Ranchers forgo their federal lease


Cows and salmon don't mix; at least that's the message rancher Rollin Baker says he has received repeatedly from the National Marine Fisheries Service. So Baker and his partner, A.D. Watkins, recently relinquished their federal grazing privileges near Bear Valley Creek in Idaho's Boise National Forest. The ranchers say strict rules aimed at protecting spawning habitat for salmon, steelhead and bull trout have pushed them out.

"We had a big fish problem," Baker says. "We fenced the cattle away from it, away from spawning areas, but nothing we did satisfied Marine Fisheries. We got along fine with the Forest Service, but we couldn't get along with the fish people."

This June, the Bonneville Power Administration paid Baker and Watkins $145,000 to give up their grazing permit as part of the administration's fish and wildlife mitigation program. Forest Service officials agreed to permanently end grazing on this piece of land.

The BPA says it spends $127 million a year for programs to preserve fish habitat and lessen the effects of hydroelectric dams on Northwest rivers. In the past, that money has mostly gone toward research and fish hatchery work. This is the first time individuals have been compensated with administration funds, says BPA's Allyn Meuleman. The agency will only retire grazing rights from willing sellers, she adds.

"We obviously want to do (projects like) this in the future," Meuleman says, "(but) we recognize that this really does change this guy's way of life."

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