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Chenoweth Plans Hearing On Grazing Sawtooth Forest Issues New, Controversial Rules

U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth has called an April 8 meeting of her House Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health to consider controversial new grazing rules in the Sawtooth National Forest.

Sawtooth Supervisor William LeVere issued a letter outlining the new rules on March 3, and Chenoweth said she was disturbed by what she considered the far-reaching impacts of his action and the lack of public input.

“The rules for the Sawtooth Forest significantly reduce the number of grazing allotments that will be available to a group of individuals who have shared the land with other users for years,” Chenoweth, R-Idaho, said Thursday. “I am concerned that these rules deviate from the goal of establishing a healthy, multiple-use forest.”

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said he talked to LeVere about the rules Thursday and came away convinced changes are needed to laws governing management of national forests.

The Forest Service maintains cutbacks in grazing within the Sawtooth are necessary because of a decline in funding for range management, but Craig said congressional allocations for range management have remained constant.

“It’s clear Forest Service officials are getting bogged down with work that’s arguably outside their mission,” Craig said. “That leaves less money for things such as range management - which the Forest Service ought to be very involved in.”

The senator cited costs associated with requests for public information under the federal Freedom of Information Act, and the amount of time spent by Sawtooth officials on water rights adjudication.

The new rules ordered by LeVere include quicker, harsher penalties for overgrazing and other permit violations on the Sawtooth’s southcentral Idaho rangeland, where almost 200 ranchers graze some 42,000 sheep and 26,000 cattle.

Changes include replacing five gradually escalating sets of penalties with two sets of penalties, both requiring ranchers to explain violations in writing.

The mildest penalty is suspension of 25 to 100 percent of the stock or grazing days for three years plus payment for unauthorized foraging. The stiffest penalty, for a second offense, is total permit revocation plus payment for damages.

Tom Dayley, executive vice president of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, called the rules “punitive and retaliatory.”

Dayley wrote in a March 20 letter to Chenoweth that the decision “seems to have as a theme the drop in what Mr. LeVere feels are adequate funding levels. He consistently blames his one and one half years of obvious frustration on a lack of funds and somehow has come to the conclusion that the solution is to pressure permittees.”

Chenoweth said her subcommittee will question Forest Service officials and land users about the rules to “give them all a chance to be heard in order to diffuse this situation quickly and equitably.”