– More than a decade after a federal court ordered the Sawtooth National Forest to come up with a plan to improve grazing management on the Upper and Lower East Fork allotments within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, a lawsuit filed today by Advocates for the West on behalf of Western Watersheds Project challenges the agency’s status quo grazing decisions that continue to allow heavy grazing and repeated violations on these public lands.
“The White Clouds are so spectacular that Congress recently protected them as wilderness,” said Kristin Ruether, senior attorney for Western Watersheds Project. “These high elevation public lands are the last place that heavy cattle grazing belongs. We’re asking the Forest Service to manage them the way they deserve—for wildlife.”
The East Fork of the Salmon River and tributary creeks on the Upper and Lower East Fork allotments provide sensitive habitat for spring and summer Chinook, Snake River steelhead, Columbia River bull trout, and westslope cutthroat trout. After being sued previously, the Forest Service acknowledged in 2003 that grazing was causing significant harm to resources on these allotments, and promised that careful monitoring would adequately protect habitat from grazing impacts and that management adjustments would be made so as not to impair the watersheds. However, even after repeated grazing violations, the agency refused to reduce grazing use or impose any penalties for non-compliance. In 2012 and 2013 the agency issued new ten-year permits, and its annual authorizations issued every year since have failed to meaningfully correct the problems.
“The Forest Service itself has documented repeated overgrazing and cattle trespass into unauthorized areas that degrades the streams on these allotments, with violations escalating in recent years” said Laurie Rule, Senior Attorney with Advocates for the West. “The agency’s perpetual authorization of grazing in the face of such widespread problems violates the law and pushes these imperiled fish closer to extinction.”
In addition to providing important habitat for fish species protected under the Endangered Species Act, the two allotments are within the acclaimed Sawtooth National Recreation Area and overlap the White Clouds Wilderness, and provide outstanding recreational opportunities and access to unique alpine environments. The grazing challenged here has impaired the recreational value of the area, particularly around popular lakes such as Frog Lake and Little Redfish Lake.
“Many Americans care deeply about the special lands of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area,” said Ruether. “It’s time for the Forest Service to start showing that it cares too.”
A copy of the complaint is online here.