Agency ends cattle grazing at Idaho refuges

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories, Can she save ecosystems?

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 multiple use."

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.

But 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 refuge.

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.

Grays Lake 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 the birds."

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.

The writer lives in Pocatello, Idaho.

High Country News Classifieds
  • 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...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Communications Associate Director Location: Flexible within the Western U.S., Durango, CO preferred Position reports to: Senior Communications Director The Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF)...
  • HISTORIC HOTEL & CAFE
    For Sale, 600k, Centennial Wyoming, 6 suites plus 2 bed, 2 bath apartment. www.themountainviewhotel.com Make this your home or buy a turn key hotel [email protected]
  • MAJOR GIFTS OFFICER
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Major Gifts Officer to join our...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    Basic Summary: The Vice President for Landscape Conservation is based in the Washington, D.C., headquarters and oversees Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing...
  • BRISTOL BAY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Seeking a program director responsible for developing and implementing all aspects of the Alaska Chapter's priority strategy for conservation in the Bristol Bay region of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The National Bighorn Sheep Center is looking for an Executive Director to take us forward into the new decade with continued strong leadership and vision:...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, based in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a new Executive Director with a passion for rural communities, water, and working lands....
  • 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.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.