Emigrant Peak and Yellowstone River Valley. Several of the East Paradise Allotments include the Six Mile drainage which lies to the right of the peak in this photo. Photo Georger Wuerthner 

The Custer Gallatin National Forest (CGNF) in Montana recently completed an evaluation of six grazing allotments known as the East Paradise allotments.

The six allotments are Suce Creek, Mill Creek, Pine Creek, Elbow, Sixmile North, and Sixmile South. Although the Forest Service did consider a no grazing alternative in its Range Management Allotment Plan, it chose to permit grazing on three of them, posing potential harm to the amazingly rich wildlife populations

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Mill Creek is one of the East Paradise Grazing allotments that are currently vacant but could be reopened to grazing. Photo George Wuerthner 

Although the Forest Service considered a no-grazing alternative, it chose Alternative 3, which expands the total acres open to livestock grazing over the present situation. In addition, it requires costly “range improvements” like pipelines, fencing, and other taxpayer-funded development to mitigate livestock impacts — all to permit the continued use of public lands for the private profit of local ranchers.

Amazingly in the document, the FS acknowledged: “For most resource areas, the removal of livestock grazing (alternative 1) would provide the most benefit. Livestock would not be present to impede recovery of riparian/stream conditions or compete with other species for forage and space. Removal of livestock would also eliminate any threats to wildlife resulting from depredation or human encounters.”

While livestock grazing is permitted on Forest Service, it is not required. And in this area, other natural resource values like wildlife habitat, ecosystem function, and wilderness recreation are far more valuable than the small amount of forage that might be made available to private ranchers for their profit. Whenever there is a conflict between the public’s interest and private businesses, the default should always be towards the public’s interest.

Grizzly bears have been expanding their range north of Yellowstone National Park and regularly use some of the allotments that will remain open to grazing under the CGNF range management plan which could result in conflicts to the detriment of the bears. Photo George Wuerthner 

In particular, the Six Mile North (Emigrant Peak) and Six Mile South allotments are located south of Chico Hot Springs. Both are adjacent to the Dome Mountain Wildlife Management Area, a significant wintering range for elk. In addition, elk calving occurs in the spring in this area, and both grizzly bears and wolves regularly patrol the area.

Thousands of elk use the Dome Mountain and adjacent areas including the Six Mile Allotments. Photo George Wuerthner

The FS decided to open up grazing allotments earlier in June (instead of July) which is more likely to put cattle on the land when elk are calving. However, since grizzly bears and wolves patrol the lower slopes searching for elk calves, this earlier turnout creates a conflict and thus potential mortality for predators if they are killed or removed for depredation.

The decision to permit livestock to graze these wildlife-rich landscapes is a perfect example of how many federal agencies ignore their conclusions and manage public lands to benefit a few livestock permittees to the detriment of public values.

Having lived in Livingston and adjacent communities like Gardiner on and off for decades, I am intimately familiar with all these allotments. I have regularly hiked in them.  They contain some of the most critical wildlife habitat located north of Yellowstone National Park. So these grazing allotments hold particular concern to me since they are essentially in what I consider my “backyard.”

The Dome Mountain and Six Mile allotment area is a major elk wintering area. The presence of livestock can “socially displace” elk, harming predators like grizzlies and wolves. Photo George Wuerthner

Paradise Valley lies south of Livingston, Montana. With the Gallatin Range on the West, the Absaroka Range framing it on the East, and the Yellowstone River winding through the valley, it lives up to its name as one of the more beautiful mountain basins. The valley floor is primarily private ranchland and subdivisions, but the foothills are mostly within the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

Lying just north of Yellowstone National Park, these public lands are valuable wildlife habitats.

Wolves also roam the East Paradise Allotments, putting them in jeopardy of removal or killing if they prey on livestock. Photo George Wuerthner

 

Though the Forest Service received numerous comments, many from prominent biologists and well-known conservationists like Dr. David Matteson, Dr. Roger Rosentreter, Dr. Jerry Frelich, Dr. Barrie Gilbert, Dr. Reed Noss, myself, and even Yvon Chouinard, among others, the agency decided to move forward with permitting livestock grazing.

