An Idaho sheep ranching company announced July 3 it will permanently retire grazing on 88,000 acres of public land in the Sawtooth and Salmon-Challis national forests.
The retirement of the grazing permits by Lava Lake Land and Livestock was made possible by Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson’s 2015 Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act. That legislation established a system that enables ranchers to voluntarily retire their U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management grazing permits within the Boulder White Clouds Grazing Area.
The Sagebrush Habitat Conservation Fund works with ranchers to voluntarily retire public land grazing permits, and the organization’s vice president Jon Marvel called the retirement of the grazing permits by Lava Lake a big conservation win that will benefit Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, Lost River whitefish, Wood River sculpin and other species.
“The habitat for wildlife and native fish will become much better,” said Marvel, who founded Western Watersheds Project and fiercely opposes grazing on public lands. “We won’t have the impacts of domestic sheep anymore.”
Since its creation in 2010 the Sagebrush Habitat Conservation Fund says it has helped fund successful voluntary waiver and retirements of federal grazing permits on over 600,000 acres of public lands.
Retirement of the grazing permits, however, is not universally supported by ranchers.
“We are deeply distressed that Lava Lake has chosen to retire desperately needed sheep allotments,” Naomi Gordon, executive director of the Idaho Wool Growers Association told Drovers. “Our small industry has paid extensive amounts of money to vigorously fight to hold onto allotments throughout Idaho. Unfortunately, we have seen losses and watched too many of our brothers and sisters lose their livelihoods. To hear that Lava Lake just gave these back in such a flippant manner, greatly suggests a questionable exchange of sorts. Though every business must do what they see fit to do in these stressful COVID-19 times, the Idaho Wool Growers Association does not condone the business practices displayed here.”
Gordon said the Idaho Wool Growers partner with both the Idaho Public Lands Council and the National Public Lands Council to “do everything we can to fight to keep allotments open for sheep.”
The retirement of 88,000 acres represents about 10% of Lava Lake’s roughly 900,000 acres of grazing in south-central Idaho. Other grazing allotments in the area have already been retired.
Incentive for retiring the grazing permits comes from Congressman Simpson’s legislation, which states: “Permittees with allotments within the boundaries of the ‘Boulder White Clouds Grazing Area Map’ would be allowed to voluntarily retire their grazing permits and be eligible for compensation from a third party conservation group. With this compensation, it is hoped that the ranching families will be able to create more secure and certain opportunities for future generations.”
Marvel told the Idaho Statesman he hopes to see more public lands grazing permits voluntarily retired, not only in south-central Idaho, but throughout the Mountain West. He said he’d like to see the provision in Simpson’s 2015 bill applied to grazing allotments elsewhere.
“It’s a great outcome and a benefit for everybody,” he said. “We can never recover (wild) sheep unless we enable domestic sheep grazing to end permanently.”