Loss of Grazing Allotments Remain in Focus
Weeks after it was announced that the U.S. Forest Service would conduct a “more intensive environmental review” of proposed sheep grazing regulations in a southwest Colorado wilderness area, the Public Lands Council will hold its annual meeting in a part of the region targeted by that very review.
ASI, local producers and others from the sheep industry plan to be on hand when the PLC meets Sept. 3-6 in Ignacio, Colo.
What is happening in the Weminuche Wilderness Area of the San Juan National Forest is indicative of what potentially could happen in many similar areas across the West. Ignacio resident J. Paul Brown and his family have run sheep in the Weminuche for more than four decades. Public land grazing is vital to the success of his operation, and the outcome of the Forest Service actions will have an impact on his family, along with other ranching families.
San Juan Forest Supervisor Kara Chadwick said Forest Service concerns and need for a new review center on “the impact of grazing on soil, water and native vegetation, degradation of recreational acres, economics of competing interests and the risk of domestic sheep transmitting diseases to bighorn sheep in the range.”
In reality, according to ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick, it is believed the initial Environmental Assessment (EA) of the area was poorly conducted and the Forest Service now intends to start over with an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the grazing.
ASI joined the Colorado Wool Growers Association and PLC in commenting on the initial EA because that assessment attempted to impose restrictions due to concerns over bighorn sheep. The initial assessment would have restricted the grazing permittee from transferring allotments to anyone except a direct family member.
“Both precedent-setting issues were obviously not well thought out, therefore the Forest Service is starting over again,” Orwick said.
Orwick said he plans to attend the PLC meeting in Ignacio with ASI Washington representative Jim Richards. Orwick encourages sheep ranchers and producers to participate, as well.