A BLM (U.S. Bureau of Land Management) decision to allow livestock grazing to grow up to three times in the Owyhee Country of southwest Idaho has been blocked for now by a Dept. of Interior judge. Dickshooter Cattle Company, owned by J.R. Simplot an Idaho-based agricultural conglomerate, asked to increase cattle grazing by up to 300 per cent in an area the BLM itself said was “some of the best sage grouse habitat in southwestern Idaho.”

The BLM decision was on public land in the Owyhee that currently is failing Idaho rangeland health standards for water quality and sensitive species. Despite this, Dickshooter Cattle Co. requested and BLM granted, a permit to increase grazing up to nearly three times the previous actual livestock use of the allotment. The judge ordered interim protection to priority sage grouse habitat and the rare and easily disturbed wildflower, Bach’s calicoflower.

J.R. Simplot is embarking on a hostile takeover of public lands to convert them to industrial-scale beef production,” said Patrick Kelly, Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project which brought the appeal. “This ruling recognizes the fragile and irreplaceable ecological values found in the wild Owyhee country, and also holds the agency accountable for not following its obligations under the law to protect public lands – including sage grouse and rare wildflowers – from degradation at the hands of corporate agriculture conglomerates like J.R. Simplot.”

It should be added that livestock produce 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. By far the largest share of these gases come from cattle.

According to a news release from Western Watersheds Project, “The judge issued a strong rebuke to the BLM for what she called several ‘eyebrow raising’ features of the agency’s decision, and highlighted the ‘imprecise, untested, and unanalyzed nature’ of BLM’s plan to prevent the ecological damage that will result from such a drastic increase in grazing pressure. Citing the likely extirpation of one population of the rare Bach’s calicoflower, as well as a ‘direct negative impact’ to sage grouse, the judge ruled that the ‘risk of immediate harm’ to resources in the area ‘from which it may never recover’ warrants a stay of BLM’s decision.”

“[An] appeal is wending its way through the Office of Hearings and Appeals, an administrative law court within the Department of Interior, and was brought by Western Watersheds Project and Wilderness Watch. A second appeal challenging the same decision was brought by Wildlands Defense.”

The BLM manages more public land than any other federal agency in the West. It might be added that the BLM’s new national director is Tracy Stone-Manning. She has been billed as an environmentalist.

 
About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He has been a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and also its President. For many years he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

60 Responses to Judge stops the BLM from increasing grazing in Idaho’s wild Owyhee country

  1. Maggie Frazier says:

    Not much environmentalism showing up from this administration – hardly any, as a matter of fact! What happened to all the promises & the hope & enthusiasm for the Native American Secretary of the Interior? Well???

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      Good question. If anything the Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture is the worst. They are allowing the timber companies to greatly damage the lands in the areas of recent great fires, apparently cutting and clearing all vegetation in many places even though this releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere and inhibits regeneration of a new forest by disturbing and destroying the conifer seeds and promoting drying of the land at a time of a warming climate.

      • Maggie Frazier says:

        Seemingly doing the absolute opposite of what should be done. Looking at the various “agencies” that should be looking after our forests, public lands, wildlife and habitat – that appears to be what their purpose IS!
        30 x 30? Doesnt look very attainable if we depend upon these “management agencies”.

      • Rich says:

        Unfortunately the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the DOI is also disregarding science and failing to protect public lands and endangered species.

        ‘Groundbreaking’ Win as Court Rules USFWS Can’t Ignore Climate Impacts on Joshua Tree

        “When the USFWS decided not to list the tree, the court found, it disregarded numerous scientific studies that forecasted the decline and loss of the Joshua tree’s habitat.”

          • Ida Lupine says:

            Thank you for posting – how did I miss this? The Joshua trees are absolutely gorgeous, and I thank the court and everyone involved for realizing their importance and need for protection. Wow!

        • Alan C Gregory says:

          It is very disheartening that the Fish and Wildlife Service will not intercede and stop the destruction by domestic, privately-owned cows in documented Yellow-billed Cuckoo habitat in the Owyhee mountains. I watched and photographed a cow eating the low-hanging branches of a willow. Little wonder why the shrinking Western population of this migratory songbird is in peril. The Bureau of Livestock Management just doesn’t care. 10-gallon hats apparently matter more.

          • Ralph Maughan says:

            Alan, The BLM now has a token conservationist as its director, but on the ground it is hard to see any change from Trump, who wanted to abolish the Bureau, and had allowed it to become headed by William Pendley Perry, a notorious advocate of transferring our public lands to the ranchers.

    • Maggie Frazier says:

      On the other hand, this judge’s decision is a step in the right direction! Hopefully, only the first.

    • I agree, Maggie! I had been trying to reach the Sec. of Interior–near impossible, as she appears to be heavily guarded by staff. Where is she on the wolf extermination going on??? Rumor has it that she “loves to hunt.” ??

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      I have wondered the same thing Maggie. I thought the initiatives were probably being blocked by an old guard in the Biden Administration. Now, I think Native American Secretary of Interior and the Native American National Parks Director have different priorities.

      • Now that we are in March, is the “interim” BLM decision still in effect? I just happened upon a 1986 quote from a BLM (Bureau of Livestock & Mining–as some still call it):
        “we’re…committed to livestock grazing…Real enforcement–it’s almost against our nature—it just comes historically out of our role as buddies to the ranchers–its a very entrenched cultural imperative. My state director dressed like a cowboy, even chewed like a cowboy…How can we expect anything more?”

