An Oregon ranch has again filed a lawsuit challenging a grazing prohibition on 8,200 acres of public land, arguing the restriction will harm the sage grouse.
Cahill Ranches of Adel, Ore., alleges the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s decision has violated federal laws governing grazing, land management and administrative procedures.
“Converting the Sucker Creek pasture to a no management reserve will harm sage grouse by increasing the risk, spread, and intensity of wildfire and the invasion of juniper, increasing the loss of sage grouse habitat and reducing the productivity of sage grouse,” the complaint said.
A representative of the BLM said the agency “respectfully declines to comment on this litigation at this time.”
The ranch previously sued the BLM over the grazing prohibition but dismissed its case in 2019 when the agency issued a new resource management plan that allowed grazing in the Sucker Creek pasture.
However, the BLM’s earlier restriction was effectively reinstated when a federal judge issued an injunction against the agency’s updated 2019 resource management plan, which governed about 125 million acres in the area.
Eliminating grazing from the 8,200-acre pasture complicates livestock rotations within the larger Rahilly-Gravelly allotment because cattle can’t be released onto it while other areas are being rested, the complaint said.
“In the case of the Rahilly-Gravelly Allotment, the elimination of the Sucker Creek pasture, which comprises 44% of the allotment, renders it impossible to maintain the permitted grazing levels on the allotment,” the lawsuit claims.
Continued grazing in the pasture was supported by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife as well as the BLM’s own environmental analysis of the allotment, the complaint said.
A 10-year grazing permit for the allotment was issued in 2014 based on that assessment, which wasn’t protested by “anti-grazing groups or anyone else,” the lawsuit said.
“Grazing was eliminated on the Sucker Creek pasture not because grazing was harming sage grouse,” whose population was doing well in the allotment, the complaint said.
“Rather, grazing was eliminated to provide for a study control area, where vegetation would be allowed to develop naturally to determine how it would affect sage grouse relative to areas where vegetation is being managed,” the lawsuit alleges.
However, the 2015 resource management plan prohibited grazing in the pasture without actually authorizing or funding such a study, which would have been unnecessary anyway because similar research was already conducted in the area earlier, the plaintiff said.
“The study concluded that there was a significant improvement in sage grouse reproduction and survival in areas where juniper is removed relative to areas where juniper is left untreated,” the complaint said.
By creating an “unmanaged control” in the pasture, the 2015 plan will “allow unfettered juniper expansion,” harming sage brush and native grasses to the grouse’s detriment, the lawsuit said.
“Consequently, the 2015 RMPA decision fails to preserve the range and its resources from destruction or unnecessary injury and precludes orderly use, improvement, and development of the range,” violating the Taylor Grazing Act, the plaintiff alleges.
The complaint also said the reinstated 2015 plan failed to examine the likely negative impacts from prohibiting grazing in the pasture, which violates the Federal Land Policy and Management Act as well as the Administrative Procedure Act.
“The headquarters’ decision was made without any apparent consideration of the local allotment-level decision, the localized facts supporting the local decision, and without any explanation that supports the reversal of position,” the lawsuit said.