Forest supervisor shows Congress some dirty pictures

  • Sawtooth supervisor Bill LeVere

    Courtesy U.S. Forest Service
 

It was billed as a Washington, D.C.-style "barbecue," but the roastee - Sawtooth National Forest Supervisor Bill Levere - was prepared for the heat.

In early April, Idaho Rep. Helen Chenoweth ordered Levere, the manager of the central Idaho forest, to come to the nation's capitol and defend his tough new penalties for ranchers who violate their grazing permits. In March, ranchers had begun grumbling about Levere's new "two strikes and you're out" policy, which could suspend grazing permits after two violations. Their complaints got them the attention of Chenoweth, a staunch defender of public land grazing.

But before the hearing began, Levere gave notice that he would not be easily bullied.

"If that's (the hearing) supposed to make me back down, I've got news for people," he said. "I'm not begging for forgiveness."

Under the glare of the spotlight, Levere listened to Chenoweth describe his new rules as nothing more than a veiled attempt to kick all livestock grazers off national forests. He heard Idaho Rep. Mike Crapo, R, describe his regulations as a form of rancher intimidation. The rules are "too rigid, too extreme and make no allowances for involuntary or accidental violations," said Crapo.

Levere responded by holding up pictures of overgrazed streams on the Sawtooth. "Is this what you want your national forest to look like?" he asked the panel of lawmakers.

Levere said his steadfastness comes from experience. Over the past several years, some ranchers have refused to comply with the terms of their grazing permits. In 1996, for instance, the Forest Service took action against 24 public-land ranchers. Their permit violations ranged from the improper placement of salt blocks, which encourage cattle to graze in sensitive riparian areas, to insufficient fencing.

In Levere's view, the agency wasted time and money dogging the heels of those permittees who refused to cooperate with the agency. "We've been seeing an ever-widening gap in our relationships with the permittees," he said.

In March, Levere ordered his rangers to abandon the old enforcement system, which gave permittees up to five warnings about violations, and to start notifying ranchers that part or all of their permits would be suspended if they didn't immediately change their ways.

The new rules offered ranchers a way out: By accepting an invitation to negotiate a remedy to the violation, a rancher could avoid penalties altogether. But those who refused to negotiate would find themselves locked out of the 2 million-acre Sawtooth, 80 percent of which is open to livestock grazing.

Levere said he hoped the new rules would encourage a more constructive dialogue with permittees. So far, he has begun an intense dialogue with Idaho's congressional delegation and received criticism from local ranchers.

"He came to the table and laid a club down on the table and said, 'Let's negotiate,' " said Larry Ragains, president of the Idaho Cattleman's Association. "It scared us to death."

Still, Levere has his supporters, At the April hearing, Linn Kincannon of the Idaho Conservation League told Chenoweth's forest subcommittee that the new regulations were "a good place to start," she said. "I'm afraid this hearing is another attempt by the livestock industry to prevent change."

Levere said after the hearing he intends to proceed with his new rules, with one capitulation to congressional furor - a 30-day public comment period. That idea placated Chenoweth somewhat, but Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, R, has asked Levere to withdraw the new plan and start over. Levere said he will review the comments, but at this time has no intention of backing down.

Rep. Helen Chenoweth can be reached at 1719 LHOB, Washington, DC 20515-1201 (202/225-6611). Supervisor Bill Levere can be reached at Sawtooth National Forest, 2647 Kimberley Road E., Twin Falls, ID 83301 (208/737-3216.

The writer works for the Idaho Mountain Express.

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    North Cascades Institute seeks their next Executive Director to lead the organization, manage $4 million operating budget, and oversee 60 staff. Send resume/cover letter to...
  • DISTRICT MANAGER
    The San Juan Islands Conservation District is seeking applicants for the District Manager position. The position is open until filled and application plus cover letter...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Time Arts, a Bozeman-based nonprofit, is seeking an Executive Director. MTA advocates for and produces public artworks that advance social & environmental justice in...
  • BEND AREA HOME WITH AMAZING CASCADE PEAKS VIEW
    Enjoy rural peacefulness and privacy with one of the most magnificent Cascade Mountain views in sunny Central Oregon! Convenient location only eight miles from Bend's...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • RESEARCH FELLOW (SOUTHWESTERN U.S. ENERGY TRANSITION)
    The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) in partnership with the Grand Canyon Trust is seeking a full-time Fellow to conduct topical research...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • ONCE OR TWICE
    A short historical novel set in central Oregon based on the the WWII Japanese high altitude ballon that exploded causing civilian casualties. A riveting look...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • HOUSE FOR SALE
    Rare mountain property, borders National Forest, stream nearby. Pumicecrete, solar net metering, radiant heat, fine cabinets, attic space to expand, patio, garden, wildlife, insulated garage,...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Want to organize people to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life with Northern Plains Resource Council? Apply now-...
  • CONSERVATION MANAGER
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is hiring an energetic and motivated Conservation Manager to develop and complete new conservation projects and work within...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.