Judge restores grazing on Jarbidge allotment

Aug 5, 2011

A J.R. Simplot Company spokesman welcomes a federal judge’s ruling that overturns a ban on livestock grazing on some southern Idaho public lands and that states limited grazing could benefit the lands by reducing kindling that stokes wildfires.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled July 22 that grazing permit holders can continue to graze livestock in 17 allotments of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Jarbidge Resource Area, reversing a decision he had rendered in March suspending grazing on the allotments. In lawsuits, environmentalists argued that grazing livestock damage habitat crucial for endangered sage grouse and trample slickspot peppergrass, an imperiled plant.

In his latest ruling, Winmill said he agreed with the testimony of experts on both sides who blamed the decline in sage grouse populations primarily on wildfires. The Murphy Complex Fire in 2007 consumed 650,000 acres in the Jarbidge Resource Area, destroying 70 percent of the area’s sage grouse habitat, he noted, adding he now believes careful grazing could help protect the land by reducing the number of plants that could fuel wildfires, halting or hindering the flames.

"The judge recognized that the BLM’s commitment to rigorous management of grazing, along with its monitoring and inventorying activity, will improve conditions on the range. Thus, for certain allotments, a level of grazing will be allowed," Simplot spokesman David Cuoio told the Western Livestock Journal.

"Also, the judge recognized that for certain allotments, no grazing was appropriate for protection of sage grouse. This decision by the judge recognizes the hard work that has been done by the BLM and permittees. Simplot remains committed to working with the BLM and others to implement best management practices on these allotments."

The Simplot Land & Livestock Group, Brackett Ranches Limited Partnership and Camas Creek Cattle Association were defendants in the lawsuit. Tom Basabe, president of the Simplot Group, said Winmill’s ruling was a significant victory for the ranching industry.

Winmill said a complete lifting of the ban on grazing wasn’t warranted, listing several limitations for the allotments where grazing will resume. BLM must prepare an interim grazing management plan for each grazing permit holder to protect sensitive species and guarantee wildlife and watershed needs are satisfied.

BLM also has full authority to restrict or completely ban grazing on the land, consistent with law, Winmill said. It must ban grazing completely for certain pastures during sage grouse mating and nesting season, and during the winter when plant growth has stopped.

Laird Lucas, an attorney representing the Western Watersheds Project, which opposes grazing on public lands, said Winmill’s ruling stressed the BLM must continue to strongly focus on protecting sage grouse. The best way to do that is to have grazing eliminated, Lucas said, noting Winmill was not willing to go that far. — Mark Mendiola, WLJ Correspondent