A growing dispute between the Oregon Cattlemen's Association and the U.S. Forest Service over restoration of a creek in Eastern Oregon exposes several large problems and drips in irony.
At issue is the Forest Service's efforts to rehabilitate a portion of Camp Creek, which is part of the John Day River watershed. To do that, the agency has used heavy equipment to tear out and replace culverts in the creek, which is habitat for spring chinook salmon and steelhead, according to the Forest Service's 2008 action plan.
The agency is also moving logs in the creek to create spawning pools and closing miles of logging roads in that portion of the Malheur National Forest.
Ironically, the Forest Service is undoing what it did earlier. The logs were originally improperly placed, and as a result the water was too shallow and consequently too warm for the fish.
And the culverts that are a problem were installed by the Forest Service or with Forest Service approval.
Because of those factors the number of fish declined, according to the action plan.
That the Forest Service has to correct previous work is bad enough, but the cattlemen take issue with the work because they are sensitive about how creeks are treated in the region. They feel as though they unfairly get the blame for all that ails the fish population. It's as though if a single fish goes missing, the environmental lawyers show up on their doorstep demanding to know why and trying to kick them off their national forest allotments.
These lawyers have dragged cattlemen into court to blame them for declining fish populations -- when in this case the work the Forest Service did 20 years ago appears to be the problem.
And the fact that the Forest Service is using heavy equipment to yard out culverts and reposition logs in the creek is an irony not lost on the cattlemen. As the cattlemen see it, the work the Forest Service is doing is worse than anything a cow ever did to that environment.
"To see the devastation that occurred in the name of fish habitat is just mind-boggling," Curtis Martin, incoming president of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, told the Capital Press.
"The double standard between logging, grazing and what they can do is off the chart," Ken Holliday, a rancher in the area, said. "You can run cows forever and not do what they did."
That's an indisputable fact.
In this case, one wonders whether the solutions are worse than the "problem."