BOISE, Idaho – Cattle grazing will continue at a south-central Idaho national monument known for its ancient lava flows following a challenge by an environmental group, federal officials announced this week.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management in a statement Wednesday said grazing on BLM-administered portions of Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve not covered by lava flows will stay at about 99 percent of current levels.
“The decision demonstrates the Trump Administration’s effort to support traditional uses such as grazing on public lands while providing opportunities for recreation and promoting conservation,” the agency said in a written statement.
Western Watersheds Project challenged grazing in the monument contending it harmed imperiled sage grouse, leading to a 2012 federal court order requiring federal agencies to complete an environmental review analyzing reduced grazing or no grazing.
Federal officials in May announced the results of that review and on Wednesday issued a 21-page “record of decision,” a formal document spelling out land-use policies for the BLM portion of the monument.
The plan, the agency said, allows officials to manage sagebrush landscapes and habitat with a small adjustment to grazing levels without harming the local economy. The Bureau of Land Management administers about 275,000 acres of the 738,000 acres of federal lands in the monument.
Specifically, the plan alters two grazing boundaries and sets the maximum number of AUMs at 37,792. An AUM, or animal unit month, under federal rules is the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month. AUMs are used to calculate grazing fees ranchers pay to the federal government.
Western Watersheds Project protested the conclusions of the environmental review leading to the BLM’s record of decision. The group contends that cattle grazing isn’t compatible in the monument that contains 700-year-old juniper trees and some of the last undisturbed native vegetation in the Snake River Plain.
Greta Anderson, deputy director for Western Watersheds Project, said the BLM ignored scientific evidence involving sage grouse.
“Sage grouse habitat should be preserved as one of the unique monument objects,” she said, noting the group is still considering its legal options.
Sage grouse are ground-dwelling, chicken-sized birds found in 11 Western states, where as few as 200,000 remain, down from a peak population of about 16 million. The males are known for their strutting courtship ritual on breeding grounds called leks, and they produce a bubble-type sound from a pair of inflated air sacks on their necks.
The monument was initially designated by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924 with about 54,000 acres. Several additions followed and, in 2000, President Bill Clinton expanded it by more than 600,000 acres.
In 2002, efforts by U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, led to Congress designating 410,000 acres of the monument a preserve and moving that land from the BLM to the National Park Service.
In recent years, local communities have pushed to have the initial 1924 monument portion designated a national park hoping to bring more tourism dollars. Earlier this year, the Idaho Senate passed a resolution urging Congress to do just that. But the influential Idaho Farm Bureau, concerned monument restrictions and national park status could harm farmers and ranchers, opposed the designation and it stalled in the Idaho House.
The monument was part of President Donald Trump’s April executive order calling for a review of 27 national monuments created since 1996. In July, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced Craters of the Moon was no longer under review for possible modification.
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