An application for a grazing permit in Greenhorn Gulch will pass to the environmental assessment stage without comment from the Blaine County commissioners, despite concerns that additional sheep grazing might conflict with the area’s recreation.
The commissioners decided Wednesday not to comment on a grazing permit application for an area of Greenhorn Gulch east of Mahoney Butte.
An initial scoping letter from the U.S. Forest Service, drafted by Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson, states that cattle and horses had formerly grazed in the area. The permit expired in 2009, but cattle have not grazed there since 2001.
The application, if approved, would open grazing to sheep grazing on 441 acres and allow sheep bands to cross about 153 more acres. Grazing permits would not be issued on the remaining 7,141 acres of the allotment. Nelson said the expanded area would include part of the lower Cow Creek drainage.
The other areas under consideration, known as the Limekiln and Shaw Mountain allotments, have been open to grazing throughout the summers. Mike Henslee of Plateau Farms in Hagerman currently holds the permit, and his sheep were allowed to use part of the Greenhorn allotment for five days in 2010 to reduce grazing on part of the Limekiln allotment that burned in the 2007 Castle Rock Fire.
The proposed action would reduce grazing on the Limekiln allotment by 14 percent.
Comments on the initial scoping letter are due by today, Jan. 4. However, Nelson said in an interview that this comment period, which began in November, is not the only one—a 30-day comment period will follow a full environmental assessment, set to be completed in late winter or early spring.
Nelson added that the initial comment period is just to help inform the draft environmental assessment and ensure that the Forest Service considers all aspects of the application.
Western Watersheds Project, a Hailey-based nonprofit organization that focuses on livestock grazing on public lands, contacted the commissioners and asked them to comment on the application.
But Commissioner Angenie McCleary stated in the meeting Wednesday that she would prefer not to comment, as the issue of grazing on public lands is much larger than this single application.
“I’m not sure I have the expertise to know if they should or should not be able to graze,” she said. “This is just one small part of a bigger issue.”
Commissioner Larry Schoen suggested that the county draft a letter stating that the Forest Service should consider the area’s multiple uses and the agency’s rules for grazing on public lands.
But Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said such a letter would imply support for the permit.
“We’re saying we approve the grazing being allowed as long as there’s consideration for all the rules that are in place,” he said. “It’s giving support to the permit, whereas I’m not sure I support that.”
Greenberg added in a later interview that he did not necessarily oppose the permit, and that even though his son works for Western Watersheds Project, it did not influence his opinion.
“I don’t see why that’s pertinent,” he said.
Greenberg also pointed to a written set of “talking points” from Western Watersheds Project that was sent to the commissioners via email and states that grazing on public lands could pose health risks to humans who use the area for recreating.
The organization stated that some cattle, sheep and goats carry a hazardous bacteria, Coxiella burnetii, in their milk, urine and feces. Humans—such as those riding bikes or hiking in the area grazed by infected animals—can be infected by inhaling the bacteria.
Nelson said the draft environmental assessment will include impacts on recreation in the area.
“We’re very sensitive and aware of the high recreation use in the area,” he said. “We’ll take that into account.”
A final decision is expected by May.
Want to comment?
Submit comments in writing to Ketchum Ranger District, Attn: Robert Garcia, Range Management Specialist, Box 2356, Ketchum, ID 83340. The Ketchum Ranger District is located on Sun Valley Road in Ketchum.
Kate Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org