New Idaho Wilderness Areas also offer a new way to retire grazing permits

As much as 700,000 acres in and adjacent to the new designated wildernesses could possibly be retired from livestock grazing-

Many people are celebrating the establishment of the three new wilderness areas in the Boulder and White Clouds mountains of south central Idaho.  About 275,000 acres of very scenic mountain ridges with alpine and sub-alpine lakes will finally be protected after almost two generations of debate.

However, as far a wildlife goes much of the habitat was left out of the two best known areas — the White Clouds Wilderness and the Boulder Mountains Wilderness. The wildlife situation is better for the lesser known Jerry Peak Wilderness just to the east of the former two.

However, there is not much reason to feel sad about the exclusion of so much good wildlife habitat. This is because the largest factor that has degraded habitat in the area for the last century could largely disappear. We are talking about domestic cattle and sheep going away.

A livestock “retirement zone” of 700,000 acres is included in the new law. It takes in the wildernesses and reaches far beyond their boundaries.

Does this mean a lot of the so-typical conflict lies ahead? Probably not. The law provides for the voluntary (underline that) donation of grazing leases anywhere in this 700,000 acres of public land. Upon receiving a donation the Forest Service or the B.L.M. are required to permanently end all grazing on the donated leases. The leases would be abolished.

A problem with past such donations has often been that BLM or the Forest Service has not honored a grazing permit donation, and simply reassigned the lease to a new grazer. Now by law they have to end the leases.

But who would volunteer to to donate their lease? That would seem to be the big hurdle to jump over. The answer is that they would be purchased by non-profit organizations like the  Sagebrush Habitat Conservation Fund, which is ready to start negotiating buying leases from those willing to sell. Several other organizations are rumored to have a lot of money to do this, but their names will not be mentioned here.

In the past, many unpleasant wildlife and fisheries battles have been fought in this 700,000 acres with the fish and wildlife, especially the wolves, usually losing out.

It is impossible to say how much land will end up retired to grazing, but many ranchers in the area would like to retire and use the funds to aide their transition. Many of the lands have also been economically marginal grazing because of very short grazing seasons and a long distance to market. Gasoline and diesel eat away profits.

Travis Bruner, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project said in a news release, “This new retirement zone of nearly three-quarters of a million acres represents a tremendous potential for expanded conservation in central Idaho. Permanently removing livestock and fences from public lands improves wildlife habitat, increases watershed health, protects soils, and enhances recreational and aesthetic enjoyment of these wild places. We’re grateful to Representative Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) for recognizing this win-win solution to ending grazing conflict and enabling such a huge opportunity.”

Yes, it will benefit not just fish and wildlife, but recreation, soil, watershed, and the scenery, especially the close up view.


  1. Zeewolf Avatar

    This is fantastic news! In some ways I believe that the ability to retire grazing allotments, codified into law, is more important than the actual designation of additional wilderness. In my opinion, cattle are the true beasts of waste and desolation, a term that Theodore Roosevelt initially used to describe wolves.

    The next step is to expand this program to the remainder of the nation’s public land. Let the allotments be retired by voluntary action, but let it be allowed to be done. I hiked some seven miles into the South San Juan Wilderness in early August and slept there for three nights. There were cattle, stagnate blobs of rumination, making a mockery of why I visit wildlands. Crap everywhere, stomped meadows, ruined waters, constant bellowing drowning out the quiet if not the harmonizing coyotes… disgraceful. This one group of cattle, subsidized for the benefit of one ranching family, ruined the public lands for dozens of us taxpayers who unwittingly or unwillingly expend our treasure on this unnecessary throwback.

    In my opinion…

    1. End all public lands grazing unless there are serious reforms. By reforms I mean remove barbed wire, any domestic animals grazing must have a shepherd and stop stealing and diverting the precious water.

    2. Add to designated wilderness and restore wildlands in other contexts. For example, while we need to protect the integrity of our public lands it is high time to convert some of the more productive private lands into public land so that wildlife will have decent winter habitat. This should be done regardless of whether or not the acreage in question hosts endangered species; all wild species, in my opinion, are endangered and an acre of sagebrush allowed to fulfill its natural prerogative will inevitably host a species that is facing imminent extinction.

    3. Not so important for biological integrity, but for lazy people like me who like to hike on trails, the public lands agencies need to divert some of their fire-fighting money and invest in trail maintenance. For example, on the trail where I was hiking in the South San Juans many of the culverts that had been diligently placed over swampy areas were rendered useless by the cattle congregating and stomping out new marshes on either end of the causeway.

    Sigh… spilled my bile for the morning.

  2. Theo Chu Avatar
    Theo Chu

    Is there a viewable map of this 700K acres?

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Ted Chu,

      I have a pdf file of it. It will not post well or I would post it, but send me your email address.

  3. Brett Haverstick Avatar
    Brett Haverstick

    Thanks Ralph. Indeed, the best part of this legislation might be the grazing donations/retirements.


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