From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 2 - April 10, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Forest to prepare grazing EIS

by Cat Urbigkit

The Big Piney Ranger District of the Bridger-Teton National Forest announced last week that it plans to prepare an environmental impact statement for the Wyoming Range Allotment Complex.

The Forest Service proposes to determine if livestock grazing of five domestic sheep bands will continue to be authorized in the Wyoming Range Allotment Complex (composed of the Corral Creek, Mule Creek, Grizzly Creek, Pickle Pass, Upper Grayback/Phosphate, North Horse and Prospect Peak sheep allotments).

Public scoping was initiated for planning on this allotment complex several years ago and an environmental assessment was released last December. According to the Forest Service, "Based on the comments received from the public on the environmental assessment, Big Piney Ranger District of the Bridger-Teton National Forest has scheduled the preparation of an environmental impact statement to determine if livestock grazing will continue to be authorized ..."

The scoping notice said the proposed action is to determine if livestock grazing will continue to be authorized. If so, the Forest Service proposes to use an "adaptive management strategy that allows for flexibility during implementation of the action to respond to changing conditions and unexpected results."

This strategy includes the implementation of benchmarks. Benchmarks of at least 95 percent of all capable acres trending toward or at the desired vegetation condition (fair or better) and the 70 ground cover threshold will be established under the preferred alterative. These monitoring protocols will be measured on the last year of the first grazing cycle, which is a seven-year cycle.

"Any allotments not meeting these objectives will be closed to livestock grazing and one band of sheep per closed allotment reduced," according to the preferred alternative. "If any allotments are closed, they will remain closed until the desired vegetative and watershed conditions are met. Once the objectives are met, livestock grazing can be reinstated under the proposed management in this alternative."

According to the original proposal, there would be no increase in livestock numbers and the currently permitted five bands of 1,300 mature ewes with lambs would continue to utilize the allotment complex. The grazing season runs roughly from July 11 to Sept. 25 each year, dependent upon conditions.

The Forest Service had determined to meet forest plan standards and guidelines, there is a need to improve conditions on 490 acres in unsatisfactory condition.

This allotment planning process was the subject of considerable controversy since 1999, when the Wyoming Game and Fish Department submitted a 14-page letter of comment to the Forest Service, proposing that allotments be closed to sheep grazing or the amount of grazing be reduced. The state wildlife agency cited concerns with the compatibility of domestic sheep and bighorn sheep. Since then, environmental groups and others have raised the same concerns.

The EIS will examine an alternative to continue current livestock management, one that separates bighorn sheep from domestic sheep by closing the Upper Grayback/Phosphate, Pickle Pass, Grizzly Creek and two-thirds of the Corral Creek allotments to domestic sheep grazing. This would knock the permitted sheep numbers down to two bands instead of five. A fourth alternative would simply close the area to livestock grazing entirely.

The Forest Service has identified the following issues to be addressed in the EIS: effects of grazing on vegetation, effects of grazing on watershed condition and function, effects of livestock on bighorn sheep and the effects of grazing on Colorado cutthroat trout habitat.

Comments must be received by May 11, sent to District Ranger, Big Piney Ranger District, P.O. Box 218, Big Piney, Wyo., 83113.

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