        BLM staffer in “Discouraging Words” by Jon R. Luoma (Luoma 1986)
        from: “Waste of the West” by Lynn Jacobs (Chapter 9, entitled “POLITICS.” page 348.

        Another of many other reports/ testimonials on this “cowboy/cattle agency: “You have to remember what the BLM is. It’s a bunch of cattlemen running the public land.”
        –Jim Clapp, former BLM employee, founder of Wild Horse Sanctuary in Shingletown, CA 1988. from “Waste of the West.”

  2. Francis Mangels says:

    As a 35-year retired veteran USFS range mgr., gs-11, I’m familiar with Simplot shenanigans, but Dickshooter sounds like a fake name, at least I never heard of it. Bluntly, my experience has been that all livestock should be immediately removed from all public lands for economic, ecological, watershed, political, social, watershed, TES wildlife, climate, and the list goes on.

  3. Maggie Frazier says:

    This really doesnt apply to this particular post here, but this is my comment to DOE sec Haaland regarding the current “ask” to protect buffalo with the ESA. Its kind of a rant but frankly, once I started – couldnt stop!

    To the Honorable Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland:

    I have to ask “where or where are you, Sect, DOI??? So many areas of concern, so many species of concern – where is the department of the interior these days? OR the head of the BLM?? The roundups of buffalo to “quarantine” – the slaughter of these animals by supposed “hunters’ – our NATIVE MAMMAL, for crying out loud – the huge numbers of roundups & incarceration & death of our NATIVE WILD HORSES with no plans whatsoever to manage the public lands for “multiple” use – the absolutely horrendous so called “adoption” (paying people $1,000.00 to just haul away a wild horse) which allows them to SELL these wild animals at auctions to make even more money because there is NO preventive way to stop them. There is NO follow up! THEN there is the legalized slaughter of wolves by many Western states. The wolves that we finally released into the wild for the purpose of improving the habitat of our wild areas – then there are the Tule Elk being threatened & wiped out in a National Park – the Park that apparently exists to “preserve our ranching heritage” – not to protect wild species that exist there, not to prevent pollution of the water sources there, but to protect & preserve a commercial industry!
    So yeah, Sec. Haaland, how about doing this little thing & protecting this last Wild Herd of Buffalo, our NATIVE MAMMAL, with the Endangered Species Act? That doesnt seem like a big thing to ask for – considering all the other species that are being dropped at the wayside again – by an administration that I voted for, thinking this one would change all that!
    Apparently I was wrong.

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      The above is what these officials need to receive, in my opinion. Then the writer can increase the influence by sending to the President and members of Congress. Everyone should note that emailing the President is different than a couple years ago.
      Here is the link to an online form used for email to him.
      https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

      • Maggie Frazier says:

        Thank you Ralph – Used the link & sent the letter to the President – with a couple minor corrections – name wise.
        Sometime we all need a push, dont we?

        • Maggie Frazier says:

          And VP Harris. Unsure if will be read or addressed, but maybe if enough people do their “duty” & also write – maybe???

    • Yvette says:

      Thank you, Maggie Frazier. I believe I will also writer her a letter.

      • Alan C Gregory says:

        The following is a letter I sent to the BLM folks in Boise. I finally did receive the courtesy of a reply, but from what I saw today down there, nothing has changed.

        On the day that I stood and listened to the calls and song of a breeding-season Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) along the margin of Mud Flat Road in Owyhee County, Idaho, last June, I also watched a beef cow rip low-hanging branches off a nearby shrub willow and then eat the vegetation. I have included a photograph of that cow with this letter. Note the clearly visible browse line. It is reminiscent to me of the browse lines across the entire state of Pennsylvania, all of them created by super-abundant White-tailed Deer. The nesting habitat preferred by this avian species, whose western population is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, is well known to both ornithologists and birders. It consists of riparian woods dominated by willows, cottonwoods, chokecherry and other shrubby vegetation such as Net-leaf Hackberry and Serviceberry.
        The degradation and outright loss of this habitat through human activities, such as groundwater pumping, clearing for development and livestock grazing, are often cited in the scientific literature as the primary culprits behind the ongoing population decline of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
        I found the following references to livestock grazing in this literature (Yellow- billed Cuckoo (Coccyus americanus): A technical Conservation Assessment; prepared for the USSDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region . . . David A Wiggins, Ph.D, Strix Ecological Research, Oklahoma City, March 25, 2005
        1. “Livestock grazing in riparian woodlands reduces habitat quality, and has led to local extirpations. Noise from roads has been shown to negatively impact the species.”
        2. “Conservation measures that may help to slow the decline in abundance of yellow-billed cuckoos include 1) restricting livestock grazing within low-elevation riparian systems, especially in the western portions of Region 2; 2) restoring natural patterns of water flow (i.e., allowing periodic flooding and consequent widening of riparian areas) along Great Plains and western slope river systems; and 3) restricting the use of pesticides in and near riparian woodlands. Two recent habitat manipulation studies have shown that restricting livestock grazing and promoting the expansion of riparian woodlands can have immediate, positive effects on the numbers of breeding yellow-billed cuckoos. The extent to which the elimination of exotic vegetation, especially saltcedar (Tamarix spp.), will improve habitat quality for yellow-billed cuckoos is in need of further study. Given that saltcedar elimination programs are currently underway on many southwestern river systems, including those on the Comanche and Cimarron national grasslands, monitoring breeding bird populations on such systems would provide valuable data on the potential benefits of this management action for yellow-billed cuckoos and other riparian species.”
        I have enclosed a copy of the applicable pages of this lengthy report along with my photograph of a cow destroying riparian habitat along Mud Flat Road a mile uphill of the BLM’s Poison Creek Recreation Site.

