WWP lawsuit: Sheep hurt sage grouse at Craters of the Moon National Monument

Renewal of 15 sheep grazing permits on Big Desert grazing allotment challenged-
News Release

Boise, ID—Today, Western Watersheds Project filed a lawsuit challenging the Department of Interior’s approval of fifteen sheep grazing permits for the Big Desert Sheep allotment located partly within Idaho’s Craters of the Moon National Monument. In addition to renewing the grazing permits without fully considering relevant environmental impacts, the Bureau of Land Management’s decisions expand the grazing season by 40 days and allow 17 miles of new fencing in priority habitat for Greater sage-grouse. Fences pose known collision risks for the low-flying bird and changes to the season of use result in new impacts during its critical breeding and nesting periods.

“BLM keeps saying that they are taking the conservation of sage-grouse seriously,” said Kristin Ruether, Western Watersheds Project’s Senior Attorney. “If that were true, these decisions would have never been issued. To actually increase sheep impacts in important sage-grouse habitat is the exact opposite of what this species needs. The potential for harm is disclosed in the agency’s own documents, and yet they are going ahead with the projects anyway.”

There are nine active sage-grouse leks on the allotment and 21 additional occupied leks within 5 miles of the allotment. Monitoring data reveal serious declines in lek attendance, from around 50 males per lek in 1951 to just 10 males per lek in 2013. These declines necessitate immediate protections, something the BLM’s decisions fail to provide. Instead, the decisions allow livestock on the allotment earlier in the spring and later into the summer, and authorize the creation of a 5,800 acre “forage reserve” that can be used by grazing permittees when conditions elsewhere are too poor to continue grazing. The forage reserve would require new fencing within close proximity to sage-grouse leks.

The decisions also permit new range developments, including a corral, a well, troughs, and other infrastructure, which would provide water sources and increased perches for ravens and raptors that prey on sage-grouse chicks and eggs.

“The BLM is building new infrastructure that is likely to increase ravens in the project area yet, at the same time, Idaho Fish and Game has proposed to kill nearly 1000 ravens in this region using poisons,” said Travis Bruner, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “The agencies should address the cause of declining sage-grouse populations, which is livestock grazing in sage-grouse habitat, and habitat fragmentation. Frankly, getting rid of the root of the problem would do a lot more good.”



  1. Ken Watts Avatar
    Ken Watts

    Western Watersheds has more layers than sense. They are alienating many responsible environmental and conservation groups.

    1. Professor Sweat Avatar
      Professor Sweat

      Most people who read this blog support WWP’s work. Please peddle your hyperbole somewhere else.

    2. timz Avatar

      I’m curious, how many layers do they have?

    3. Ed Loosli Avatar
      Ed Loosli

      Ken Watts:
      Would you please enlighten us as to the names of any “responsible environmental and conservation groups” that approve of the recent actions taken by the U.S. Dept. of Interior discussed above?? These actions are: “Approval of fifteen sheep grazing permits for the Big Desert Sheep allotment located partly within Idaho’s Craters of the Moon National Monument without fully considering relevant environmental impacts, expand the grazing season by 40 days and allow 17 miles of new fencing in priority habitat for Greater sage-grouse.

    4. Bob M Avatar
      Bob M

      You know, Ken, you’re probably correct. If only Western Watersheds would learn to say “Please” politely, then the desecration of our biosphere would stop as BLM, USDA, ranchers, and extraction interests politely yield decisions to conform to best consensus science.

      Perhaps, Ken, you could start a really effective group based on not alienating anyone–we are such a cooperative species I just know you would be successful.

  2. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    One of the problems associated with domestic sheep, is that the areas the herders choose for bedgrounds are often the same open areas (Leks) that the sagegrouse use for strutting. The extra fetilizer provided by the concentrated sheep shit at these bedgrounds kills the native grasses and creates a exotic weed patch of mustard, russian thistle and other large weeds that hinder the grouse from performing their spring dances.
    Getting domestic sheep completely off of public lands would be the best thing that we could do to benefit many species of wildlife.

    1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

      http://www.larrythorngren.com/images/Sage_Grouse/Gallery.asp Here is a link to photos I took at one of the Leks near the Craters of the Moon.

      1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

        This Lek had BLM signs around it telling sheepherders that they could not use this Lek for a bedground anymore.

        1. Barb Rupers Avatar
          Barb Rupers

          Beautiful images! Thanks for the information also.

        2. skyrim Avatar

          “This Lek had BLM signs around it telling sheepherders that they could not use this Lek for a bedground anymore.”
          Ya, that should stop them. Were the signs printed in 5 different languages?

          1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

            Here in Idaho, BLM employees that dare to suggest cutting the number of Cows or Domestic Sheep that graze in their districts get called to a meeting with an Idaho Senator or Representative and get told to back off or get transferred to the most remote office in Nevada.
            Former Idaho U.S. senator Larry Craig was famous for chewing out and intimidating BLM and Forest Service employees that dared to suggest protecting public lands from the grazers.
            The state supervisors and other higher ups in the BLM and USFS are those that learned to get along with and not antagonize the Cattlemen’s or Woolgrower’s Associations. The BLM employee that suggested increasing grazing time for domestic sheep by forty days will get promoted.
            Until conservation and wildlife groups get organized and contribute more money to the politicians than the livestock producers do, the situation won’t change much. We have the best government that money can buy.

  3. skyrim Avatar

    Ken Watts is a damn troll. Nothing less. Nothing more. Why is his disruptive negativity allowed? He adds nothing and never has.

    1. Gary Humbard Avatar
      Gary Humbard

      Bingo Skyrim, he is a troll and when people respond to him it only appeases him.

  4. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    If anyone is interested, here is the link to the completed BLM EA which describes the proposed actions and effects of the grazing permits.


    1. skyrim Avatar

      Interesting Gary. Thanks for putting it up.

  5. Nancie Avatar

    Food for thought, some notes from a recent college lecture (sorry the prof didn’t provide dates or citations):

    – The sheep industry now comprises less than 1/4 of 1% of the total U.S. farm revenue from livestock and products
    – the gross annual income from sheep and lambs is $600 million
    – The U.S. population consumes less than one pound annually on a per capita basis
    – if all the sheep in the U.S. died, imports would easily fill the void
    – 17 western states have 80% of all the sheep
    – the industry is very consolidated due to small numbers (there are only 7 slaughter facilities nationwide)

    – less demand for wool due to synthetic fibers
    – less demand for lamb (and it’s more expensive)
    – difficulty in finding good herders
    – predation
    – competition for public lands
    – diversification of farmers/ranchers
    – seasonal income
    – decreased government support
    – inadequate profits

    [NOTE: I am not affiliated with anything to do with sheep, but do like to eat them very occasionally. I admit being surprised how small the industry is. The U.S. horse industry, for comparison,has a “direct economic effect” of $39 Billion annually, and the horse industry as a whole in the realm of $102 Billion. The state of Virginia alone has a horse industry “worth more than $1.2 billion each year.”]




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