Summer 2002

The Big Dry

Cows plus drought equals misery for rivers in the West

Top 10 western rivers trampled by the livestock industry

1. Bear River -- Utah, Wyoming, Idaho

2. Salmon River -- Idaho

3. Gila River -- New Mexico, Arizona

4. John Day River -- Oregon

5. Owyhee River -- Oregon, Nevada, Idaho

6. Sweetwater River -- Wyoming

7. Big Hole River -- Montana

8. Little Humboldt River -- Nevada

9. Yampa River -- Colorado

10. Kern River -- California

Buyout or Bailout?

A Killing in the Klamath

2002 Cascadia Times

Top 10 western rivers trampled by the livestock industry

8 Little Humboldt River - Nevada


Remnants of Lake Lahontan

The Lahontan cutthroat trout once occupied thousands miles of streams in Nevada and California. Today it is confined to a few hundred miles of streams - most of which are isolated from each other. Since 1970, it has been listed as a threatened species.

Four remnant populations of Lahontan trout can be found in the Humboldt River of northern Nevada, the only major basin entirely within Nevada, flowing south and east from mountains in northeastern Nevada before vanishing into the Humboldt Sink in western Nevada. Thousands of years ago the area was inundated by huge Lake Lahontan, which gives the trout its name, before it turned mostly to desert. Today low summer flows and river damage caused by livestock production threaten to eliminate the cutthroat from the basin.

The South Fork Little Humboldt is home to one of these four populations, but perhaps not for long. The habitat is getting worse, according to the Bureau of Land Management, and Oro Vaca, the Colorado company that grazes cattle on both private and public land in the basin, has resisted efforts to protect it.

Since 1999, the BLM has been trying to improve conditions in the South Fork, while, Oro Vaca has repeatedly appealed these reforms.

That isn't to say that the BLM's efforts are adequate. For example, it plans to fence about 4 miles of cutthroat habitat, leaving more than a dozen miles unfenced. The fencing does not keep cattle out of the streams and riparian areas. Rather, it fences them in.

Oro Vaca's lands are "even more devastated than the public lands," says Laird Lucas, of the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies. "According to federal agency data and photos that we have obtained, the streambanks are almost completely denuded, unstable, eroding and downcut. The streams are filled with sediment and water temperatures are often at levels lethal to trout."

The BLM made changes in grazing practices on Oro Vaca's public grazing allotments in 1999 after consulting with the Fish and Wildlife Service. The changes protected trout habitat. But Oro Vaca appealed to the Interior Board of Land Appeals, and won.

In 2000 the BLM again consulted with the Fish and Wildlife Service, which issued a "jeopardy" ruling, meaning Oro Vaca's cows threatened the continued existence of Lahontan cutthroat trout. In response, the BLM again ordered tighter grazing restrictions, and again Oro Vaca appealed. It lost before the Interior lands board, but won a half-victory in federal court. The BLM agreed to let cattle stay on the land all summer long.

Stream conditions worsened as a result. In 2001, after two years of excessive grazing, the BLM again ordered restrictions.

The photos on this page indicate Oro Vaca continued to allow its cattle to trample riparian areas and streams.

A new grazing plan was put in effect in 2002.