        My day in the field last June was also highlighted by the find of a dead calf spread-eagled on the heavily disturbed and bare-soil state of the riparian zone on the creek side of the dirt-and-gravel road. I spooked six feeding Turkey Vultures off that carcass and the scavengers drifted to uphill perches to await my departure.

        The discovery and documentation of one Yellow-billed Cuckoo is certainly not indicative of any long-running trend. But finding one individual of the species in preferred habitat does say – with an exclamation point – that suitable habitat does indeed exist along what the BLM also calls the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway.
        To sit back and allow the presence of livestock (a big non-native invasive species, if there ever was one) to continue degrading and destroying this bird’s habitat flies in the face of conservation science.
        Cattle should be restricted from all parts of the riparian zones along Mud Flat Road. Removing them and keeping them out of this habitat should start this spring and continue indefinitely. The habitat needs of native wildlife come first, whether it is a mated pair of Yellow Warblers or a breeding pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos, or any other avian species that is dependent on quality riparian habitat.
        I played back my audio recording of that cuckoo for a staffer at the Intermountain Bird Observatory at Boise State University and for the staff biologist at the BLM field office in Marsing.
        My field experience includes:
        1. Running two routes for the North American Breeding Bird Survey for 17 years each in Pennsylvania;
        2. Named volunteer of the year, 1998, in the science category by the Nature Conservancy’s Pennsylvania chapter;
        3. Volunteer field worker for bird, herpetological and butterfly atlases in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York State and Vermont.
        4. President in 1998 of the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology.
        I look forward to reading your reply to this letter. Thank you.
        Sincerely,

        ALAN C. GREGORY
        Lt. Col., USAF, Ret.

  4. Rich says:

    A positive story of what can happen when people speak out and managers listen. Perhaps a film on Point Reyes NS or on other critical wildlife issues would inspire a similar response from the younger generation. The question may be how to get Secretary Deb Haaland to listen.

    https://www.mountaineers.org/blog/how-protectthearctic-went-viral-and-helped-stop-arctic-drilling

    First thousands – then hundreds of thousands – then millions of youth on the social media platform TikTok wrote to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Their message was simple and powerful: “We want the Arctic Refuge protected.”

    • Maggie Frazier says:

      So exactly as it was back in the early 70s regarding wild horses – the same outcry works now! So its obvious that they are listened to. And there should be the same outcry for our Wild Horses, Wolves etc!

  5. Alan C Gregory says:

    I submitted this letter to the editor, Idaho Statesman, two days ago.
    Letter to editor, Idaho Statesman newspaper. Submitted on 21 Jan. 2022

    In early June last year, I stood along a dirt road in Owyhee County and listened to the calls and song of a breeding-season Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus). At that same spot I also watched a cow tear low-lying branches off a willow and then eat the vegetation. Conservationists call this kind of thing the destruction of habitat.
    Only an anecdote, sure. But there is an extensive track record of degradation and destruction of our natural heritage. The non-native force that’s behind the loss is cattle grazing on our public land; at a loss to all of us who pay taxes and subsidize the destruction.
    The nesting habitat preferred by this avian species, whose western population is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, is well known to both ornithologists and birders. It consists of riparian woods dominated by willows, cottonwoods, chokecherry and other shrubby vegetation.
    The degradation and outright loss of this habitat through human activities, such as groundwater pumping, clearing for development and livestock grazing, are repeatedly cited in the scientific literature as the primary culprits behind the ongoing population decline of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
    It is time to remove livestock from our public lands.

  6. Rich says:

    A positive step by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland:

    https://www.commondreams.org/news/2022/01/26/monumental-victory-biden-cancels-boundary-waters-mining-leases

    “The Department of the Interior takes seriously our obligations to steward public lands and waters on behalf of all Americans. We must be consistent in how we apply lease terms to ensure that no lessee receives special treatment,” explained Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “After a careful legal review, we found the leases were improperly renewed in violation of applicable statutes and regulations, and we are taking action to cancel them.”

  7. Alan C Gregory says:

    The Bureau of Land Management, Boise Field District, apparently would be quite happy if the entire length of the Owyhee Uplnds Backcountry Byway was viewed and managed as one big cattle feedlot. The field record of what has happened because of cattle is a sorrowful chapter: Degraded and destroyed wetlands, de-watering of riparian zones, the eating of riparian vegetation by cows, the burying of invertebrate habitat under cow pies, the fragmentation of riparian corridors by cows, and the disturbance of t-and-e species like the Yellow-billed Cuckoo I documented last June. The correct thing to do is this: Remove all cattle from our public lands.

  8. Beeline says:

    This brings to mind senate bill S. 1214 (117th congress) that would permit state governments to manage federal grazing allotments. The Trump administration weakened the BLM by forcing employees to quit and by intimidating others. This left an opening for republic congressmen to do their thing in the name of capitalism and write legislation to let the states dominate more federal land.

    Part of the bill specifies that seeding, discing, chaining, burning, dozing etc, can be used in allotment “management”. The same sort of stuff that sets back ecological succession which is good for cows but not wildlife or the watershed. I don’t think S.1214 passed but we should keep ourselves informed about this one lest we give up more habitat to agricultural intrusion.

    Essentially public lands are becoming farming operations. Cattle, sheep, feral hogs and horses are all consuming our wildlife heritage for somebodies profit. Tax payers subsidize the whole sordid affair.

