Environmental groups are challenging a court ruling in which they prevailed because it doesn’t go so far as to block grazing along the Oregon-California border.
For five years, the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center and the Klamath Forest Alliance have been fighting against grazing on three allotments that total 48,000 acres along the Siskiyou Crest.
They claim that cattle from the Klamath National Forest in California cause environmental problems when they “drift” into unauthorized allotments in Oregon’s Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest.
Their lawsuit was dismissed in 2013 by a federal judge who found there’s little evidence of serious resource damage from cows, but that ruling was recently overturned by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The 9th Circuit found that the U.S. Forest Service decided that cattle drift caused minimal harm even though the agency “provided essentially no information about the environmental impact.”
Forest Service officials argued there’s no quantitative data about the effects of cattle drift, but the 9th Circuit ruled that it’s “exactly the point” of an environmental assessment to attempt to find such information — especially since “the record was replete with anecdotal and photographic evidence suggesting impact from drifting cattle, which should have been discussed.”
Due to this oversight, the 9th Circuit ordered the Forest Service to reconsider its environmental assessment and “develop sufficient evidence to determine the likely environmental impact of its plan” on the national forest in Oregon.
If the effect is determined to be significant, the agency will have to conduct a more comprehensive analysis known as an environmental impact statement, the appeals court held.
The plaintiffs have now asked the 9th Circuit for a rehearing of the case, arguing the Forest Service’s authorization of the 10-year grazing project in the area should be vacated, which would effectively end grazing until the environmental analysis is revised.
Federal projects approved in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act due to an insufficiently “hard look” at environmental consequences must be vacated except in “rare circumstances,” the groups said in a court filing.
Such plans may only remain effective if they have dire environmental effects or otherwise cause catastrophic disruptions, which does not apply to stopping grazing along the Siskiyou Crest, the plaintiffs argue.
Allowing the grazing authorizations to stay effective would allow the Forest Service to rationalize its decision in the new environmental analysis and undermine “the purpose of NEPA to foster informed, democratic decision-making,” the groups said.
The Forest Service will only lose a nominal amount of grazing fees if the authorizations are vacated and ranchers can buy hay or lease private pastures while the allotments are unavailable, the environmentalists claim.