Ranchers Win in Federal Lands Grazing Case

In an order issued June 15, Oregon Federal District Court Judge Ancer Haggerty determined that environmental groups failed to show "that all grazing must cease" on allotments in the Malheur National Forest.

According to a June 19 press release, the judge reversed a 2008 order that stopped grazing on 100,000 acres of federal forest lands and denied a request to enjoin grazing on an additional 200,000 acres. Haggerty determined that ranchers and the Forest Service had demonstrated that grazing would not harm threatened steelhead.

The ruling directly impacts 17 ranches in Grant County but has ramification on the viability of public lands grazing throughout the West. The Oregon Natural Desert Association, Western Watersheds Project, and the Center for Biological Diversity (ONDA) filed for a preliminary injunction in the ONDA v. Kimball case on April 10. If the preliminary injunction had been granted, it would have caused significant harm to the livestock industry and the economy of Grant County, according to rancher Ken Holliday.

Haggerty's ruling provides ranchers a key victory in a case originally filed by ONDA to address claimed deficiencies in a steelhead biological opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). In the preliminary injunction motion, the ONDA claimed that the Forest Service and NMFS failed to restrict grazing to protect listed steelhead. ONDA based its claims on information it collected using a bank alteration standard.

Attorney for the ranchers, Elizabeth Howard of Dunn Carney, indicated that "the bank alteration standard has little to no relevance to efforts to protect steelhead. Yet, it is being used to harm ranchers that the experts say are maintaining a healthy ecosystem."

Ranchers became involved in this case to force NMFS to fix the bank alteration standard because it was not intended to be used as a method to assess grazing impacts to steelhead. "After testimony from experts at the hearing on June 12, it is even more clear that bank alteration is being used incorrectly," said local rancher Ken Brooks. Ranchers hope that agencies will fix the standard this year.

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