Judge rules for wolves over livestock grazing on the Sawtooth National Recreation Area!

Lawsuit may stop government wolf killing there.

June 15, 2002, update June18-19.

Federal judge Lynn Winmill has given what wildlife supporters have long sought in the scenic heart of Idaho. The federal government cannot automatically kill or move wolves in the Sawtooth National Recreation area if livestock and wolves come into conflict.

The impetus for filing the lawsuit was the Forest Service's failure to adjust conflict between livestock (sheep primarily) on SNRA Forest Service land for three previous wolf packs -- the Stanley Pack, White Clouds Packs, and Whitehawk Pack. All three packs were killed off, moved, or disrupted directly or indirectly due to sheep being released on top of wolves with pups in the SNRA. While the Whitehawk Pack and the White Clouds Pack were destroyed just outside the SNRA, the roots of the conflict began when the sheep were in essence dumped on top of the wolves.

As a result of this, the SNRA presently has no wolf packs for the first time since 1997.

Wolf supporters had long argued that the Forest Service and Wildlife Service were essentially giving preference to livestock grazing above wildlife (in this case wildlife in the form of wolves), when the SNRA Act specifically said the purposes of the SNRA were scenic, historic and wildlife values and that mining, logging and grazing could take place only as long as they did not "substantially impair" the other purposes of the SNRA.

Here is a news release from the plaintiffs -- The Western Watersheds Project and the Idaho Conservation League. The attorney for the plaintiffs was the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, which has won a long string of victories in Idaho and adjacent states on grazing issues.


Major Victory for Idaho's Wolves in Sawtooth National Recreation Area Federal Court Decision. June 14, 2002.

Western Watersheds Project and the Idaho Conservation League won a major victory Thursday in their efforts to protect Idaho's wolf populations when a federal District Court judge ruled that the 1972 law which established the Sawtooth National Recreation Area gives wolves and all other wildlife precedence over livestock.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill also ruled that the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the SNRA, is in violation of the federal Recissions Act, passed by Congress in 1995 to force the agency to establish a schedule to conduct environmental analyses of every grazing allotment in the National Forest System.

Furthermore, Winmill ruled that the Forest Service violated the Organic Act which created the SNRA by failing to consider whether livestock grazing is "substantially impairing" wolf populations in the area. He also determined that the Organic Act does not include grazing as a "historic" or "pastoral" value.

Winmill's ruling forces the Forest Service to complete National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and Organic Act analyses of all SNRA allotments for which analyses have not been conducted.

Even where NEPA analyses have been done, the judge ruled that the Forest Service must revisit the allotments to conduct Organic Act analyses for significant impairment of wildlife, fisheries and recreation.

"Under the law which created the SNRA and in the forest plan for the Sawtooth National Forest, wildlife, fisheries and recreation must be protected and have higher priorities for management than livestock grazing," said Jon Marvel, executive director of WWP.

"We will wait to see how the Forest Service balances any conflicts that may happen before we consider possible injunctions against livestock grazing," said ICL conservation director John McCarthy.

Last August WWP and ICL sued the Forest Service for its failure to protect gray wolves. The lawsuit followed the killing by government gunners on June 29, 2001 of two radio-collared wolves from the Whitehawk pack in the SNRA, part of the Sawtooth National Forest near Sun Valley, Idaho.

The lawsuit charged that the Forest Service failed in its duty to keep sheep and cattle that graze on public lands away from known wolf pack denning and rendezvous sites.

At least 27 wolves in the past three years have been killed or removed from areas in or near the SNRA due to conflicts with livestock. In April 2002 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents killed the entire Whitehawk pack of 11 wolves near the SNRA. Similarly, the White Cloud and Stanley Basin wolf packs were eliminated in 2000 and 2001.

Despite the known presence of wolves in the SNRA, some 4,470 sheep and 2,500 cattle are allowed to graze on 28 Forest Service allotments in the area. WWP and ICL have long contended that management of livestock in the SNRA has significantly impaired wolves and other wildlife as well as fisheries and recreation.

"The law is clear. Wildlife takes precedence over livestock in the SNRA," said William Eddie of the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, attorney for WWP and ICL.

"The next time the government looks at shooting up a wolf pack in the SNRA, as it did last year, it better consider the legality of such an action," said McCarthy.


The victory does not affect the rules governing wolves and livestock in the rest of wolf recovery area in Idaho, Wyoming or Montana, which essentially give livestock the priority after a recovery zone has 6 breeding pairs of wolves. The government had argued the wolf reintroduction rule trumped the act of 1972 Act of Congress that created the Sawtooth National Recreation area, but Judge Winmill said the rule did not.

Article about the case in the Idaho Statesman by Rocky Barker. Judge: Balance wolves, livestock ‘Neither trumps the other,’ Winmill says.

6-18. Editorial in the Idaho Statesman. Our View: Can majestic Sawtooths inspire common ground? "A judge´s ruling on wolf management does not give the animals permission to run roughshod over Idaho. And it doesn´t give single-issue critics a hammer to eliminate public lands grazing."

6-19. Judge orders reform on wolf, cattle issue. Forest Service must give wildlife precedence over livestock. By Greg Stahl. Idaho Mountain Express. There seems to be an interpretation difference between the Idaho Statesman and the Idaho Mountain Express.


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