This editorial originally ran in the Wallowa County Chieftain on April 3, 2018.
Greater Hells Canyon Council is working hard to find a better balance between livestock grazing on public lands and the recovery of the threatened plant Spalding's catchfly. The legal case that we filed in January regarding grazing allotments in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and Hells Canyon Wilderness will not stop livestock grazing in the recreation area, Wilderness, or on other public lands.
We are not asking the court to halt or alter grazing activities while the case is pending; current grazing will be able to proceed uninterrupted. A favorable court decision would not remove cattle from these allotments. Instead, it would lead to reasonable management changes that allow for the continuation of grazing while also protecting this threatened plant species. Grazing and protecting Spalding’s catchfly in the these allotment areas do not need to be mutually exclusive activities.
Protecting rare and threatened plants like Spalding's catchfly is an important part of why Congress created the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. The canyon grasslands of the Hells Canyon region are botanically unique and contain plant species found nowhere else on earth. The Forest Service estimates the recreation area is home to 381 different species of wildlife. Its watersheds provide clean waters and valuable habitats for native fish.
The grasslands in dispute are only a small portion of the 44,000 acres being looked at in the Forest Service’s analysis. That analysis looked at 39 pastures between the Imnaha and Snake Rivers. Of those 39 pastures, nine have known catchfly populations. Only pastures with catchfly populations could be affected by a court decision.
The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest has the largest livestock grazing program of any National Forest in Oregon and Washington. The pastures with known catchfly on these allotments make up much less than one-percent of the rangelands managed by the forest. Despite covering such a small percentage of public rangelands in the region, these nine pastures could play an important role in the plant’s recovery.
As outlined in the Recovery Plan for Spalding's catchfly, in order for the plant to be delisted, 27 large protected populations must be identified in five different areas, including the canyon grasslands of the Hells Canyon region. To date, only five of the seven required canyon grasslands populations have been identified, not including those looked at in the Forest Service analysis for the allotments in the lower Imnaha area. Why would we want to look for another unknown population when we have one right here that could qualify as protected? We need to ensure this population remains stable over time. That is what we expect this lawsuit to accomplish.
So far, the recovery of Spalding's catchfly has all the hallmarks of a success story, but the final chapter has yet to be written. We hope the plant is delisted soon. Until it is, we’re going to keep working to get it there.