    The federal grazing fee is $1.35 per AUM until the end of February 2022. $1.35 was the basic fee set in 1936 by the Taylor Grazing Act. In today’s market it would take $27.08 to have the same buying power. I can visualize bears, deer, eagles, rabbits etc. sitting by the side of the road with ragged clothes on, tin cups in paw, seeking a hand out of small change to survive.

    By the way is there a new link for reader generated wildlife news.

    • Alan C Gregory says:

      The entire 102-mile Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway, which the Bureau of Livestock Management is quite proud of, is destined, at this rate, to be a long 100-mile-plus feedlot. Just like the Simplot feedlot at Grand View in the county of Owyhee.When I watched a fat cow rip low-hanging branches off a Willow last June along said byway, I was watching the destruction of habitat; the habitat that is key to the nesting success of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo I had just listened to and voice-recorded.

      • Nancy says:

        Alan, you appear to be about my age and I’m guessing you are getting tired, like me, when it comes to “pissing in the wind” (protecting wilderness and wildlife habitat)

        The coming generation either gets it or doesn’t because it really boils down to lip service or activism and lip service/whining seems to be the norm anymore.

        • Alan C Gregory says:

          I am 69 years of age. This morning, I went for a hike on BLM land in Owyhee County. AsI was driving down Mud Flat Road, one after another of cattle trucks, each of them shedding manure as they rolled on, were going north toward Grand View and the Simplot feedlot.Mud Flat Road had a lot of cow pies on it, notably in the area of the Oolite interpretive site. I walked the Orena Cutoff Road to the point where it dips down and crosses a seasonal stream bed. The riparian area in that hollow has been trashed by cows. Yet another case study in damage/destruction by cattle. And the Bureau of Livestock Management doesn’t give a damn. Very sad. I sent my latest letter to the boss lady of the BLM’s Boise District to Secretary Haaland with a cover letter.

      • Ralph Maughan says:

        Alan, thanks for letting us know this. More information would be valuable. I am not familiar with this “Byway.”

    • Maggie Frazier says:

      Your visualization of the animals looking for a hand out reminds me of the cartoons on the Mountain Journal – cant remember the artist’s name but his cartoons have been in that vein! Worth looking for.

  9. Ida Lupine says:

    I wasn’t sure where to post this, but I found it rather alarming, especially in these times of reversal of environmental fortune by both political parties. Do people not even consider that keeping a wild animal as a pet is deterimental to the animal?:

    “But did Twitter users really want to let mountain lions into their homes? “Most people I think know that they’re not big house cats and they’re very dangerous,” Hill said. But he added that despite knowing it’s a bad idea, people want to think that they might be able to keep such predators as pets.”

    https://www.msn.com/en-gb/entertainment/news/oklahoma-wildlife-dept-says-mountain-lions-don-t-make-good-pets-the-internet-disagrees/ar-AAThcCq?ocid=uxbndlbing

    • Maggie Frazier says:

      I LOVE animals – wild & domestic. But a WILD animal is just that. They deserve to live their lives in the wild. The fact that there are people who cannot understand that – is scary. As much for those animals as the humans involved. Not smart!!

  10. Ida Lupine says:

    To be honest, I’m a little afraid to write to the government at all these days. I don’t have a lot of confidence in letter writing anyway, and I’d be afraid I’d be put on some kind of FBI watch list as a ‘radical environmentalist’. Let me know how it all works out for ya.

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      I wouldn’t worry about it at all. The ones who want to overthrow the government are the Trump people.

      • Ida Lupine says:

        Okay, thanks! 🙂

      • Alan C Gregory says:

        Writing to a public official is also a cheerful thing for me. I wrote the following letter today.
        Manager Tanya Thrift 1 Feb. 2022
        Bureau of Land Management, Boise District
        3948 Development Ave.
        Boise, ID 83705
        Dear Director Thrift:
        Thank you for your letter dated Jan. 19. I received the attachment today; the e-mail from Lance K. Okeson, former Bruneau District manager. As I mentioned before, I am a survivor of traumatic brain injury. One of the recurring symptoms of TBI is short-term memory loss. I simply did not remember reading Mr. Okeson’s letter when I was writing my previous letter to you. I apologize for the confusion.
        His e-mail, by the way, was not attached to your previous mailing to me. Thanks to Michael Williamson of your staff for helping solve this matter.
        I took the photographs of the willow-rich habitat where I recorded the calls and songs of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo on the left side (north) of Mud Flat Road at a point 1.5 miles uphill of the Poison Creek Rec site. I also photographed the cow tearing off branches from a willow and eating them at the same point. The dead calf, which was being presided over by six Turkey Vultures, was further down the road, but within a badly damaged riparian zone on public land.
        In your letter, you mention again that Coccyzus americanus birds prefer large blocks of habitat. I am aware of this from reading scientific research papers. I would appreciate receiving a copy of any literature you have on this topic, which you did not refer to by name in your Jan. 19 letter. I would also appreciate receiving copies of any botanical, herpetological and avian surveys that may have been accomplished in the past along the corridor of the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway.
        In your correspondence, you referred to the federal Land Policy Management Act. I am aware of its references to the grazing of privately-owned cattle on public lands. There is a lengthy description of it in the coffee table-size book entitled “Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West.”
        I am also cognizant of the fact that federal land managers are entrusted with the responsibility to conserve our natural heritage, whether it is a migratory bird species, a reptile, a plant, or an invertebrate species like the Lustrous Copper (Lycaena cupreus) I photographed last year atop a wildflower of which all but one stem had been buried by a defecating cow. This is the type of damage that led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove cattle from Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge in southern Oregon more than 20 years ago. The ecological recovery of the 280,000-acre refuge is the subject of both research papers and popular essays.
        I have attached another copy of that photo with this letter.
        The best and most productive thing that could be done in this era of climate change and the on-going loss of plant and animal habitat is simple: Remove all cattle (an invasive, non-native species) from all public lands. Removing livestock from our public lands would be a big step toward conserving our natural heritage; what the late entomologist Dr. E.O. Wilson coined “biodiversity.” In our state, that natural heritage is routinely degraded and destroyed by the privately-owned cows allowed to graze our public lands at a bargain-basement lease price. This is especially troublesome for the biologically rich riparian zones of the northern Great Basin, which Owyhee County, Idaho, is part of. What truly matters is not a provision of the FLPMA, but what is happening on the ground, the public lands that the BLM routinely advertises in signage as “Your public lands.” I have photographed these signs; an example is attached.
        The multiple-use mandate, from what I have witnessed in hundreds of field trips to our public lands, is more akin to single-use management: The grazing of privately-owned cattle on land owned by the citizens.
        A closing question: How does the Bureau of Land Management justify the killing of butterfly host plants by privately-owned cows? The cow I photographed eating willow twigs was destroying a host plant of the Mourning Cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa). And how does the Bureau justify the trampling and conversion of riparian wetlands to muddy quagmires?
        Sincerely,

