Lawsuit ends pilot project at Asotin Wildlife Area before habitat benefits can be proved, disproved
Grazing will not occur on the Asotin Wildlife Area this season in the wake of a Thurston County Superior Court judge upholding a lawsuit filed by environmental groups challenging the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department’s pilot grazing project.
Cattle were scheduled to be turned in to the area’s Pintler Unit on April 15.
The agency is re-evaluating its plan to allow limited grazing and improving habitat on the state land it manages, officials said.
“We would like the project to proceed in 2011,” said Steve Pozzanghera, department regional manager in Spokane.
In 2006 the department began a three-year pilot grazing program to determine if cattle could be used to manage vegetation and improve wildlife habitat. The program was extended for three years in 2009, and range scientists and graduate students from Washington State University joined the program to evaluate if the program could achieve the desired conditions.
The Hailey, Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project said grazing was harming wildlife habitat, spreading noxious weeds and causing erosion to seep into sensitive steelhead spawning streams.
Tom Hendrickson of Asotin was set to release 35 cow calf pairs on the Pintler Unit last month and had to find other pasture for the animals. But he was more disappointed that the pilot project was stopped before it could be fully evaluated.
“I just think we need to prove to the environmentalists we can go in there and graze that and make the habitat better.”
Hendrickson said the grazing in the pilot program is free but it is labor intensive.
“They don’t realize we are up there three or four times a week and moving cattle and doing this and that and the trips you make to Ellensburg for meetings.”