jon Marvel and Western Watersheds Project. The BLM has proposed taking away the project's grazing permit on federal lands connected with its Greenfire Preserve near Challis. Hanley's situation demonstrates that it's not easy for the BLM to take away the permits from either ranchers or the project.

BLM Owyhee Field Manager Buddy Green said in his decision that from 2002 to 2009, Hanley "repeatedly grazed the Trout Springs Allotment outside the season of use," put out more cows than he was allowed, and had cows on the allotment in 2009 when it was closed.

"This conduct is unacceptable, and therefore I have concluded that Hanley Ranch Partnership's record of performance under the existing federal grazing permit/authorization has been unsatisfactory," Green said.

Green also said Hanley had been out of compliance repeatedly from 1992 to 2001.

Hanley's attorney, Alan Schroeder, has filed a response saying that the BLM's decision would harm Hanley's ability to graze his cattle on his private property and that fencing off that property from the public land, assuming he could do that legally, would cost him more than $30,000.

The case now is before the Department of Interior's Office Hearings and Appeals.

Katie Fite, Western Watershed Project's Biodiversity director, said Hanley has been able to continuously flout grazing rules because of years of political interference. A host of BLM range conservationists and managers were transferred when they tried to enforce the terms of the permits over the last two decades, she said.

"They had a lot of political power when Larry Craig was still around," Fite said, referring to the former U.S. senator from Idaho.

But now, after more than 10 years of litigation, WWP has won a settlement from the BLM that it would end grazing practices Fite said dramatically lowered the water table, dried up streams in the Trout Springs area, and threatened the rare redband trout that live there.

"You're talking a millennium before it recovers," Fite said.

Schroeder declined comment, saying he did not want to fight his case in the media.

Hanley's appeal now will be decided by an administrative law judge.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484