The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently revoked grazing privileges at two national wildlife refuges in eastern Idaho and is poised to do the same at two others in the state.
Annual permits to run cattle in the Grays
Lake and Camas national wildlife refuges will not be re-issued next
year, says Chuck Peck, regional wildlife manager with the Fish and
Wildlife Service in Pocatello. The agency will also soon decide
when to terminate grazing at the Minidoka and Bear Lake refuges,
Peck says. Hay-cutting privileges on the refuges will be restricted
in the future as well, he says.
The decision is
the direct result of the Interior Department's settlement of a
lawsuit brought by environmental groups over incompatible uses at
nine refuges, including seven in the West (HCN, 11/15/93). Under
the settlement, the agency has a year to modify, eliminate or
justify all secondary uses that harm wildlife, as identified by the
agency in a 1990 survey.
Local hunters and
environmentalists hailed the move. The national wildlife refuges
are the "nation's crown jewels established to conserve the
country's wildlife," says Jim Waltman, a wildlife specialist with
the National Audubon Society. "They were never intended for
Eric Krasa, a spokesman for
Pheasants Forever in Pocatello, says the Idaho refuges provide
important habitat for nesting and migrating waterfowl and game
birds. "They're indispensable," says Krasa.
the 25 ranchers who have grazed cattle on the refuges since the
1960s say some will be forced into bankruptcy. Many feel betrayed
since they sold their land to the Fish and Wildlife Service to help
create the refuges.
"I finally sold them 400
acres," says Reed Humphrey, a rancher from Grays Lake. "They
promised we'd have grazing and haying rights on these lands
forever." Humphrey, who has been running cattle on his ranch since
1950, says he'll lose 90 percent of his summer pasture and be
forced out of business if he can't graze the
Peck says that if the ranchers were ever
told they could graze on the refuges forever, they were misled. The
Fish and Wildlife Service is required by law to manage for the
dominant use, he says, which in the case of these refuges is
waterfowl production. Any use of the refuge that is incompatible
with waterfowl production is illegal.
rancher Dave Smith says he believes grazing is compatible. "I think
cattle enhance (bird habitat)." Birds that like tall grass can use
ground that hasn't been grazed, while birds that like short grass
can use ground that is grazed, Smith says. "They can just pick and
choose what they want."
The agency's Peck says
cattle might benefit birds in some cases, but not at Grays Lake.
"If you graze early in the spring and summer, you get regrowth of
the cover, but the problem is you are trampling nests and spooking
Bill Davidson, former supervisor for
the Idaho Fish and Game Department in Pocatello, says grazing can
help some species, like geese, while hurting others, like ducks.
But until somebody conducts a study that shows grazing helps birds,
he says, the cattle should stay off the refuges.
* Yale Lewis
The writer lives
in Pocatello, Idaho.