Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project has filed a lawsuit demanding that grazing on public land in Copper Basin be reduced to protect streams and native fish there.

    The suit, filed in federal court in Boise, challenges the Salmon-Challis National Forest’s authorization of grazing between June and October within the headwaters and tributaries of the Big Lost River, a popular fly-fishing destination east of Sun Valley. The river is home to a variety of fish species, including mountain whitefish and sculpin.

    “Past and present grazing practices have caused substantial habitat degradation in the Big Lost River Basin,” said the organization’s executive director, Travis Bruner. “Monitoring is supposed to help the fish by informing changes in management. On the Salmon-Challis, streams fail to meet proper temperature standards, have trampled banks, and don’t sustain the pools necessary to support fish. Nonetheless, the forest continues to authorize livestock grazing, year after year, without making any effort to protect these habitats.”

    The organization says monitoring data from Copper Basin show degraded aquatic conditions and violations of use limits on vegetation. It also claims that many of the allotments in the area have had cows grazing when they were not authorized. The organization contends that despite years of grazing abuse, the Forest Service has failed to take action against many of the permittees or enforce the few closures it has ordered, and stream conditions have continued to deteriorate.

    “It shouldn’t take a lawsuit to get the Forest Service to follow the law, but Western Watersheds Project has been alerting the Forest Service to the problems of livestock grazing in Copper Basin for over a decade without result,” Bruner said. “Even with the documentation of grazing harms to these important habitats, the agency authorized business as usual for the summer of 2015. That’s not going to work to protect native fish.”

    Bruner said the suit asks the court to hold the Forest Service’s authorization of grazing unlawful and to issue an injunction prohibiting grazing on national forest land in the area for the current season.

    A Salmon-Challis National Forest spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on matters under litigation.

Email the writer: gmoore@mtexpress.com

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