BOISE (CN) – The Bureau of Land Management approved livestock grazing on a wilderness study area based on the unfounded conclusion that grazing would enhance “ecological conditions” there, the Western Watersheds Project says in Federal Court.
The group claims that to the contrary, grazing in the Burnt Creek allotment is causing changes in plant community composition, reducing grasses and degrading stream habitat for endangered species, including the sage grouse and bull trout.
The group challenges a 2007 environmental assessment and 2008 finding of no significant impact, both of which concluded that approving a 10-year grazing permit would enhance wilderness values on the allotment.
The decisions violate environmental laws, the group says, by not considering alternatives of less grazing, failing to assess the carrying capacity of the land, and not considering cumulative impacts of trespassing cattle and rangeland infrastructure projects.
The 5,000-acre Burnt Creek allotment lies within an area considered for wilderness due to its “outstanding naturalness,” and is a “spectacular example of sagebrush- and grass-covered hills with pockets of timber giving way to awesome rugged mountains,” including Idaho’s highest point, Bora Peak, the lawsuit states.
The BLM failed to analyze the impacts of ongoing range projects, which include an electrified fence to keep cattle from grazing in sensitive stream habitats. The fencing “also serves as a major barrier to recreation … forcing recreationalists to perform a belly-crawl under the electrified wires,” according to the complaint.
Cattle get past the fence and into the riparian zone anyway, the group claims, though the allotment has supposedly been resting since 2004. Trespassing cattle from the neighboring Dry Creek allotment have been preventing recovery of stream habitat, which is already “functioning at risk,” the group quotes the bureau as saying.
The group also challenges recently completed range projects, including a cattle-watering trough placed in a spring area without review.
Represented by Kristin Ruether of Advocates for the West, the Western Watersheds Project asks the court to set aside the decisions – as it did after the group litigated over the same allotment in 2002 – and seeks an injunction to reverse illegal range projects.