I wrote an extensive and detailed critique of the proposal.

The Dome Mountain Area and adjacent forest service land including the Six Mile drainage is important winter range and calving area for elk. Photo George Wuerthner

Central to the CGNF proposal is the idea of “adaptive management,” which they argue will permit the agency to monitor and adjust grazing depending on use and other factors. But the Range Management Allotment Plan contains no specific measurable matrixes like the percentage of soil compaction, bank disturbance, and so forth that would trigger changes.

Adaptive management also assumes adequate resources to do the necessary monitoring. The FS is often reluctant to enforce any reduction or changes in grazing seasons and use, which is questionable given there is no additional funding to monitor. In addition, the agency is often unwilling to challenge permittees’ use of public lands, even when damage is detected.

Furthermore, the CGNF is proposing to monitor these allotments every five years. Therefore, a lot of damage can occur in that time interval.

There is a lot of smoke and mirrors in the decision.

For instance, the Suce Creek allotment is “closed” to grazing but is considered a “forage reserve” that cattle can use if drought, fire, or other natural events limits forage on other allotments.

Pine Creek campground and allotment is located in the central portion of this photo. Photo George Wuerthner 

The Pine Creek allotment includes the Pine Creek campground. The campground will be available for cattle grazing every five years. And to keep cows from the campground, we taxpayers will pay to build fences.

In what could be termed a sleight of hand, the CGNF will continue to keep the South Six Mile allotment closed to grazing, but they will transfer 7,086 acres to the North Sixmile All by absorbing three of the four existing pastures in the South Sixmile allotment. More acreage will be available for livestock grazing, even though the South Sixmile Allotment remains “closed” to grazing.

To make the situation even more egregious, the CGNF will get about $640.00 in grazing fees per month. The overall maximum grazing fee paid by permittees to utilize authorized allotments would be about $2880.00 annually.

We get all the environmental and ecological damage created by ongoing livestock grazing for this pittance.

Fortunately, the Western Environmental Law Center filed an intent to sue on behalf of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Western Watersheds Project, Native Ecosystems Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, the Sierra Club, and the Friends of the Bitterroot.

 

About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

7 Responses to Conservation Groups Threaten To Sue On East Paradise Grazing Decision

  1. Michael Kellett says:

    We need to incorporate these public lands in an expanded Yellowstone National Park. Existing grazing allotments would be bought out and retired, no new allotments would be granted, and wildlife such as bison and wolves would be protected from being killed by hunters and trappers.

  2. rastadoggie says:

    Finally, some backbone, hopefully untainted by make nice, “collaborative” collusion with agency land despoilers. You go! I am so hopeful for a good outcome for this very special place.

  3. Laurie says:

    More garbage coming from the livestock-promoting bureaucrats! They need to be yanked out of their jobs!

  4. Ed Loosli says:

    Michael Kellett nails it in calling for an expanded Yellowstone Nat. Park. The Park is only about 2 million acres in size, but it is surrounded by over 7 million acres of mostly National Forest land and some BLM lands. These PUBLIC LANDS outside the boundary of Yellowstone NP are not protected lands and are now being used by extractive industries like the logging industry, mining, trophy hunting, and the livestock industry. Put these 7 million+ acres in an expanded Yellowstone NP and these destructive, anti-wildlife activities would be gone!

  5. Martha S says:

    When do the citizens, the vast majority of users, get to overrule the cow-bombers? I’m really afraid of the damage to all of our upper water sources, wildlife, wildlife forage, predators…
    I’m tired of welfare ranching that increases the wealth of the legislators who control our public lands. Look at ID Sen. Risch, ID Gov Little, etc. All getting richer every year by their self-serving rules, laws.

  6. Jannett Heckert says:

    This is the usual M O for the Dept. of Interior. I hope the lawsuit is successful in keeping the cattle out of these areas for the sake of the wildlife. Do we need to destroy everything the make the pockets of rancher wealthier. I think not.

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