The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is taking a closer look at its management rules and, as a result, rethinking a longstanding handshake deal allowing the region's ranchers to use the north side of the Snake River for cattle grazing.
This morning's Lewiston Tribune reports that ranchers, for more than 40 years, have used a narrow sliver of land—just west of Clarkston, Wash.—for grazing in the late fall, winter and early spring. But the unfenced land is owned by the Corps of Engineers, which "is taking a harder look at its responsibility" to wildlife habitat.
"It was just a gentleman's agreement that the ranchers could use the rock quarries," rancher Bill Ryan told the Tribune.
But Ryan has recently been told that he needs to build a fence to keep his cows from grazing on public land.
Ryan told the Tribune that a new fence would cost an estimated $35,000 per mile and also cut off migration corridors used by cows that move from feeding areas to springs and watering holes.
Now, ranchers are turning to Washington State University to help craft a trial study to see if it can be proved that seasonal grazing is actually beneficial to wildlife habitat by keeping weeds down and reducing fire risk.
"The focus right now ... is to try to work within our existing authorities and abilities to try to figure out if we can get through this," said Kelly.