Wilderness Values Protected on the Pashimeroi River Watershed

Western Watersheds Project wins a great legal victory for wilderness and endangered fish.

~ Jon Marvel
Jon Marvel

On July 30th, 2010 Idaho Chief District Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued an Order in Western Watersheds Project‘s favor overturning a Bureau of Land Management decision to build fencing within the Burnt Creek Wilderness Study Area (WSA) on the Burnt Creek Allotment in central Idaho’s Pahsimeroi River Watershed.

Western Watersheds Project received excellent legal representation in this litigation from Kristin Ruether of Advocates for the West‘s Boise office.

This victory protects wilderness values from the assaults of livestock and livestock management developments.

Burnt Creek Watershed
Burnt Creek Watershed

The Burnt Creek Allotment is located within the Pahsimeroi River Watershed, entirely within the Burnt Creek WSA.  In his decision, Judge Winmill describes the Burnt Creek WSA using BLM’s own words:

The 8,300 acre portion of the Burnt Creek WSA recommended for wilderness designation offers, in the BLM’s opinion, “outstanding wilderness quality, lack of conflicts with other resource uses, ease of management, and their value as an extension to the adjacent U.S. Forest Service [Borah Peak] Unit.” Moreover, it “offer[s] outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive, unconfined recreation . . ., [and] is isolated from human influences […] the primitive nature adds a spectacular example of sagebrush- and grass-covered hills with pockets of timber giving way to awesome rugged mountains rising into the adjacent Area”.

Flowing through the allotment is Burnt Creek, spawning habitat for bull trout and critical habitat for Chinook salmon and steelhead, all of which are listed as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Burnt Creek Wilderness Study Area
Wilderness Study Area boundary on Burnt Creek Allotment significantly impacted by livestock and associated development. © Katie Fite, WWP

This successful litigation compliments Western Watersheds Project’s ongoing litigation in the Pahsimeroi River Watershed against the BLM, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service for their collective failure to protect endangered fish including Chinook salmon, Steelhead, and Bull trout.

Read the Decisionpdf

Jon Marvel
Executive Director

Steelhead, Chinook & Bull Trout

Steelhead, Chinook Salmon, and Bull Trout

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Burnt Creek AspenAspen in fall color in the Burnt Creek WSA © Katie Fite, WWP

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  1. Mike Avatar

    Wow, great news. Thanks for all the hard work, folks!

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I’m very pleased, especially because every time I have gone to Burnt Creek, I have found cattle there in trespass.

    The stream has a pretty good riparian exclosure to keep cattle out, but in the past they have often gotten inside anyway.

    Despite the exclosure, Burnt Creek is fed by a number of small creeks and seeps. Cattle stand around in them and muck them up. The exclosure hardly helps when the tributary is only protected from cattle its last 50 to 100 yards before it runs into Burnt Creek.

    1. bob jackson Avatar
      bob jackson

      Now if those cattle were composed of families then they wouldn’t be hanging out in and around the creeks. They would have homes far away from the uncontrolled bustle of life….. no species builds its home in uncontrollable, communal high use areas.

      Accounts told of bison families trotting two days to get to water…and then heading back even thought they were leaving good grass for poorer conditions “back home”. Get your shopping done and head home applies to all herd animals as well as humans.

  3. Cutthroat Avatar

    Thank goodness for WWP. Who else would police what has been going on for decades amongst these few families in these watersheds?

    So if Scott Whitworth gets the permit, wouldn’t that make it all the more easy for Judd Whitworth’s cattle to continue to encroach from his allotment with impunity? Is BLM manager Dave Rosencrance going to hold their feet to the fire? Doubtful without WWP on the watch. They probably grew up together. It is my perception that the oligarchy that exists with regard to the natural resources in this area has made it such that a few families have had their hands in the trough of this areas natural resource bounty for decades. Bleeding it dry at whatever expense; showing obvious disregard for its welfare and taking advantage of every opportunity “the system” has to offer as if it were their birthright.

  4. WM Avatar

    I continue to be astounded by this nearly continuous string of WWP victories against BLM, USFS and state land management agencies. At some point, especially regarding federal agencies, one has to wonder about the level of shear incompetence of Regional and State directors responsible for the stewardship of these resources.

    I am hopeful the Obama administration – even with Secretary Salazar and Undersecretary of Agriculture Harris Sherman – will act to kick some of these senior bureacrats out of their positions, and re-assign the field staff making dumb decisions on various permits. The number of these decisions adverse to agency actions is mind-boggling at best and reflects the apparent inability of the agencies to follow the law.

    Geez, some of these cases are really no-brainers.

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I think the BLM has decided, at least on the level of some districts, that the legal losses they suffer from WWP and Advocates for the West are just a cost of doing their business of keeping the local livestock elite happy.

    The Challis BLM District (where Burnt Creek is located) is especially notorious, and they fight back.

