A federal judge has dismissed an Oregon ranch’s lawsuit that sought to block the possible “wild and scenic” designation of a stretch of the Rogue River.
In 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management decided a 63-mile segment of the river was “suitable” for protection under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
The Double R Ranch, which owns roughly 1,000 acres along the river, filed a complaint against BLM last year arguing the segment wasn’t “free-flowing” as required by that statute.
The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and the Oregon Aggregate and Concrete Producers Association joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs because they feared a designation would restrict grazing and mining.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper in Washington, D.C., has now thrown out the complaint because the harms allegedly suffered by the plaintiffs are too hypothetical to give them legal standing in federal court.
While the local BLM district has found the 63-mile stretch suitable as a “wild and scenic” river, the actual designation would still have to be recommended by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, approved as a bill by Congress and signed by the president, he said.
“In any event, few things are more hypothetical and speculative than Congress passing a specific act of legislation,” the judge said.
Ranchers and miners worry that “wild and scenic” protection will prohibit streambank stabilization projects and lead to the loss of water rights, grazing rights and mining rights.
Even if the designation was finalized, the plaintiffs could still seek permission for various projects and activities along that stretch of the river, Cooper said.
“Plaintiffs do not explain why it is certainly likely that their permits would be denied given that such actions or permits can be approved. Thus, even the last link in the causal chain remains somewhat speculative,” he said.
Jerome Rosa, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, said the ruling was disappointing, since the lawsuit was effectively the last chance to prevent the “wild and scenic” designation.
Once a river segment is deemed suitable, it’s likely to receive federal protection under the statute, which will probably involve grazing curtailments, Rosa said.
“We know our ranchers’ ability to do business would definitely change,” he said.
Rogue Riverkeeper, a local environmental group, had urged the judge to dismiss the case because the plaintiffs didn’t face any imminent injury from the designation.
The 63-mile stretch is unique because three dams that once impounded its water have been removed, and it would connect two segments of the Rogue River already designated as “wild and scenic,” the group said.