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Miles of Fencing Going Up in White Clouds

by Jason Kauffman
Idaho Mountain Express, September 1, 2006

Work held up by Forest Service budget constraints

Up to 15 miles of fencing at or near 9,000 feet in remote areas surrounding the East Fork of the Salmon River in the White Cloud Mountains are in various stages of completion.

The impetus behind the fencing was the implementation of the Upper and Lower East Fork Cattle and Horse Allotment Management Plans by former Sawtooth National Recreation Area Ranger Deb Cooper in late 2003, before her departure for another U.S. Forest Service job in Alaska.

In addition to authorizing the fencing, the plans have led to the temporary reduction of livestock grazing on 23,500 acres on the Upper and Lower East Fork allotments to allow the land and flora to recuperate.

Cooper's decision also permanently withdrew from livestock grazing 27,620 acres on the two separate allotments.

Altogether, the permanent closures resulted in a reduction in the total size of the allotments from 131,000 acres down to 115,000 acres.

The record of decision for the Upper and Lower East Fork Cattle and Horse Allotment Management Plans final environmental impact statement was published in the Challis Messenger newspaper on Oct. 9, 2003.

Among many other things, the EIS "analyzed and authorized the building of approximately 15 miles of fence essentially to restrict livestock grazing in the upper drainages up there," SNRA Deputy Area Ranger Joe Harper said in a Tuesday interview.

Of the 15 miles of fencing authorized by the plans, only about 2.5 miles have been built so far, Harper said. That those miles of fencing have been completed at all is due to economical sources of labor, he added.

"Two seasons ago, we put out for contract about two and a half miles of fence in the Big Lake Creek pasture to restrict that upper-elevation grazing," Harper said. "The contracts came in way too high, so we did the work locally this year with the Forest Service and a Northwest youth work crew out of Washington."

For now, work on the remaining 12.5 miles of fencing is being held up due to Forest Service budget constraints, he said.

"We don't have the money in the works right now to build that additional higher-elevation fence," Harper said.

To protect wildlife and their migratory patterns—especially the area's bighorn sheep herd—the fencing is designed to be dropped down in the fall.

"It's all let-down fence," Harper said. "The (grazing) permittee will lay the fence down in the fall so bighorn sheep can migrate through." That will happen by October at the latest, he said.

Currently, signs indicating that the fencing work is still in various stages of completion can be seen in at least one location in the rugged East Fork of the Salmon River country.

Where the West and South forks of the East Fork of the Salmon River come together in the White Cloud Mountains southeast of Stanley, the Forest Service has temporarily cached several large piles of fencing materials.

Just yards away from the river in a sage-dotted meadow, stacks of brand new wooden fence poles, green steel posts and numerous rolls of barbed wire lay in wait for eventual fence raising.

Just upstream, two, 0.25-mile sections of fence that will define the southwestern boundary of the Upper East Fork Allotment are to be built.

The reason behind the 2003 changes to the two East Fork grazing allotments has its roots in the Aug. 22, 1972, passage of Public Law 92-400, which established the SNRA.

Congress' intent in establishing the SNRA was to protect the area's primary values of fish and wildlife resources, as well as the natural, scenic, pastoral, and historical values, and recreation attributes. Under the designation, livestock grazing was recognized as a valid use so long as it doesn't cause substantial impairment of the SNRA's key values.

The Forest Service began the process of analyzing the two allotments in the mid-1990s. During the intervening years, citizens were given three separate opportunities to review and comment on the plans. The last public review and comment phase garnered 224 letters.

Groups on both sides of a debate over cattle grazing on public land in the East Fork of the Salmon River valley appealed the Forest Service's October 2003 decision to curtail the practice in the area.

Two environmental groups and a fisheries biologist contended the Forest Service's proposed management was too relaxed. On the other hand, ranchers affected by the decision contended that the Forest Service's restrictions on grazing were too severe.


Jason Kauffman
Miles of Fencing Going Up in White Clouds
Idaho Mountain Express, September 1, 2006

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