Judge: Forest Service must consider the wolf in grazing - Wildlife outranks livestock, says ruling

Capital Press Staff Writer


BOISE - June 23, 2002 - The U.S. Forest Service must analyze the effects of livestock grazing on wolves in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, a federal judge recently ruled here.

Wildlife gets primary consideration but grazing is secondary, said the judge.

The Forest Service must consider both the 1972 Organic Act, which created the SNRA, and the wolf environmental impact statement/record of decision in conducting that analysis, said the memorandum decision and court order issued by B. Lynn Winmill, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for Idaho.

In the 1972 Organic Act, Congress directed the Forest Service to administer the recreation area to conserve and develop scenic, natural, historic, pastoral, wildlife and other values, Winmill wrote.

The Forest Service argued that grazing is encompassed within the terms historic and pastoral. That would elevate grazing from a conditional value to a primary value, in direct contravention of the plain language of the Organic Act, he ruled.

Congress identified conserving and development of wildlife as a primary value of the SNRA. Certain other values, including grazing, were to be developed conditionally, only “insofar as their utilization will not substantially impair the development of wildlife,” Winmill said.

Some 4,400 sheep and 2,500 cattle graze 28 Forest Service allotments within the SNRA. The Forest Service must conduct National Environmental Protection Act analyses on each allotment under the 1995 Rescissions Act. A schedule for meeting that congressional mandate was submitted in 1995, he said.

The Forest Service conceded it has not completed NEPA analyses for seven SNRA allotments by the dates specified on that schedule, he said.

Claim victory

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed against the Sawtooth National Forest and the U.S. Forest Service by Western Watersheds Project and the Idaho Conservation League.

Spokesmen for both organizations hailed it as a major victory.

“Under the law which created the SNRA and in the forest plan for the Sawtooth National Forest, wildlife, fisheries and recreation must be protected and have higher priorities for management than livestock grazing,” said Jon Marvel, WWP executive director.

“We will wait to see how the Forest Service balances any conflicts that may happen before we consider possible injunctions against livestock grazing,” said John McCarthy, ICL conservation director.

Leaders of the ranching industry were in Jackpot, Nev., this week for their annual mid-year conference, and unavailable for comment.

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