        ALAN C. GREGORY Attached: Photos of cow damage and BLM sign
        Lt. Col., USAF, Ret.

        • Maggie Frazier says:

          If the book you refer to is the one by George Wuerthner(sp?) I read that one too. Very informative.

          • Alan C Gregory says:

            Yes, it is coffee-table size book. Quite a production. Waste of the West by Lynn Jacobs is another informative volume.

            • Yes, Alan, I agree with you! I have my copy of Lynn Jacobs’ Waste of the West–still used today by many of us! Let’s get those Public Lands Moochers off Public Lands–and then get on with private lands as well.

              • Alan C Gregory says:

                Yesterday, I mailed a letter to the director of the BLM. Here it is. I urge all readers of this blog to follow suit. Thaks.
                Director Tracy Stone-Manning 8 Feb. 2022
                U.S. Bureau of Land Management
                760 Horizon Dr.
                Grand Junction, CO 81506
                Dear Director Manning,
                Enclosed with this letter are copies of letters from me to the director of the agency’s Boise District. They all stem from field work I accomplished in June 2021 along a dirt road the BLM manages in Owyhee County, Idaho. This county encompasses the entire southwest corner of Idaho. Much of the land in this county is public land.
                In early June last year, I stood along Mud Flat Road and documented the presence just feet from me in a dense tangle of riparian willows a Yellow=-billed Cuckoo. The western distinct population of this migratory songbird is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. I audio-recorded the calls and song of that bird and later reported my findings to both the BLM and the Intermountain Bird Observatory at Boise State University. Mud Flat Road is also known as the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway, a fact that Idaho BLM officials are understandably proud of.
                Yet, our shared natural heritage on the public lands of Owyhee County and elsewhere, as well, is under intense and destructive pressure from the grazing of non-native cows; cows that are privately owned and for which the U.S. Treasury gets only a pittance from the leasing of grazing allotments to cattle ranchers.
                I have also enclosed with this letter several of the photographs I have shot to help document the damage to our natural heritage. The Bureau of Land Management should be safeguarding the public trust, not allowing it to be destroyed, fragmented and lost due to the grazing on public lands of privately-owned cattle.
                No cattle should be allowed anywhere near a riparian zone along Mud Flat Road and no cattle should be allowed anywhere near a high-desert waterway in Owyhee County, Idaho.
                Thank you for your time.

                ALAN C. GREGORY
                Lt. Col., USAF, Ret.

                • I am also a veteran of the USAF-only enlisted, not an officer. Thank you for your comments. I have been an anti-public lands grazing activist for awhile. Now that Climate Change is literally upon our doorstep, we cannot continue to allow this travesty of environmental destruction, to soils, water, riparian areas and wildlife.

    • I have a bumper sticker I just found on the back of my car which reads “Humans Are Not the Only Species on The Earth, They Just Think They Are.”

      • Alan C Gregory says:

        I am mailing this letter today.

