From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 38 - December 16, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Grazing decision penned

by Cat Urbigkit

The Pinedale Ranger District of the Bridger-Teton National Forest has issued a record of decision for cattle grazing on six allotments in the Upper Green River region. The alternative selected by District Ranger Craig Trulock is one that grazing permittees opposed, preferring to continue with the existing management program, adapting to issues as they arise.

Some permittees fear that the new program will result in reduced seasons of use by livestock and a negative impact on ranch livelihoods.

The decision calls for site-specific grazing-use limits, rotational grazing systems and range improvements, as well as additional mitigation measures and monitoring requirements.

The decision noted: "The Upper Green River Cattlemen's Association is extremely proactive in the management of the allotments being analyzed. This can be shown through the voluntary permittee monitoring that has taken place on the allotments for over 30 years. They have a history of seeking information and assistance from experts in research when a problem confronts them and a willingness to try new management options or take on additional responsibility if it is to the benefit of natural resources. This history makes me confident that this group of permittees will incorporate the spirit of adaptive management while working to implement the mitigation measures set forth in this document and the new and revised allotment management plans. The flexibility and effort put forth to date by this group has formed a strong working partnership with the Forest Service to quickly address resource protection issues.

"However, as the agency administrator for the U.S. Forest Service, a land management agency, I must leave protection measures in place for the future. This is a necessary precaution should the nature of the grazing association change as ranches change ownership and new permittees take their place," Trulock wrote.

The Forest Service responses to comments raised by grazing permittees was sometimes far from satisfactory. When Eddie Wardell pointed out that the wolf population has exceeded recovery goals, a fact generally acknowledged by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service thanked him for his comment and noted, "Your opinion is noted for the decision-maker."

When Wardell, and ranchers Albert Sommers and Charles Price all pointed out that the federal agency had erred in its summary of livestock losses due to federally protected predators, as well as when those losses begin to occur, the Forest Service response was to indicate that the information was gained from other federal agencies and: "We can update the information if commenter will provide documentation. It seems the important points are covered, however - predators are present and depredation is occurring."

When permittees pointed out the apparent bias against livestock grazing by the Forest Service fisheries biologist, the agency responded: "Regarding personal bias, we're sorry that the commenter feels this way. The Forest Service is a multiple-use agency and strongly supports responsible livestock grazing. While it is possible that individual employees have personal feelings that don't entirely match that of the agency, those employees must disclose environmental effects in an unbiased way. The agency deciding officer that makes the final decision is responsible for basing their decision on unbiased analysis and that is the case in this instance."

Although the permittees are surely disappointed in the Forest Service decision, other commenters didn't exactly get what they wanted either.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department sent a letter of comment listing areas it felt cattle grazing was causing negative impacts on riparian areas, but the federal land management agency responded with,"the Forest Service has not documented any use which exceeds forest plan standards on these allotments."

WG&F alleged that while it generally supports the measurement of stubble heights to monitor utilization, "stubble heights are frequently measured erroneously only along the greenline," to which the Forest Service said "stubble height is correctly measured on the greenline, as that is the site that is most susceptible to erosive hydrologic forces throughout the year."

The permittees can be thankful environmental groups didn't get what they wanted either. A letter sent from the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance and Wyoming Outdoor Council attacked the current grazing system as resulting in "wildlife species decimation and stream impairment" as well as being over-utilized by livestock. They requested two allotments be retired from grazing, a significant reduction in stocking rates or seasons of use and prohibitions on running calves.

The Forest Service responded by noting: "Overall, it appears current livestock stocking levels are in balance with wildlife needs under the existing condition. ... Reducing livestock numbers often does not reduce impacts, it is the management of the livestock that reduces impacts. By specifying use limits, rather than livestock numbers, we are addressing the true environmental effects, not the assumed cause."

Environmental groups called the Upper Green a "mortality sink for gray wolves and grizzly bears" due to conflicts with domestic livestock and "alleged" conflicts with livestock. The groups requested that the entire 176,000-acre project area, "and all grazing allotments around the project area," be permanently closed under federal rule "from predator control actions by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department or the Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services for the purpose of removing any predators to benefit or protect domestic livestock on forest lands."

FS noted that when it comes to wolves and bears, both species have reached their recovery goals under the current grazing strategy, adding: "Even if it were legal or possible to stop all predator control actions, the results might have greater adverse effects to grizzly bear and wolf populations. Both species learn quickly. If allowed to continue preying on livestock, depredations would increase rapidly as generations learn domestic livestock is 'suitable' food - no different than grizzly bears that depended on Yellowstone National Park garbage dumps. If trapped and relocated quickly enough, some bears have avoided livestock depredations and have gone back to 'natural' food sources."

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