For Immediate Release
May 1, 2018
Scott Lake, Western Watersheds Project (208) 429-1679
Conservationists appeal District Court ruling on livestock grazing in Idaho’s Copper Basin
Legal action seeks to compel Forest Service to protect fish habitats
BOISE, Ida. — Western Watersheds Project filed a legal challenge to a District Court ruling yesterday to protect native fish habitat in the Pioneer Mountains of Idaho. Federal law requires the U.S. Forest Service to protect and restore fish-bearing streams but, according to the appeal, the Forest Service ignored data showing that livestock grazing was harming several streams and their native fishes in the Copper Basin area of central Idaho, east of Sun Valley.
The appeal seeks to overturn a District Court ruling from October 2017 and asks the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the Forest Service’s grazing practices, which harm fisheries on four allotments in the Big Lost River watershed.
“The Forest Plan and West-wide management direction require greater protection for native fishes than the Forest Service is requiring in practice,” said Scott Lake, Idaho Director of Western Watersheds Project. “Despite numerous documented violations of protective standards, the Salmon-Challis National Forest reauthorized a level of grazing that had been shown to harm habitat. This is not how species recovery works, and the American public deserve better management of wildlife habitat our public lands.”
Livestock damage fish habitat by trampling stream banks and wading in streams, which in turn increases erosion, widens stream channels, and clogs streams with sediment. Livestock also remove streamside grasses, willows, and other vegetation, which eliminates shade and can raise water temperatures beyond what native fish can tolerate.
The Forest Service’s own data showed that most streams on the Copper Basin allotments did not meet the agency’s own binding standards for suitable native fish habitat. Known violations ranged from excessively high water temperatures to overgrazing of riparian vegetation. Many streams also contained high levels of in-stream sediment, which can smother fish eggs and damage gills.
The streams in the Copper Basin area are not improving, and at some sites conditions are getting worse. Contrary to the requirements of the management plans, the Forest Service did not reduce or remove grazing on the allotments to remedy these violations.
To the contrary, the Forest Service ignored its own management plan and continued to authorize “intensive” livestock grazing, allowing several thousands of cattle to graze the area from early June to mid-October.
Western Watersheds Project is represented by its senior attorney Kristin Ruether and the Law Office of David H. Becker, of Portland, Oregon.
A copy of the appeal can be found online here.