        District Manager Tanya Thrift 10 Feb. 2022
        Bureau of Land Management, Boise District
        3948 Development Ave.
        Boise, ID 83705
        Dear District Manager Thrift,
        Enclosed with this letter is a photographic enlargement of part of a large rectangular poster I picked up at the Idaho BLM public room at 1387 South Vinnell Way in Boise four or five years ago. The poster bears the headline, “Idaho BLM 1000 percent natural.” The art the poster features is nice, and includes a fisher with fly rod in hand, a moose, a blue river, and a cottonwood leaf, among other things.
        Missing from the poster, however, is a depiction of the very thing which the Bureau of Land Management spends a great deal of both time and tax money on: The grazing of livestock, specifically the grazing of privately-owned beef cows on public land, land which all Americans are part owners of.
        To proclaim that the BLM’s management of public lands is “100 percent natural” is, at best, a slick public-relations slogan. At worst, it is an outright lie.
        Here’s why:
        1. There is nothing natural about the cow itself. Like cheatgrass and Russian thistle, a beef cow is a full-scale invasive species. It eats, tramples, loafs and pollutes. That’s about it.
        2. Cattle – even when carefully husbanded and watched over – tend to destroy the very nature (nature that is native to North America!) that they are turned loose on to eat up, trample, defecate on, pollute and eventually kill.
        3. The muddy, trampled and lifeless wetlands in many of the riparian zones I’ve stood next to on public lands in Owyhee County were created by this most unnatural of critters, the cow.
        4. The stripping of riparian vegetation, all of it native, by cows is also unnatural. It is destructive and harms the very thing the Bureau of Land Management should be protecting with all the effort it can muster. In other words, there is nothing “100 percent natural” about what cattle do to our natural heritage.
        5. Some of the many riparian areas along Mud Flat Road are devoid of birdlife. I know this fact from the countless hours I’ve spent surveying many of them for the presence of migratory birds and invertebrates. I know this surveying process very well, having run two North American Breeding Bird Survey routes in Pennsylvania for 17 years each. These are 24.5-mile mapped routes and each includes 50 stops, each a half-mile apart. You can learn more about the BBS at https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/introbbs.html
        These quiet-of-bird-song riparian areas are no longer being used as breeding, hiding and feeding sites because their quality has been wrecked by cows. Cows are also disturbance agents, scaring adult birds off their nests in the riparian zones they still try to occupy during the avian breeding season.
        6. There is nothing “100 percent natural” about a cow defecating in in Battle Creek, or Cottonwood Creek, or Poison Creek or in any other waterway in Owyhee County public lands. Cow manure is a pollutant. It can also serve as a transmission agent for pathogens. Piles of manure dropped on dry upland areas also can and do serve as agents of water pollution when the first rain falls after a cow has done its thing.
        There is nothing “natural” about hiking across sagebrush-steppe and having to dodge heaps of wet and dry cow manure. As a teenager growing up in Pocatello, Idaho, in the late 1960s, I once joined my brother and a friend on an overnight hike uphill of our home neighborhood.
        We set up camp in a riparian area on BLM public land. In the wee hours, we were awakened by cattle stomping into our camp site.
        7. There is most certainly nothing “natural” about finding a-once wildflower-rich wetland-meadow trampled into mud.
        Riparian areas are nature’s most diverse and productive habitats within the semi-arid Great Basin, which Owyhee country is part of. Conservation biologists focus much of their research and habitat recommendations on restoring connectivity between what are currently essentially islands of habitat. This disconnection of riparian areas in Owyhee stream corridors is chiefly an after-effect of cattle grazing. I have documented this discontinuity along long reaches of public land in Owyhee country. Movement for many native wildlife species between habitat patches is made more difficult or impossible by cattle eating riparian plants and compacting the soil while doing so. The subsequent day-lighting of the riparian soil makes passive restoration even harder to achieve and contributes to desertification of the riparian area.
        Healthy un-grazed riparian areas support diverse plant and animal communities. They provide nesting, food and cover for a rich assemblage of migratory songbirds, from Yellow Warblers and Common Yellowthroats to Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Song Sparrows.
        Migratory birds are among nature’s most magnificent resources. Their conservation is a critical and challenging endeavor, both for government agencies and for all of us who value nature and what is truly natural.
        The grazing of cattle on public lands managed by the BLM is not “natural.” And just because FLPMA allows livestock grazing does not make it the biologically or ethically correct use of our public lands.
        Sincerely,

        ALAN C. GREGORY cc: BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning
        Lt. Col., USAF, Ret.

        • This environmentally destructive Public Lands Grazing Industry is also the major reason for massive wildlife destruction. “Wildlife Services” (aka Animal Damage Control)is the Federal Agency which continues to slaughter so-called “predators” to assist ranchers. These animal killers still use Compound 1080, M-44’s, and many other horrendous lethal poisons on wild animals, including traps, snares, aerial shooting, denning, etc. The latest assault upon remaining wolf populations is another example. Any wolf in that area is a target, and no longer even has an “endangered” status. The Mexican Wolf population in southern NM., is also languishing–a constant target for local public lands ranchers down there. All for the Livestock Industry. https://www.fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/andamag.html

          • Alan C Gregory says:

            My late wife and I visited Sevalitta National Wildlife
            Refuge im south-central N.M. in 2006. That is (was?) the focal point for the Mexican Gray Wolf (the lobos) recovery project. It’s been out for a number of years, but the book, “The Wolf in the Southwest,” edited by David E. Brown, remains the seminal work on the making of an endangered species, the Lobo.

  11. Ed Loosli says:

    Thank you Ralph Maughan for giving us the latest link to the White House. It is “very user friendly” and you can also comment to the White House about any federal agency as well, like the Dept. of Interior, Nat. Park Service, Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management, for example.

    https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

  12. Alan C Gregory says:

    I mailed this letter today.
    District Manager Tanya Thrift 3 Feb. 2022
    Bureau of Land Management, Boise District
    3948 Development Ave.
    Boise, ID 83705
    Dear District Manager Thrift:
    Cottonwood Creek, at the point where it flows near Mud Flat Road (latitude 42.517751/longitude 116.89921) in Owyhee County, is a nice spot at first glance, but it has been hammered by cows. I once photographed a cow (see the enclosed photo) defecate in the water of Cottonwood Creek. This stream, like many others in southwest Idaho, especially those that flow across public land, is a public resource, part of the public trust which the BLM should be safeguarding, in my estimation.
    Cow manure contains nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and high levels of ammonia. It can also contain various pathogens. These substances/chemicals were probably not present in surface waters in Owyhee County before cattle grazing began. But they are now.
    This spurs my question for you: How does the Bureau of Land Management justify the polluting of a public resource – the water of Cottonwood Creek and other streams – by privately-owned cattle? Does the pollution of a surface waterway by said cow constitute a violation of the grazing allotment permit? If it does not, then why? And what about the Clean Water Act?
    Additionally, why are cattle allowed to be anywhere near a surface waterway in light of their trampling of stream banks and polluting of the water itself? What I witnessed with this particular cow is hardly an isolated incident. On other field trips up and down Mud Flat Road since returning to Idaho from Vermont in 2014, I have seen cow pies floating in Deep Creek, piles of manure roasting in the sun along a dewatered and trampled reach of Poison Creek, and manure sitting atop a silt-covered streambed in the sluggish and algae-infested water of Current Creek.
    I would appreciate learning from the BLM what reptile and amphibian species are known to occur now (and historically) in Owyhee County.
    Thank you again.

