Owyhee County rancher Kelly Aberasturi was so mad at grazing cutbacks announced Monday by the Bureau of Land Management, he had to leave the county courtroom in Murphy where the meeting was being held.
This really ticks me off, Aberasturi said as he went to cool off.
He returned later as BLM Owyhee field office manager Loretta Chandler explained the cuts, which range from 35 percent to 47 percent in three of the four grazing allotments reviewed for renewal. Ranchers will be able to graze fewer cattle for less time on the allotments.
What do you expect these people to do? said Aberasturi, who is also a county commissioner. This will put them out of business.
The four allotments are the first of 75 grazing permit renewals the BLM was ordered to conduct by U.S. District Judge B Lynn Winmill after a lawsuit by Western Watersheds Project, an environmental group that opposes grazing.
Mondays gloom was just the first step in what is expected to be a yearlong ordeal for Owyhee Countys cattle industry. The bureau has until the end of 2013 to renew the remaining permits.
Three of the four allotments were not meeting BLMs Idaho standards for rangeland health, a series of guidelines to ensure that the desert ecosystem is functioning. The standards help agency scientists determine that the native grasses and shrubs are healthy, that streamside areas and watersheds are thriving and that habitat for sage grouse and other endangered species is protected.
The agency had few choices that would pass Winmills approval, said Chandler, so it went with seasonal grazing restrictions.
It seemed to me it was more doable for the ranchers and the BLM, she said.
HARD ON RANCHERS
Chad Gipson, a former University of Idaho extension agent who is now a consultant for ranchers, said the BLM is underestimating just how much it will take for the ranchers to comply with the new limits on the three allotments, located in the southwest corner of the state.
The lawsuits and the judges decision, Gipson said, force ranchers into fixing something thats not broke.
Katie Fite, Western Watersheds biodiversity director, said the bureau didnt go far enough. Anyone who saw the allotments this year would wonder why BLM didnt stop all grazing, she said.
STATE PLAN DIFFERS
The Owyhee allotments set the model for those to come.
Ranchers will have 15 days to protest Mondays decision. They are expected to have the support of groups such as the Idaho Cattle Association and of Idahos political leaders.
Gov. Butch Otter has developed a state sage grouse plan that uses the same rangeland health standards. But it allows ranchers to keep their cattle numbers stable as long as they take other steps keeping cows out of streams and streamsides and away from key grouse habitat, for example to improve the range. Otters staff has been critical of the BLM for taking the harsher position.
Otter had not seen the BLM document Monday but will review it, said press secretary Jon Hanian.
BLM said it didnt have a choice if it wants to satisfy the judge.
We have to make these tough decisions or you will have court-mandated cuts, Jim Fincher, Boise District manager, told the Owyhee commissioners.
But Aberasturi blamed the string of court defeats to Western Watershed on what he called the land agencys incompetence.
The BLM is costing the rancher his livelihood in this county because you keep losing in court, Aberasturi said.
Ranching is a major part of the economy of huge, desolate Owyhee County, 78 percent of which is owned by the federal government. Reducing the livestock industry will be felt by retailers, farmers and businesses, commissioners said.
Ultimately, said Commission Chairman Jerry Hoagland, it will reduce the value of ranches and the taxes they generate for county services.
The cuts also threaten the collaborative Owyhee Initiative that was formed by the county by bringing ranchers together with groups such as the Idaho Conservation League, the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club and Idaho Rivers United. Together they developed a set of continuing measures aimed at protecting wilderness and ranchers.
Some of those groups are working with Otter on the states sage grouse plan. But Owyhee County Treasurer Brenda Richards, a leader of the initiative, said the collaboration might not survive now.
It is going to be a challenge, Richards said, because the initiative was formed to protect the economic stability of the county.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484