Two conservation organizations have filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to revoke grazing permits in the East Fork Salmon River portion of the Sawtooth National Forest, on the grounds that the U.S. Forest Service has allowed permitees to repeatedly violate environmental laws and the forest plan.
Boise-based environmental law firm Advocates for the West filed the suit on behalf of plaintiff Western Watersheds Project on Wednesday, Oct. 12, in U.S. District Court in Boise. It addresses alleged violations spanning at least 13 years on the Upper and Lower East Fork allotments, which are on the east side of the White Clouds Mountains in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and partly within the recently created White Clouds Wilderness. Together, they make up an area of 102 square miles.
In a news release, the two organizations noted that the East Fork of the Salmon and tributary creeks provide habitat for spring and summer Chinook salmon, Snake River steelhead, Columbia River bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout. The complaint states that the Lower East Fork allotment contains habitat for sage grouse and bighorn sheep, while both allotments have habitat for numerous other species of wildlife.
The suit states that under the law that created the SNRA in 1972, the Forest Service is required to manage the allotments to protect natural resources and recreational values.
“The Forest Service recognized more than ten years ago the damage that grazing was causing to riparian areas and fragile alpine habitats within these allotments, impairing populations of threatened and sensitive fish and plants as well as popular recreation sites[,] all of which was inconsistent with direction in the newly revised Sawtooth Forest Plan as well as the SNRA Organic Act,” the complaint states. “The agency made changes to the allotment boundaries and imposed restrictions on grazing to reduce use of alpine areas and allow recovery of riparian habitat, which were instituted though a 2003 grazing decision and Endangered Species Act consultation [with federal fisheries agencies] for the two allotments.
“Since then, permittees have repeatedly violated livestock use standards and allowed cattle to graze in unauthorized areas, perpetuating degraded conditions and preventing recovery of imperiled species.”
The complaint contends that the degraded conditions violate objectives for natural resources set out in the Sawtooth National Forest Plan.
“The Forest Service itself has documented repeated overgrazing and cattle trespass into unauthorized areas that degrade the streams on these allotments, with violations escalating in recent years” said Laurie Rule, senior attorney with Advocates for the West. “The agency’s perpetual authorization of grazing in the face of such widespread problems violates the law and pushes these imperiled fish closer to extinction.”
A call to the public affairs office of the Sawtooth National Forest seeking comment on the complaint’s allegations was not returned by press deadline.
The suit asks the court to vacate 10-year grazing permits reissued in 2012 and 2013 for four permitees on the Upper and Lower East Fork allotments.