    They have tried to cancel the grazing allotment of the Greenfire Preserve, which used to be owned by WWP, and was later sold to a conservation buyer. So far their attempt to strip the Greenfire of the grazing lease has failed legally.

    They tried to get WWP’s, E.D. Jon Marvel indicted on a federal charge of making a false statement, and tried to haul us (the Board of Directors) before a federal grand jury over this ridiculously trivial matter for which Marvel finally paid $200.

    1. Cutthroat Avatar

      Yes, and with regard to the Greenfire matter, if I recall correctly, the adjacent land leases were managed by Shane Rosencrance, a relative of the area BLM manager Dave Rosencrance.

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar


      I may be wrong, but I think the adjoining leases to the Greenfire are held by Wayne Baker, but Shane Rosenkrantz is the manager of a big ranch in the area (the Mountain Springs Ranch) owned by Mary Hewlett Jaffe, the daughter of Hewlett-Packard founder.

      Many people have expressed the view that much of this ranch’s public grazing allotment is (and was before Rosenkrantz) in poor condition.

      At any rate, this kind of family relationship between BLM employees and those who they regulate is common.

  6. Cutthroat Avatar

    Thanks Ralph. I recalled Larry Zuckerman indicating on an earlier post here that “The Mountain Springs Allotment (aka San Felipe Allotment) is adjacent to the GreenFire Preserve”…owned by “Mary Hewlett Jaffe as in the heir to the Hewlett-Packard fortune”. But you would know better than I.

    I have come to understand that this kind of family relationship between BLM employees and those who they regulate is common, it’s just not common knowledge. If it were, I think more people would be, at the very least, concerned at the increased likelihood of favoritism, turning a blind eye, etc.

    Agency leaders should realize that at least the perception will exist if not the occurrence of these things when they hire. As taxpayers we are led into costly lawsuits by these practices not withstanding the environmental/wildlife impacts. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for those lawsuits….very much so. I just regret the, as WM puts it “shear incompetence” and “mind boggling…inability…to follow the law” (I paraphrase of course) that has placed us in this position.

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Because the BLM usually does not enforce the laws or regulations created to protect and improve the public rangelands. Because it takes outside groups like WWP to get them to do their job, we are in the odd position where the WWP is performing like a public agency, while the BLM is more like a non-profit organization cheerleading for the livestock elites.

    In essence a contribution to WWP is very much like the payment of a voluntary tax providing for provision of public services (police and prosecution of offenders). This is a “tax” I hope more people will elect to pay.

  8. Tom Page Avatar
    Tom Page

    Three notes:

    1) I do not believe (but I’m not 100% sure) that Burnt Creek is currently designated as critical Chinook habitat, due to the intermittent nature of the Pahsimeroi River. I do know that it is outside the recovery area at this time, and that there is no salmon spawning going on there.

    2) Judd Whitworth is no longer the permittee on the adjacent allotment (Dry Creek). That allotment is being rested this year. Riparian exclosure fences within the three primary allotments in the upper valley have regularly been cut in recent years, and water lines have been vandalized in the past. This year, there is a range rider up there and the incidents have decreased, from what I’ve been told.

    3) Re: Bob’s comment on bison. The data from the only deep time study on the Pahsimeroi that I’ve been able to find (Chatters, from 1982) indicate that the two primary species in the Upper Pahsimeroi Valley for the past seven thousand years (until European settlement) were pronghorn and bighorn sheep. Wood Bison were present in the adjacent Lost River Range. Modern historical records (Merriam 1891, Townsend 1834) suggest that at the peak of the plains bison (1800?), some herds may have come over from Montana for a short time. Interestingly, in the archeological record, there are no bone fragments from elk, and only a very few deer bones.

    1. Brian Ertz Avatar

      Burnt creek is designated critical habitat for chinook ~ not occupied.

      Not designated for steelhead.

    2. Tom Page Avatar
      Tom Page

      Thx for the correction, Brian.

    3. Brian Ertz Avatar

      chinook critical habitat got designated during the Clinton years – which included habitat that was historically occupied.

      steelhead critical got designated during the Bush years, which only includes occupied habitat ~ not historically occupied habitat.

      ~ be

  9. Tom Page Avatar
    Tom Page

    Hmmm…I’m a big fan of the fish, but having read about every hydrology study, historical record, and any other scrap I can find, I have a hard time believing that Chinook spawned that high in the watershed anytime in the last several thousand years. Possible, but not likely, I think.

  10. REChizmar Avatar

    The WWP victories are impressive – keep up the good work guys/gals.

    WM, I agree w/ your 1st comment but don’t hold your breath on the Obama Administration “kicking butt” in this arena — look who he picked for Interior, look how silly he was to reverse his stance on offshore drilling, failed climate initiative, …

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Brian Ertz