Scenic source of Big Lost River has been abused by cattle too long-

Western Watersheds Project goes to court to protect fish in Copper Basin

Boise, ID – In order to defend fisheries on the Salmon-Challis National Forest, Western Watersheds Project filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Forest Service for its authorization of harmful livestock grazing in Idaho’s Copper Basin. Today’s suit challenges the Forest’s authorization of grazing between June and October within the headwaters and tributaries of the Big Lost River, a popular fly-fishing destination that is home to a variety of fish species including mountain whitefish and sculpin.
“Past and present grazing practices have caused substantial habitat degradation in the Big Lost River Basin,” said Travis Bruner, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “Monitoring is supposed to help the fish by informing changes in management. On the Salmon-Challis, streams fail to meet proper temperature standards, have trampled banks, and don’t sustain the pools necessary to support fish. Nonetheless, the Forest continues to authorize livestock grazing, year after year, without making any effort to protect these habitats.”

Copper Basin, Idaho. Copyright Ralph Maughan

Copper Basin, Idaho. Copyright Ralph Maughan. This big mountain valley could be another wildlife full Lamar Valley like in Yellowstone. 

Monitoring data from Copper Basin show degraded aquatic conditions and violations of use limits on vegetation. Furthermore, many of the allotments in the area have had cows grazing when they are not authorized and . Despite years of grazing abuse, the Forest Service has failed to take action against many of the permittees or enforce the few closures it has ordered and the stream conditions have continued to deteriorate.

“It shouldn’t take a lawsuit to get the Forest Service to follow the law, but WWP has been alerting the Forest Service to the problems of livestock grazing in Copper Basin for over a decade without result,” said Bruner. “Even with the documentation of grazing harms to these important habitats, the agency authorized business-as-usual for the summer of 2015. That’s not going to work to protect native fish.”
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 A copy of today’s complaint can be read here.

Photos of grazing impacts in Copper Basin’s riparian areas can be seen here.

 
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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

10 Responses to Lawsuit: Rare fish in headwaters of Idaho’s Big Lost River need protection from grazing

  1. avatar Gary Humbard says:

    Good for WWP to try to make the Forest Service adhere to laws such as the Clean Water Act and to make sure streams are in “proper functioning conditions” (ie. stable stream banks, healthy riparian vegetation, fine and coarse material in stream beds and sufficient large woody debris to create pools).

    I was appalled when hiking in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado to see cattle destroying streams on Forest Service managed land. When I questioned the agency, they basically told me the permittee had a long term right to graze cattle and that he was not required to keep the cattle out of fairly large streams. It’s too bad that lawsuits are needed to make sure “business as usual” is not SOP.

  2. avatar Ralph Maughan says:

    Gary Humbard,

    Thanks for your opinion. I find it doubly hard to take this non-enforcement when the value of grazing on these public lands has so little economic value. Copper Basin has just as much wildlife potential as any place inside Yellowstone Park, such as Lamar Valley. Justice in America is certainly different for certain elites (and not just rich elites) than for the rest of us.

    I think much of it is a “myth of the West” that rugged, arid, and harsh lands is the natural place for cattle grazing. We can blame much of that on the fake West as shown or portrayed in “Westerns.” The public is conditioned not to see or to learn about the marginality of these operations.

  3. avatar Nancy says:

    + 1 Ralph

    “The public is conditioned not to see or to learn about the marginality of these operations”

  4. avatar Tom Baker says:

    The views of WWP and Prof. Maughan are subjective in their context and objective to coerce the IDFG, FWS, and ranchers in the vicinity of Big Lost River to discontinue all grazing practices contrary to what and how genuine Idaho interests manage, graze, and care for the Idaho environment. WWP and Maughan are using junk science and policy (junk policy) to instigate their narrow objectives of how they think public lands should be managed. Indeed, a counter suit could be filed to compel WWP to expend their resources defending their lawsuit. The public agencies cannot engage in such counter actions because they must adhere to policies such as ESA, Clean Water Act, and other nonsense supported by interests like WWP and Prof. Maughan. What do the citizens of Idaho really want?

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Tom Baker wrote, ” . . . objective to coerce the IDFG, FWS, and ranchers in the vicinity of Big Lost River to discontinue all grazing practices contrary to what and how genuine Idaho interests manage, graze, and care for the Idaho environment.”

      Tom, it is not so apocalyptic to insist that the headwaters of the Big Lost provide for both rare and sport fish. It doesn’t take any science, junk or otherwise, to know that folks in Idaho love these mountain streams and spend many days and much more money than the handful of arrogant ranchers who exist off the public trough. You need to learn to share a bit. This doesn’t seem like a narrow objective to me.

    • avatar Nancy says:

      The photos of grazing impacts speak for themselves Tom Baker. I don’t have to go far to see the same degrading conditions here in Montana on public lands.

      Add to the fact:

      “Public lands grazing has been a billion-dollar boondoggle over the past decade and hasn’t come close to paying for itself,” said Randi Spivak with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Livestock owners pay less to graze their animals on publically owned land in 2014 than they did in 1981. Today the monthly cost of allowing a cow and calf to graze on federal lands is about the equivalent of a can of dog food. This damaging and expensive grazing program has been broken for years and needs to be fixed. Taxpayers, and the land we all own, deserve better”

      http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2015/grazing-01-28-2015.html

    • avatar WM says:

      Tom Baker,
      ++What do the citizens of ID really want?++

      I think better questions are:

      What does the law -NFMA and FLPMA- require?
      What did the FS commit to in its planning process for improving water and air quality?
      Are grazing permits being violated and is there environmental degradation as a result?

      And, of course, the decision-maker here is a federal judge, not someone with a vested interest in suckling off the teat of federal lands at the expense of everyone else.

      As for the “junk science,” the adversary process allows for the other side to discredit whatever is presented, and offer evidence of their own? So, go for it Mr. Baker.

  5. avatar Ralph Maughan says:

    Western Watersheds made this comment on the filing of the case.

    “Western Watersheds Project filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Forest Service for its authorization of harmful livestock grazing in Idaho’s Copper Basin on the Salmon-Challis National Forest. This popular fly fishing destination is home to a variety of fish species including the mountain whitefish and sculpin, and yet the Forest has let excessive grazing degrade riparian areas year after year.

    Today’s suit challenges the Forest’s authorization of grazing between June and October within the headwaters and tributaries of the Big Lost River. Past and present grazing practices have caused substantial habitat degradation in the Big Lost River Basin. The agency’s own monitoring shows that many of the streams fail to meet proper temperatures, have trampled banks, and don’t sustain the pools necessary to sustain the fish.

    Rather than suspend or modify grazing, the Forest continues to authorize status quo livestock grazing. Many of the allotments also have regular trespass livestock and violations of use limits on vegetation, but the agency has failed to take punitive actions against many of the permittees or to enforce the few closures they have applied. Stream conditions have continued to deteriorate, and fish populations have continued to suffer.

    While it shouldn’t take a lawsuit to get the Forest Service to follow the law, WWP is optimistic that today’s legal action will result in positive changes for this special place and these native fish.”

  6. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    Same thing – doesn’t using the public lands come with some kind of obligation to protect the lands on the user’s part?

  7. avatar Ralph Maughan says:

    The Idaho Mountain Express (in the Wood River Valley near to Copper Basin) has an article about the suit and Copper Basin today.

    Suit filed over Copper Basin grazing Western Watersheds Project claims streams are being harmed

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

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