A federal judge's injunction forbidding the U.S. Forest Service from even pulling a weed within the 2.3 million-acre Wallowa-Whitman National Forest illustrates how environmental groups continue to use federal laws to get what they want at the expense of other interests.
Federal environmental laws are so poorly written that special interests routinely use them to halt activities they don't like. In the Wallowa-Whitman case, the League of Wilderness Defenders-Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project wanted to stop or reduce cattle grazing in the forest, so they sued over the Forest Service's plan to get rid of weeds.
It doesn't make sense, you say? Read on.
The group's lawyer argued that cattle can spread weeds through their manure -- that's the only part of the case that makes sense -- but instead of getting rid of the weeds, the group wants to get rid of the cattle.
U.S. District Judge Michael Simon has now decided to make the Forest Service review its plan to spray about 20,000 acres with herbicide. That is in spite of the fact that the agency has already reviewed it "species by species, area by area and chemical by chemical," Jason Hill, an attorney for the agency, said during oral arguments in the case.
But -- here comes the unintended consequence -- in ordering the review and stopping Forest Service from carrying out its plan to get rid of weeds, he also barred the agency from doing anything. Under his injunction, no one can so much as pull a dandelion within the national forest, which is the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
Exactly how that will benefit the ecosystem of the forest is unclear, but people who live near it are furious about the lack of common sense exhibited in the judge's injunction.
The injunction threatens to destroy any progress that has been made controlling weeds in the region. Much of the private land in northeastern Oregon is surrounded by or near the national forest.
To the region's farmers and ranchers, weeds are an enemy.
"They out-compete your native and desirable plants," Mark Porter, the Wallowa County Weed Control Board chairman, told the Capital Press. "There's seeds blowing in the air right now that we're watching because we can't do anything on the forest."
The judge in his 59-page ruling has created a predicament in which private landowners are required to eradicate weeds on their property but the federal government is forbidden to eradicate them on its property.
A reading of the judge's order does not indicate whether he understood the consequences of his injunction. We doubt he did, but a tiny dose of common sense -- and environmental laws that are reasonable -- would have been enough to avoid it.