Idaho Falls Citizen Journalism

Leslie Shumate's picture

In a report to the September 11 meeting of the Lemhi County Commissioners Salmon Bureau of Land Management Field Manager Linda Price described conditions along Morgan Bar which have drawn BLM attention.

Price said some car bodies have been discovered in the water at a spot next to private land along the river bank near the Morgan Bar Recreation site. Some of the river bank at that point is being held in place by tires and Price said it is her intention that the car bodies and tires are going to be removed. Fears have been expressed that removing the debris will cause flooding on land that is currently protected by the obstructions. She said causing flooding is not her intention.

Price said she has been consulting with hydrologists and riparian experts as to what the results might be when the cars and tires are removed. She is awaiting a report from the hydrologist to see how high the berm will have to be to protect the orchard and house in that area. Aerial photography shows the majority of an alternate channel is on BLM land. She is expecting the work to be done during next year’s low water season. The tires along Morgan Bar Campground will be removed, the bank re-contoured and the berm rebuilt.

Price said she is aware there are liability concerns as to what goes downriver when the largest of the tractor tires are pulled out. The commissioners recommended getting in touch with the Army Corps of Engineers for any additional permitting needs and recommendations. She said she will do all the 404 permitting processes required for the Morgan Bar river bank removals and will work on getting access to downriver tire sites.

Commissioner Brett Barsalou remembered boyhood times when old stock cars that were no longer usable for racing were intentionally put in the river as rip rap. It is thought the underwater collection of cars at Morgan Bar came from that era.

As to Rangeland Health Assessments and the grazing renewal process, Price explained agency personnel go out on the range to collect data that indicates overall range health. Watershed data is also collected for the permit renewal process. 

The Canyon/Big Timber rangeland assessment in the Leadore area was started in 2010. Getting through the subsequent litigation filed against the BLM by Western Watersheds has taken six years. The agency won the suit and has renewed the grazing permits. Price said she signed the final grazing decision in 2012 and the court decision was received early this year. She said she has held off on initiating any other large watershed assessments until the court decision was in hand. 

Price said the most exciting part of the story is the agency is going forward with new grazing permit polices that are more flexible than in the past. The Animal Unit per Month numbers are the same, meaning the amount of forage they can take off the range hasn’t changed, but the number of cows and season of use has a larger window in which to work. Price said, “We want to give these permittees the maximum flexibility. We did that in all those grazing permits on Canyon Creek-Big Timber. So, we’re going forward with that kind of flexibility in all of our other grazing permits.” 

Price and the County Commissioners agreed to stay in touch on an as needed, flexible basis.

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