Commissioners work with feds to head off grazing lawsuits

Central Idaho threatened/endangered fish habitat is threatened by public land livestock grazing.  Federal managers drag their feet.  WWP threatens to file suit.

Chinook - photo: USFWS
Chinook – photo: USFWS

Many folk don’t realize the impact to native fisheries habitat that livestock grazing can and does have.  The Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other land and wildlife management agencies work diligently to avoid acknowledging livestock’s impact to listed fish species such as Bull Trout, Chinook salmon, steelhead, and Sockeye salmon even when their own biologists and other scientists officially describe the deleterious effect.

It’s real – fish depend on stream-side vegetation for shade, filtering sediment, and as habitat for insects that fish eat.  Livestock grazing removes that vegetation and tramples stream-banks polluting spawning gravels and redds (fish nests) with sediment that suffocates fish eggs.  Grazing widens stream-channels increasing water temperature beyond tolerable levels and reduces the number of pool habitat fish need in streams.   A single livestock trampling event can wipe out entire redds (fish nests) killing thousands of protected fish eggs and baby fish.

Fish need water, water use to supply stock tanks on public land and diversions that irrigate  private pasture those cattle use on the off-season robs fish of the water-flow they need to survive and thrive.

I was recently interviewed by a local (Challis, Idaho) paper in response to Western Watersheds Project’s series of letters notifying government agencies of our intent to sue across central Idaho to ensure public land livestock management doesn’t unlawfully impact Bull Trout, Chinook salmon, steelhead, and Sockeye salmon.  The report was honest to the issue at hand – wildlife, a rarity for this state’s media – so I thought I’d post it :

Commissioners work with feds to head off grazing lawsuits. Todd Adams – Challis Messenger

It’s time to do something about the egregious mismanagement of these important and valued Idaho fisheries :

4/17/09 WWP Files 60-day Notice Letter to protect Bull Trout, Chinook salmon, and steelhead on the Pahsimeroi River Watershed, central Idaho

3/18/09 WWP Files 60-day Notice Letter to protect Bull Trout, Chinook salmon, and steelhead on the Lemhi River Watershed, central Idaho

1/26/09 WWP Files three 60-day Notice Letters with the Forest Service and the US Fish & Wildlife Service to protect threatened Bull Trout, Chinook salmon, Steelhead, and Sockeye Salmon on the Sawtooth and Salmon-Challis National Forests

Brian Ertz is media director for Western Watersheds Project


  1. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    Off-channel watering and fencing are the only solutions to restoration of streams, short of removing the livestock completely. And it does not take long for the restoration to take place. In some cases, Nautre works very quickly.

    I did a restoration project a few years ago and I saw changes after the second year of the project. After the third year, we began to see significant narrowing of the channel.


  2. kt Avatar

    The problem is that merely fencing the stream and allowing the remainder of the watershed to be grazed just intensifies degradation – and desertification – of the watershed. In the end, this is NOT a sustainable practice.

    The uplands are sacrificed for streams. Sage-grouse are faced with fences they collide with, and uplands with critical wildflower food plants reduced as uplands are pounded to death. Barbed wire/fencing is a barrier to big game, including during deep snow winter conditions.

    The ONLY sustainable solution is removal of soil trampling, manure-spewing, methane-belching domestic livestock from public lands watersheds.

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Brian Ertz