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Grazing for Wildlife–Pilot Project Starts Again in Washington

July 8, 2010

[Source: Dan Wheat for the Capital Press]

The Washington Cattlemen’s Association hopes to restart a pilot grazing program on state-managed lands in southeastern Washington next year that was shelved by a judge in April.

The program of using spring and possibly fall cattle grazing to stimulate grass growth for wildlife began in 2005 with an agreement between the Cattlemen’s Association and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Grazing was allowed on 200 to 600 acres of Pintler Creek and Smoothing Iron Ranch land in Asotin County that is managed by Fish and Wildlife, said Jim Sizemore, 59, a cattle rancher near Goldendale, Wash.

It had been 15 years since some of the land was grazed by cattle, and grasses were beginning to die from lack of close grazing, said Sizemore, past president of the association and chairman of a grazing committee of the association.

Acreage grazed amounted to 30 percent of available Fish and Wildlife forage lands in the two areas, he said.

“It was prescribed grazing of a series of pastures at certain times of the year and for a certain duration, rotated so that each pasture was rested from grazing every third year,” Sizemore said.

The program had provisions to protect certain fish and plants, he said.

The Western Watersheds Project, a conservation group headquartered in Clayton, Idaho, sued Fish and Wildlife, saying the grazing agreement didn’t go through the State Environmental Policy Act process and that not all Fish and Wildlife team members supported the project, Sizemore said.

A Thurston County Superior Court judge stopped the program, agreeing it needed the support of all regional Fish and Wildlife team members, Sizemore said.

Now the program has that support, he said. Fish and Wildlife and the Cattlemen’s Association will meet July 21 in Yakima to discuss how to proceed, he said.

“The department has told the cattlemen that they don’t want to lose livestock as a tool. They want to get better at how to use it and be more comfortable with it,” he said.

Washington State University is providing independent monitoring to determine if the grazing helps or harms wildlife habitat, and there’s an additional independent scientific peer review group, he said.

“The Western Watersheds Project wants livestock off all public lands and, in my opinion, had to shut down the project before there is documented proof that it enhances habitat,” Sizemore said.

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