Even with 125,800 acres, the Shoshone Basin is busting at the seams with activity.
Ranchers use the land for grazing and moving livestock. Sage grouse gather and migrate there throughout the year. Developers have eyed the area as an ideal location for energy ventures like the China Mountain wind project and the Gateway West transmission line project.
The activity hasn’t gone unnoticed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. For the past month, the agency has collected comments on how grazing affects habitats, wildfires and potential energy projects. The goal is to revise the current document that examines such issues to better address concerns in the area.
“Right now we’re in the scoping stage, accepting comments and getting ready to write a draft,” said Scott Sayer, natural resource specialist for the BLM.
The new draft could potentially affect grazing renewal permits. The Shoshone Basin contains 30 allotments; 23 are currently being reviewed, and the comments on grazing could affect their renewal.
Jim Baker uses five of the allotments and has used the area for cattle grazing since 1988. He’s one of the ranchers in the process of renewing his grazing permit in the Shoshone Basin. His family has used surrounding areas for grazing since the 1920s, he said.
“A lot of people assume grazing is bad for sage grouse, but I disagree,” he said. “Grazing has a certain amount of impact on the land but it’s not the only thing harming the habitat.”
He acts on his beliefs, providing feedback from a ranching perspective and learning to improve his own grazing habits through the Shoshone Basin Sage-grouse Local Working Group.
The overall goal of the group is to improve grouse populations. In 2010, federal officials declared the bird warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act, but it has not yet been listed.
“We have strong concerns for the area if (grazing and wildfire) goes unchecked,” said Rich Yankey, a member since the group’s inception. “During the past year we’ve toured with the landowners and permittees to review their allotments and to make recommendations for improvement.”
Getting the BLM to notice the ramifications of grazing is important for grouse vitality, said Katie Fite, biodiversity director for the Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project.
“Many treatments like the proliferation of fences are not in fact beneficial to anything other than cows,” she said. “Hopefully other BLM offices will take notice what is going on in this area and look at what they can improve in their own EIS.”