BRIDGEPORT, Calif.— Today, the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest announced its draft decision not to authorize cattle grazing on scenic and biodiverse public lands in the Eastern Sierra. The Forest Service had been reviewing whether to initiate cattle grazing on inactive sheep grazing allotments of approximately 16,500 acres where domestic sheep grazing was discontinued to protect Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep from disease. The four allotments have been free of all livestock grazing for 10 years allowing these rare high-elevation habitats to recover.
The Bridgeport Southwest Grazing Project would have authorized cattle grazing within portions of four allotments centering around the Virginia Lakes region, and partly within the Hoover Wilderness Area, designated by Congress in 1964. Instead, the Forest released a statement today indicating that Acting District Ranger David Risley is proposing to select the “No Action Alternative,” which does not authorize conversion of the livestock type for the four allotments, does not authorize livestock grazing, and does not authorize the reconstruction of water sources.
“I am very pleased that the Forest Service made the best decision for sage-grouse, bighorn sheep, and the many other rare species that call this Eastern Sierra landscape home,” said Laura Cunningham, California director at Western Watersheds Project. “The breathtaking scenery here deserves better than to be used for commercial livestock production.”
“This area provides habitat to many imperiled species, including the iconic Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep and bi-state greater sage grouse,” said Lisa Belenky, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is the right move by the Forest Service, it will allow habitat recovery to continue, protect rare riparian areas and cultural values.”
Part of the prior proposed decision entailed the reconstruction of three livestock watering sources within areas that contain important leks —courtship display grounds used by the declining Bi-State Distinct Population Segment of greater sage-grouse – and sensitive riparian habitats. Because nearly all populations of this sagebrush-dependent bird are in steep decline, in September 2020, conservation groups challenged the US Fish and Wildlife Service listing withdrawal for the Bi-state sage-grouse under the Endangered Species
The project area harbors gray-headed pikas, Yosemite toad and Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog habitat, Lahontan cutthroat trout, Monarch butterfly, Northern goshawk, whitebark pine, rare plants such as the Tioga sedge and Mono lake lupine, and American marten. Nearby sightings of the very rare Sierra Nevada red fox and wolverine have also been recorded.
The varied Sierra Nevada slopes and streams that were proposed for cattle grazing are in the homeland of the Bridgeport Paiute and other Paiute and Shoshone people. The Bridgeport Indian Colony identified the plant Parish’s Yampah (Perideridia parishii) as at risk from cattle grazing.
See the draft Decision at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=49993