    ALAN C. GREGORY
    Lt. Col., USAF, Ret.

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      I am glad you are writing and mailing these, Alan.

      • Alan C Gregory says:

        Thanks. I really appreciate that good word from you, a fellow conservationist and advocate for Wild Nature.

  13. Alan C Gregory says:

    The BLM’s resource advisory council is meeting soon. I submitted the following comments:
    Bureau of Land Management Resource Advisory Council
    Idaho State Office
    1387 South Vinnell Way
    Boise, ID 83709
    Dear council:
    In early June, 2021, I stood next to an extensive riparian area along Mud Flat Road in Owyhee County and listened to the calls and song of a breeding-season Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus). On that day I also watched a beef cow rip low-hanging branches off a nearby shrub willow and then eat the vegetation. I photographed this moment. The nesting habitat preferred by this avian species, whose western population is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, is well known to both ornithologists and birders. It consists of riparian woods dominated by willows, cottonwoods, chokecherry and other shrubby vegetation such as Net-leaf Hackberry and Serviceberry. On that June day last year, I watched a privately-owned cow degrade and destroy vegetation and habitat crucial to the YBCU and many other migratory songbirds, such as Yellow Warbler and McGillivray’s Warbler.
    The degradation and outright loss of this habitat through human activities, such as groundwater pumping, clearing for development and livestock grazing, are often cited in the scientific literature as the primary culprits behind the ongoing population decline of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
    I found the following references to livestock grazing in this literature (Yellow- billed Cuckoo (Coccyus americanus): A technical Conservation Assessment; prepared for the USSDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region . . . David A Wiggins, Ph.D, Strix Ecological Research, Oklahoma City, March 25, 2005
    1. “Livestock grazing in riparian woodlands reduces habitat quality, and has led to local extirpations. Noise from roads has been shown to negatively impact the species.”
    2. “Conservation measures that may help to slow the decline in abundance of yellow-billed cuckoos include 1) restricting livestock grazing within low-elevation riparian systems, especially in the western portions of Region 2; 2) restoring natural patterns of water flow (i.e., allowing periodic flooding and consequent widening of riparian areas) along Great Plains and western slope river systems; and 3) restricting the use of pesticides in and near riparian woodlands. Two recent habitat manipulation studies have shown that restricting livestock grazing and promoting the expansion of riparian woodlands can have immediate, positive effects on the numbers of breeding yellow-billed cuckoos. The extent to which the elimination of exotic vegetation, especially saltcedar (Tamarix spp.), will improve habitat quality for yellow-billed cuckoos is in need of further study. Given that saltcedar elimination programs are currently underway on many southwestern river systems, including those on the Comanche and Cimarron national grasslands, monitoring breeding bird populations on such systems would provide valuable data on the potential benefits of this management action for yellow-billed cuckoos and other riparian species.”
    The site I stood along that day while watching a cow destroy riparian habitat is a mile uphill of the BLM’s Poison Creek Recreation Site.

    My day in the field last June was also highlighted by the find of a dead calf spread-eagled on the heavily disturbed and bare-soil state of the riparian zone on the creek side of the dirt-and-gravel road. I spooked six feeding Turkey Vultures off that carcass and the scavengers drifted to uphill perches to await my departure.

    The discovery and documentation of one Yellow-billed Cuckoo is certainly not indicative of any long-running trend. But finding one individual of the species in its preferred habitat does say – with an exclamation point – that suitable habitat does indeed exist along what the BLM also calls the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway. My find was pooh-pooed by senior BLM leadership in Boise, despite me playing back my recording of the bird for a BLM scientist and an official of the Idaho Bird Observatory at Boise State University.
    To sit back and allow the presence of livestock (a big non-native invasive species, if there ever was one) to continue degrading and destroying this bird’s habitat flies in the face of conservation science.
    Cattle should be restricted from all parts of the riparian zones along Mud Flat Road. Removing them and keeping them out of this habitat should start this spring and continue indefinitely. The habitat needs of native wildlife come first, whether it is a mated pair of Yellow Warblers or a breeding pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos, or any other avian species that is dependent on quality riparian habitat.
    My field experience includes:
    1. Running two routes for the North American Breeding Bird Survey for 17 years each in Pennsylvania. The BBS is managed in the United States by the U.S. Geological Survey;
    2. Named volunteer of the year, 1998, in the science category by the Nature Conservancy’s Pennsylvania chapter;
    3. Volunteer field worker for bird, herpetological and butterfly atlases in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York State and Vermont.
    4. President in 1998 of the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology.
    Sincerely,
    /s/
    ALAN C. GREGORY
    Lt. Col., USAF, Ret.

