Tag Archives: Idaho

An administrative law judge has rejected a plan for public land grazing allotments that would have destroyed re-emerging sagebrush in south-central Idaho in favor of non-native plants to increase forage for cattle and sheep.

The ruling directs the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to set aside its final grazing decisions for about 80 square miles (200 square kilometers) of allotments in Twin Falls County and then reissue them with terms consistent with the ruling.

The plan that “provides for vegetation treatments intended to reduce or destroy native sagebrush and other native plant communities lacks a rational basis,” U.S. Interior Department Administrative Law Judge Andrew S. Pearlstein wrote in the May 9 order.

WildLands Defense and Prairie Falcon Audubon in 2017 appealed the Bureau of Land Management’s decision involving 18 permittees on 21 allotments that would have destroyed native plants on what are called the Berger Allotments.

“BLM is supposed to look for opportunities to restore sagebrush habitat,” said Katie Fite of WildLands Defense. “This was the dead opposite of that. This was purging sagebrush.”

A federal report last year concluded efforts to save sagebrush habitat in the West were failing, with invasive plants such as cheatgrass and medusahead on nearly 160,000 square miles (414,400 sq. kilometers) of public and private lands.

Federal officials in April released a plan intended to reverse that trend using new technologies and analytics to aid in restoring sagebrush habitats that support cattle ranching, recreation and 350 wildlife species, including imperiled sage grouse.

Efforts to restore sagebrush habitats can run into the millions of dollars from a single wildfire.

The BLM’s decision on the southern Idaho grazing allotments would have used large machines to kill sagebrush and other native plants where ranchers favor non-native forage plants such as crested wheatgrass.

“It’s like we’re back in the 1950s,” Fite said.

The BLM can appeal the judge’s ruling to the Interior Board of Land Appeals. BLM officials said Friday they were reviewing the order.

Pearlstein noted that besides sagebrush, the allotments are seeing a return of native grasses that include bluebunch wheatgrass, Thurber’s needlegrass, needle-and-thread grass, Sandburg bluegrass and Davis peppergrass, listed as a rare or special species by the BLM.

Invasive grasses on the allotments include primarily cheatgrass, as well as invasive forbs and shrubs.

Pearlstein also noted the presence of wildlife dependent on native plants, including pronghorn, mule deer, and smaller mammals and many types of birds, including sage grouse. He said sage grouse are rarely seen in the allotments, but there are four occupied sage grouse leks, or breeding grounds, within about 2 miles (3 kilometers) of the allotments.

Specifically, Pearlstein noted, the BLM classifies the allotments as “seedings,” meaning the agency can plant crested wheatgrass “without consideration of the vitality of diverse native vegetation.” But Pearlstein said killing native plants in favor of non-native crested wheatgrass couldn’t be justified.

Fite said the ruling prohibiting the destruction of native plants on the grazing allotments is one of the first such rulings she’s seen.

“This is a pretty exceptional decision,” she said.

A federal appeals court has overturned a U.S. District Court’s dismissal of a lawsuit by environmental groups challenging a federal agency’s killing of wolves in Idaho.

A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel on Tuesday ruled that U.S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge erred in January 2018 when he ruled in favor of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services.

Specifically, the appeals panel ruled that the environmental groups have standing to bring the lawsuit, and sent the case back to the district court.

The environmental groups contend Wildlife Services’ 2011 study allowing it to kill wolves in the state is flawed because it relies on outdated information.

The groups say the Agriculture Department is violating environmental laws by killing wolves without a new environmental analysis.

Legislation to limit how much the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has to pay ranchers and farmers for damage to crops caused by elk, deer and other big game has been signed into law by Republican Gov. Brad Little.

Little last week signed the bill that would cap the amount paid for any single claim at 10 percent of the money in the Expendable Big Game Depredation Trust Account.

Backers say the cap is needed because a claim recently came in for $1 million, enough to wipe out the fund and eliminate smaller payments to others.

Those opposed to the bill say it lets Fish and Game off the hook when it comes to paying for damage to crops caused by big game.

Legislation that would allow people to transport hemp through Idaho if they first get a permit from the Idaho Department of Agriculture director has won the approval of a House committee.

The legislation sponsored by Republican Reps. Judy Boyle of Midvale and Caroline Nilsson Troy of Genesee, would treat the transportation of hemp similarly to how the state treats the transportation of livestock, with out-of-state carriers required to get a permit and then comply with Idaho State Police checkpoints at specific state entry points.

Phil Haunschild with the Idaho Freedom Foundation testified against the bill, saying its intent was noble but that it would cause problems for companies and truckers who ship hemp from state to state under their own state permits and don’t realize Idaho has its own special rules.