Injunction on grazing land could devastate ranchers

A new preliminary injunction motion filed by environmental groups could result in the demise of up to 17 ranchers in Grant County and jeopardize the continuation of grazing on public lands throughout the West.  The Oregon Natural Desert Association, Western Watersheds Project, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed for a preliminary injunction in the ONDA v. Kimball case on April 10, 2009 that would affect 6 allotments on the Malheur National Forest.  If the preliminary injunction is granted by the court, grazing would be prohibited on a total of 8 allotments in the Forest.  The court granted a similar preliminary injunction on 2 other allotments last year that remains in effect.

The impact of the new motion, if granted, would devastate the livestock industry and would negatively impact the already suffering economy in Grant County.  As a result of the preliminary injunction that was granted last year, affected ranchers were forced to sell livestock and change their normal management practices.  As a result, they have seen significant losses, both in the condition of their herd and to their businesses.

The new preliminary injunction motion is just the latest development in a case originally filed by the Oregon Natural Desert Association to address perceived deficiencies in a steelhead biological opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  In the preliminary injunction motion, the environmentalists claim that the Forest Service and NMFS have failed to restrict grazing to protect listed steelhead.  The environmentalists base many of their claims on information they have collected using a bank alteration “standard” that has been relied upon by NMFS to determine that grazing may harm steelhead.

Several ranchers became involved in the case in order to force the agencies to fix this standard as it was not intended to be used as a method to assess grazing impacts to steelhead.  Yet that is exactly how it is being used.  The Forest Service has expressed its concern over the fact that the bank alteration standard has been improperly relied upon by NMFS.  Despite these concerns, NMFS refuses to fix the biological opinion and this erroneous standard is now the key tool being used by the environmental groups to stop grazing from the Forest.

The ranchers’ position is that public lands have always been managed under a multiple use concept. They believe if they are not successful in defending their right to utilize these lands, these lands will be put at risk. This new preliminary injunction will affect over 250,000 acres that will be highly vulnerable to catastrophic fire if left ungrazed and unmanaged.

If granted, the impact of the preliminary injunction will be permanent.  Because there are no affordable forage alternatives sufficient to feed the roughly 3400 cows relying on these allotments, the ranchers will have no choice but to significantly downsize or go out of business.

The injunction will also jeopardize the ranchers’ ability to continue their efforts to fix the standards being relied on by NMFS, which are now being applied by NMFS against at least one other BLM District in Oregon.  If this standard is not fixed, ranchers can expect to see similar injunction efforts in other national Forests and BLM districts in Oregon and other Western states.

Donations to help the ranchers can be sent to the Oregon Cattlemen’s Stewardship Fund, 3415 Commercial St. SE, STE #217, Salem, Oregon 97302.

Contacts: Ken Brooks, 541-421-3032 and Ken Holliday, 541-575-1716

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