  14. Alan C Gregory says:

    Jerome Ford 21 February 2022
    Assistant Director for Migratory Birds
    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
    1849 C St. NW, Room 3331
    WASHINGTON, DC 20240-0001
    Dear Director Ford,
    Sir, I am Alan C. Gregory, age 69, and I live in Mountain Home, Idaho. I am a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel. I am a birder, a citizen scientist, and an advocate for our natural heritage. I looked over the roster of FWS officials on the agency’s website and elected to send this letter to you, based on your title.
    Attached is one of several letters I wrote about the following matter to the director of the Boise, Idaho, Field District, Bureau of Land Management.
    I learned birding while living in the Adirondacks of New York State. I ran, for 17 years each, two routes of the North American Breeding Bird Survey in Pennsylvania. And I have accomplished field work, as a volunteer, for breeding-bird atlases and similar projects for butterflies and herpetological species in that state, Vermont and New York State. I was president, in 1998, of the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology.
    In early June last year, I stood along a dirt road in Owyhee County, Idaho, and listened to the calls and song of a breeding-season Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus). At that same spot along Mud Flat Road, I also watched a cow rip low-hanging branches off a willow and then eat the vegetation. Willows are a key part of the habitat the cuckoo must have. Conservationists call this kind of thing destruction of habitat.
    My finding of a cuckoo is only an anecdote, for sure. But there is an extensive track record of degradation and destruction of our natural heritage by livestock. The non-native force that’s behind the loss is cattle grazing on our public land; at a loss to all of us who pay taxes and subsidize the destruction.
    The nesting habitat preferred by this avian species, whose western population is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, is well known to both ornithologists and birders. It consists of riparian forests dominated by willows, cottonwoods, chokecherry, netleaf hackberry and other shrubby vegetation.
    The degradation and outright loss of this habitat through human activities, such as groundwater pumping, clearing for development, and livestock grazing, are repeatedly cited in the scientific literature as the primary culprits behind the ongoing population decline of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo and its western population.
    I believe it is time to remove livestock from our public lands. BLM officials who I have corresponded with about my documentation of a threatened bird, and a chief reason for its population decline, have quoted back to me a section of the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA), which allows for the grazing of privately-owned cows on federal public lands. I don’t dispute what this law says. But doing the right thing, ecologically, biologically, and ethically, is called for and should take precedent over FLPMA.
    There is precedent for removing cattle from public lands. It was accomplished, for example, at Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge in eastern Oregon. And the passive recovery of the refuge’s riparian zones has been highlighted by at least two scientific research papers published in academic journals.
    I call your attention to the enclosed photographs, which I have numbered to facilitate the writing of captions for each. I photographed these scenes on June 7, 2021, the same day on which I listened to and recorded the vocalizations of a breeding-season Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
    No. 1: I found this dead calf laying on a patch of bare earth which was created by the trampling of other cattle and which fragmented a riparian zone on the north side of Mud Flat Road in Owyhee County. This county is rich in public lands and covers the entire southwestern corner of the state of Idaho. As you know, the fragmentation of habitat is a key factor behind population declines of many migratory songbirds.
    No. 2: Cattle have trampled this wetland of the same riparian zone into a muggy quagmire. That isn’t a beaver dam at center. It is dead wood and is a by-product of livestock grazing.
    No. 3: This is the spot where I stood and listened to the cuckoo. As is the case with many riparian zones in Owyhee country, the width of this zone is constrained by the topography. Even so, the habitat attracted the YBCU I documented. I played back the recording I made of the bird to a BLM biologist in the Marsing, Idaho, field office, and to a leader of the Intermountain Bird Observatory at Boise State University.
    No. No. 4: This is another daylighted section of a riparian zone along Mud Flat Road. Two cows scrambled up the far bank as I snapped the picture. The wetland at the bottom of the swale has been trampled and churned into mud, again by cattle.
    No. 5: This is a close-up of the muddied wetland. The continuing trampling of this spot by cattle will make it impossible for any native riparian plants to reclaim the site. Only by fencing out cows or, better yet, removing them from the land entirely will facilitate the healing of this scar.
    No. 6: The average beef cow now weighs in at 1,000 pounds on average. This stream bank of Poison Creek along Mud Flat Road has been trampled and stomped by cows. The stream has become shallower, wider and its water is likely deficient in oxygen. The silt loosened by cattle trampling fouls the water and that, in turn, leads to algae blooms. All the more reason to get cattle off this public land. Incidentally, I asked to receive a copy of any list the BLM has of the herpetological species that live on public land in Owyhee County, but have not received the courtesy of a letter of reply much less the information I asked for.
    No. 7: Just after I audio-recorded the YBCU, I watched as this cow tore off low-hanging branches from a willow and ate them. This clearly amounts to degradation and destruction of habit, and not just habitat attractive to cuckoos, but to many other riparian birds, including Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Lark Sparrow, McGillivray’s Warbler, Song Sparrow and others.
    No. 8: In Pennsylvania and other Mid-Atlantic states, browse lines like this are created by super-abundant White-tailed Deer. In Owyhee County and elsewhere in the West they are created by privately-owned cattle allowed to loaf, mine and destroy our natural heritage.
    No. 9: Cattle emerge from a Mud Flat Road riparian zone. It is a wonder, indeed, that any migratory songbird can withstand the disturbances of cattle plunging through its habitat.
    No. 10: Cattle have destroyed this riparian zone. The dried-up streambed is visible at right. Piles of cow manure litter the earth and each leaches pollutants like ammonia whenever there is rain.
    No. 11: A close-up of the willow-rich habitat where the YBCU was hanging out.
    I ask for your assistance in getting cattle out of the riparian zones of Owyhee County, Idaho. At the current rate of destruction, the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway will soon be transformed into a muddy manure-filled feedlot.
    Thank you for your time, sir.

    ALAN C. GREGORY
    Lt. Col., USAF, Ret.

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Quote

‎"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."

~ Edward Abbey

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