Scenic BLM roadless area next to Mt. Borah draws Western Watersheds lawsuit

Western Watersheds Project sues BLM to protect the Burnt Creek roadless area from livestock abuse-

Ever since I returned to Idaho in 1971, one place I wanted to see was Burnt Creek in the high colorful foothills on the east side of the Lost River Range. It has been selected as a wilderness study area by the BLM long ago, and assumed must be at least somewhat protected.

The truth was revealed in 2007 when I went with “kt” to see if the BLM was complying with removal of an illegal turnout of cattle in the area.

The steep, low mountains composed of Challis volcanics were very pretty, but the stinking mess made by the cattle was not. Thanks to indefatigable “kt” who seems to know all the hidden pockets where livestock operators try to stash their cattle, they were removed. However, the BLM just seems determined to screw up, ignore the law, and cater to the cowpersons on the grazing allotment. So, the Western Watersheds Project has gone to court.

Story: WWP files suit to protect sage grouse, bull trout, and wilderness values on the Burnt Creek Allotment, Central Idaho. Overview of the Burnt Creek Allotment


  1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    It has been at least ten years since I was near Burnt Creek. Back in the 1960s and 70s I used to see good numbers of Pronghorn in the area. It was a place where bachelor herds of Pronghorn Bucks used to hang out at fairly high altitude 8000 ft. + . I think Dr. Edson Fichter (ISU)used to study Pronghorns in the area.
    In 1970 I was involved in transplanting Bighorns into the area. We captured 24 Bighorns in Banff, Canada and released them in Mahogany Creek on the Upper Pahsimeroi. More Bighorns were released in Elbow and Jaggles Canyons near Mackay and in Christian Gulch on the Pahsimeroi.. They did very well for several years(I observed over 50 ewes and lambs in one herd not too far from Burnt Creek in the late 70s). The USFS some years later, allowed a woolgrower to put large numbers of domestic sheep back into Dry Creek on the Little Lost River Drainage. Bighorn numbers dropped from hundreds to less than a hundred in the entire Lost River Range. The domestic sheep have since been removed, but the Bighorns have never recovered. Early travelers estimated there were at least 10,000 Bighorns in the Lost River Range.

  2. kt Avatar

    Guaranteed – Chubby Checker wouldn’t be able to get under or through the BLM’s multi-strand electrified wires Hell … The only way through is a crawling on your belly or twist-shimmy-ing through the dust, manure and West Nile mosquitoes feeding on all the cow blood …

    What happens when antelope run into these? The large antelope herds Fichter described are no more, either.

    The Upper Pahsimeroi is a study in the atrocities of fencing – using bull trout as an excuse, BLM has constructed what must total hundreds of miles of new fence all across the area as well as spiderwebs of pipelines – ribbon fencing along streams – while cow grazing at extreme levels rips the uplands to shreds …

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I recall the bighorn release too. I was pretty thrilled for about 5 years,

    Dr. Fichter was not just a scientist. He was also a poet, and wrote several wonderful poems about the Pahsimeroi. It is sad to contemplate what has happened.

    For one, I think the Pahsimeroi and Little Lost River Valleys ought to be reclaimed in his memory.

  4. kt Avatar

    If there is any “no brainer” place in Idaho for a National Park, this is it. BLM and the Forest Service, though, are ripping it to shred with fences, water developments and gross numbers of cows. Cheatgrass is now moving into the sagebrush country in the most disturbed sites – not long until it explodes if the cows stay there.

    In the Dry Creek allotment last year, conditions were so terrible that we found over a hundred dead native trout in the Dry Creek allotment. Seems fish can’t live in a damp slurry of manure, urine and dirt.

    The Upper Pahsimeroi is held hostage by 3 or so ranchers with the same last name one of whom is now siad to be going broke, a California hobby rancher, and one or 2 others. Cow trespassing is a cornerstone of the local custom and culture.

  5. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Fences on Pronghorn range should have a lower wire 18 inches from the ground and it should be barbless to allow pronghorns to crawl under. Bighorns have trouble with wire fences also, especially lambs. They need sections of jack fence or other types of over passes on fences on all ridgelines, especially on migration routes to and from winter ranges. Bolt cutters work really well to cut fences where wildlife such as Bighorns need access. I knew a guy who referred to his bolt cutter as his “Forest Service Key”.
    kt Does the BLM still practice rest/rotation on the Pahsimeroi? Does it work? I went to a presentation by a range expert named Gus Hormay in Challis in the late 1960s. He said that his rest/rotation grazing practices would repair the damaged ranges in the Challis area. I was afraid that all of the fencing involved would be a nightmare for wildlife.

  6. Tom Page Avatar
    Tom Page

    On a more optimistic note…we may see some changes in the upper Pahsimeroi over the next few years, as more private land changes hands. 18,000 out of 26,000 private acres in the valley have been sold in the last five years, according to one local realtor. Although there is a long way to go, there are also encouraging signs in the lower Pahsimeroi. Increased flows for fish, restoration of some badly abused ground, and some tributary reconnection have already occurred. This same scenario could play out in the upper watershed – right now there are a lot of BPA dollars for fish restoration in the Pahsimeroi, which will help.

    And yes, that rancher you refer to is in bankruptcy…

  7. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    In 1970 I was hired by the IDFG to locate possible Bighorn transplant sites throughout central Idaho. As I traveled, I met with USFS and BLM managers to find possible sites without domestic sheep nearby and some that had some grass left after the cows went home in the fall. It was discouraging to find so much overgrazed country. I only found ten sites that I thought MIGHT work. I had to reject numerous places that once held Bighorns,because they were so overgrazed that the Bighorns would have starved to death in the winter if released there.
    I had an appointment with a USFS ranger in May, Idaho. When I arrived, his secretary told me I would have to re-schedule my meeting. It seems that the ranger was called by one of his range techs to hurry to the upper Pahsimeroi. It seemed that rancher Z had brought twice as many cows to his forest allotment as he had a permit for and was unfortunate enough to have been caught bringing them onto the forest by the range tech. The non-LDS secretary was delighted. It seems that Rancher Z was the bishop of the LDS ward in Mackay where the ranger was a member. I don’t know how the trespass issue was resolved, but I suspect that all of those cows and perhaps more eventually grazed on that allotment. Cowboy Multiple Use = Turnout 2 times the cows you have a permit for.

  8. kt Avatar

    Well, it is good to hear something optimistic. We can only hope that that the 5 foot new (likely within last 5 years) stream-cut straight line cow erosion gully in lower Short Creek gets a chance to heal … and that beaver someday return to Long Creek.

    But alas – there are still some cows there.

    If anyone ever wants to see how cattle grazing effects aspen re-sprouting following BLM hacking them off in a “treatment” of some kind- go up Short Creek 2 miles or so til the road gets quite rough, and you will come to a rather large exclosure – with a BLM commemorative sign and everything. Observe the pattern of aspen growth inside vs. outside the barbed wire exclosure. Straight lines of aspen, following barbed wire.

    Ralph: I couldn’t find any Fichter poetry on-line, but here is another poet – I can’t quite figure out the horses part though:

    But there are those who take issue with Potts’ meaning.




    Number 255

    Among the various etymologies for the Shoshoni name “Pahsimeroi,” the Indian
    consensus favors an unidentified tall grass which is found in some of the meadows of the
    Pahsimeroi country. Although the Indians themselves are uncertain, the word clearly is
    associated with some kind of vegetation. An explanation that “pahsimeroi” is to be interpreted in
    English as “a grove by a stream” is unfounded, however.

    Guess it will remain a mystery …


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time 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.

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Ralph Maughan