Prompted by a payment from the Sagebrush Habitat Conservation Fund and a desire to protect wild bighorns, Lava Lake Land and Livestock has permanently ended sheep grazing on about 88,000 acres of national forest land north and east of Ketchum.
According to a press release from Lava Lake and the Sagebrush Habitat Conservation Fund, the ranching business retired its allotments under the law that created the Hemingway-Boulders, Cecil Andrus-White Clouds and Jim McClure-Jerry Peak wilderness areas in 2015. The law requires the Forest Service to accept permit donations on allotments that are at least partially within a designated area inside and adjacent to the new wilderness areas.
The retired allotments provide important habitat for native fish and wildlife, including wolves, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, Lost River whitefish and Wood River sculpin, according to the statement.
“The conclusion of domestic sheep grazing on these public lands will forever end potential conflicts between livestock grazing and native plants and animals,” the release states.
In an interview, Lava Lake co-owner Brian Bean said he had realized that domestic sheep posed a risk of transmission of pneumonia to bighorn sheep living in the East Fork of the Salmon River drainage, and knew that the Forest Service had the authority to end grazing in the area if it deemed that risk to be too high. Bean said he wanted the retirement of the allotments to be done in an orderly way and decided that doing so under the wilderness bill would be a good way to accomplish that.
“Nobody wants to see wild sheep die from disease through vectors related to domestic sheep,” he said.
Bean said the retirement of the allotments would have no impact on his ranching operation since he has not come close to reaching capacity on the remaining 800,000 acres of public land allotments that Lava Lake holds permits on in south-central Idaho.
He said that under the wilderness bill, Lava Lake has also retired its grazing permit on the multi-permittee Wildhorse cattle grazing allotment, on the east side of Trail Creek Summit.
In the statement, Sagebrush Habitat Conservation Fund Vice President Jon Marvel said the organization is “very pleased” to have been able to facilitate “this conservation benefit for native fish and wildlife as well as for citizens who enjoy recreating on our shared public lands.”
The Sagebrush Habitat Conservation Fund arose from a settlement between Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project and Ruby Pipeline, a subsidiary of El Paso Corp. Under the settlement, Western Watersheds agreed not to oppose or delay a 680-mile underground pipeline project intended to bring natural gas produced in Wyoming and other Rocky Mountain states to Oregon for distribution to West Coast customers. In exchange, Ruby agreed to pay $15 million over 10 years into a fund to be used for voluntary conservation projects in sagebrush habitat.
In an interview, Marvel said the agreement with Lava Lake contains a provision prohibiting disclosure of the amount paid for retiring the four allotments. He said the retirement is already in effect.
Since its founding, the Sagebrush Habitat Conservation Fund has collaboratively retired livestock grazing on more than 1 million acres of public lands in four Western states, the release stated.
According to the release, Lava Lake has permanently protected more than 20,000 acres of its own land under conservation easements and has completed scores of restoration and research projects on the private and public lands on which it operates. A conservation-minded operation since its inception in 1999, Lava Lake is a founding producer-member of the Wood River Wolf Project, for which the associated Lava Lake Institute for Science & Conservation serves as fiscal agent.