Citing the potential for recreational conflicts with sheep, the Ketchum Ranger District is making plans to cut more grazing on the Sawtooth National Forest.
It’s a disturbing trend. Every year it seems there is some new obtuse reason to cut grazing on public land. In this case, the Forest Service is concerned about fishermen, hikers, bikers and others out recreating coming into conflicts with the guard dogs sheep herders keep with their flocks to protect them from wolves. They’re also concerned that wolves might kill sheep and that will lead to government trappers and others, killing wolves.
Does anyone else see the ambiguity here? The people who wanted wolves in the Idaho backcountry the least and whose concerns were totally disregarded by the federal government are now being told that wolves and recreation are higher priorities than their livelihoods. We often hear and read about the power and influence of the livestock industry. In reality it’s become a question of which user group will the livestock industry be forced to get in line behind next?
The Ketchum Ranger District’s analysis at http://www.fs.usda.gov/projects/sawtooth/landmanagement/projects spells out details of dozens of potential conflicts and detrimental impacts of sheep grazing. The analysis states that sheep crossing streams “could” harm water quality which “could” harm fish, or sheep “could” cause a vegetative disturbance that “could” harm a stream bank. The analysis is 38 pages long in its entirety, and makes no mention of any of the benefits of grazing on the land such as noxious weed control, enriching soils and fire suppression.
Where it also fails as an analysis is in its complete lack of consideration for the effected livestock operators and the heritage of our state. This, along with continuing efforts to cut grazing on public lands leads us to believe that a bias against livestock producers exists inside the Forest Service, and has for some time. These ranchers are descendants of the first people who came to Idaho and created the economy that allowed all others to follow. That ought to matter to someone in the Ketchum Ranger District.
The Wood River Valley has changed a lot in the last 100 years, although the population is close to the same. In 1880 during the height of the silver boom there were just over 2,000 people there, as opposed to just over 3,000 today. The average listing price of homes in the area today is $1.4 million and the median household income is $57,000 per year compared to $45,000 yearly statewide.
Most of our population is at least one generation removed from an agricultural livelihood. Many of us are more than that. But have we lost touch with knowing the value of a domestic food supply? Has our society become so disconnected from its food supply that it no longer matters if our lamb and wool comes from New Zealand or Australia?
For the average citizen or tourist, livestock production is sometimes inconvenient and frequently smelly. But is doing away with it in our backyard a solution?
After the silver boom subsided in the late 1800’s, sheep became the Wood River Valley’s most important business. Today there are 180,000 sheep in Idaho. At its peak in the 1930’s, there were 2.7 million sheep in Idaho and Ketchum was one of the biggest lamb shipping points in the world, second only to Sydney Australia. In addition, there are fewer than 40 large sheep ranchers left in Idaho. If the Ketchum Ranger District is successful with its plans, the number is likely to be 39.
One of our favorite events every fall is Ketchum’s Trailing of the Sheep Festival. It was started by the Peavey family and has since been embraced by the community. It’s an ongoing effort to educate people about the sheep industry. Thousands of people who like to eat lamb, wear wool, and observe the longstanding traditions of sheep ranching show up for the event every year. And they come from all over the world. In addition, it’s become a cultural event that honors the Basques, Peruvians, Scots and others who have been integral in the development and history of the industry.
Sheep only graze on Forest Service land for a short time each summer. Grazing season runs from late June to early August on most allotments. We honestly hope that someone inside the Forest Service will stop to consider what Idaho has to lose by closing more grazing allotments and we sincerely hope they will conclude that our state’s heritage matters.
Frank Priestly is president of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.