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Ranchers need flexibility to graze, protect species

By PATRICIA R. MCCOY Idaho Staff Writer pmccoy@capitalpress.com

Ray Holes, left, a Grangeville, Idaho, rancher, visits with Matt Ricketts, right, about his ranch in the Salmon River canyon where goats are being used to help control yellowstar thistle. Holes leases the goats to area landowners, in addition to running them on his own range.

BOISE – Most of the time grazing management systems can be developed that allow ranchers to operate while still protecting threatened or endangered species. The key: flexibility.

That message recently came from Bert Brackett, rancher, former president of the Idaho Cattle Association, and currently serving on the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission.

Brackett has bull trout, slickspot peppergrass and sage grouse on his rangeland near Three Creek, Idaho. While only bull trout are formally protected under the Endangered Species Act, slickspot peppergrass and sage grouse are sensitive species, he said.

Brackett spoke at the Pacific Northwest Range Management Short Course in Boise Feb. 23-25. He was one of five panelists discussing developing grazing management plans for threatened and endangered species.

He urged all permittees to apply for applicant status, in writing. That status allows ranchers to participate in consultation.

“We manage more intensively for the fish and the grass. We ran into a real challenge with the sage grouse. We have two water troughs the birds congregate around and use as leks in the spring. To turn off the water to those troughs so the cattle would stay away would have forced our livestock into the north end of the allotment, where slickspot peppergrass grows,” Brackett said.

“To resolve that conflict we propose abandoning one trough site, and take non-use in that location during the spring when the grouse are using the leks. We plan to move the other trough a mile and a half from its current location, where there is no slickspot peppergrass. This may not work. The grouse only started using the trough areas as leks after our troughs were installed,” he said.

Three Principles

Brackett offered his audience three general principles for grazing management on rangeland that is also habitat for ESA-listed species. The first was his call for flexibility.

Second, management systems designed with the help of ranchers have a better chance of success. Third, ranchers and agency personnel need to develop personal relationships based on trust and mutual respect, he said.

One key is understanding where the information is, and who to ask questions of, said Jim Hagenbarth, who ranches in Dillon, Mont., and Kilgore, Idaho.

He reminded his audience, made up predominantly of state and federal agency resource managers, that ranching is a business.

“We make our living as businessmen. We have to have a profit. At the same time, our function as public lands ranchers is not just to produce food and fiber, but to preserve open space. We need to get that across to the American people. I don’t think I’ll live to see that understanding recognized,” Hagenbarth said.

“I’ve been in the cattle industry a long, long time. My heart, blood and soul are dedicated to the resources. Today people are using the ESA and the National Environmental Policy Act as weapons to change land use. They’re active environmental terrorists. Modern agency people aren’t educated in long-term sustainability. The biologists, for instance, know what species need, but not how to get it. They and the activists have no ownership in our business,” he said.

Open Communication

Among other panelists was Kate Forster, a Bureau of Land Management fisheries biologist from Challis, who described how agency personnel and landowners are protecting sockeye, chinook, steelhead and bull trout in her area.

“Open and honest communication is absolutely essential,” she said. “A lot can get done just by picking up the phone, and by getting people out on the ground. Maps and photographs were also critical. They showed us where we’d been, where we are now, and the fact that the habitat really is improving in many areas.”

The Forest Service lost touch with permittees and got away from working with them in many ways. Consultation is bringing the agency and grazers back together, said Pete Grinde, rangeland management specialist with the Payette National Forest.

“The key elements for any consultation, especially if it’s the first time for a newly listed species, is to engage the appropriate biologist, botanist or fisheries biologist with permittees, and develop a plan everyone can live with. You must develop a relationship built on trust,” he said.

Land management agencies are having to show the regulatory agencies less and less every year, because they’ve been able to prove grazing management can work and yield results, he said.

Much of the three-day range short course was devoted to technical paper presentations on such topics as rangeland ecological concepts, grazing management to meet the needs of fish and weed control, or wildlife-livestock relationships. Other speakers included Ray Holes, a Grangeville, Idaho, rancher, who described how he is using goats to help control yellowstar thistle on his Salmon River canyon operation, and turning that effort into money by leasing goats to graze for weed control on other lands in his area.

Pat McCoy is based in Boise. Her e-mail address is pmccoy@capitalpress.com.

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