An Oregon ranch is challenging the federal government’s decision to eliminate grazing on more than 8,000 acres of public land to study vegetation.
Cahill Ranches of Adel, Ore., has filed a complaint alleging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s decision will encourage juniper encroachment and wildfires while harming sage grouse populations.
“Eliminating grazing is not necessary to prevent irreparable damage to sage grouse or sage grouse habitat and the best available science shows that eliminating management will increase the risk of loss of habitat from rapidly spreading and intense wildfire and juniper expansion,” the lawsuit said.
A representative of BLM said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Rangeland conditions within the 8,282-acre Sucker Creek pasture have been determined to be in good health by the BLM, whose decision to re-authorize grazing in the area for 10 years drew no objections from environmental groups, the complaint said.
The agency has also already conducted a juniper research project in the area, the complaint said.
Cahill Ranches postponed juniper removal on its property between 2007 and 2014, providing the BLM with a “control area” for comparison with areas where the invasive trees were removed.
After the conclusion of the study, which determined sage grouse reproduction and survival improved in areas treated for juniper, Cahill Ranches resumed removing the trees from its property.
The BLM’s decision to halt grazing in the pasture to study the natural development of vegetation is thus unnecessary, particularly since it is near two federal refuges where grazing is already prohibited, according to the plaintiffs.
Meanwhile, prohibiting grazing within the Sucker Creek Pasture will “significantly reduce or eliminate” Cahill Ranches’ cattle operations on the larger Rahilly-Gravelly Allotment, the complaint said.
The pasture makes up 44 percent of the 18,678-acre allotment, so disallowing grazing there would disrupt the ranch’s ability to rotate cattle, which is necessary for vegetation to recover in some areas while it’s consumed elsewhere, the plaintiffs claim.
“The decision to eliminate grazing from the Sucker Creek pasture fails to consider the overall impact on the economic viability of the Cahill Ranches, and consequently, whether Cahill Ranches can afford to continue sage grouse habitat improvement projects,” the complaint said.
The lawsuit calls the decision to halt grazing in the pasture an “artifact of a top-down decision process that fails to account for the local conditions on the ground” in violation of federal administrative, land management and grazing statutes.
Attorneys with the Western Resources Legal Center, a nonprofit representing Cahill Ranches, are asking U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke in Medford, Ore., to overturn the decision as unlawful.