Grazing in Oregon

Environmental groups are targeting grazing in the Fremont-Winema National Forest.

Environmentalists are continuing their legal battle against grazing in Oregon’s Fremont-Winema National Forest with a lawsuit over federal management of a 170,000-acre livestock allotment.

The complaint filed by Concerned Friends of the Winema and four other environmental groups marks the fourth case in roughly a decade alleging violations of federal statutes in the Antelope allotment. Environmental groups won more than $340,000 in litigation costs for two of those earlier cases.

In the most recent lawsuit, the U.S. Forest Service is accused of unlawfully approving a 10-year grazing permit for the allotment despite “irreparable harm” to the threatened Oregon spotted frog and wetland plants and mollusks.

“Rather than protect these special resources, the Forest Service has continued to authorize livestock grazing on the allotment that its own monitoring and experts acknowledge is causing chronic damage and unacceptable impacts to these riparian areas and species,” the complaint said. “Mitigation measures — such as fences and water troughs — have not been effective at preventing cattle from harming the sensitive species and their habitat.”

A representative of the Forest Service said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation and Capital Press was unable to reach an attorney who has represented affected ranchers in the past.

Last year, a “biological opinion” conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that grazing plans for the allotment are unlikely to jeopardize the frog or adversely affect its critical habitat, as long as certain conditions are followed.

Because the plans only allow for “moderate” levels of grazing and require fencing and gates to shield Oregon spotted frogs from livestock during sensitive periods of low water, the effects on the species are expected to be insignificant, the report said.

“Therefore, since riparian system function will be maintained or improved, and since water quality and quantity will be maintained, and given Oregon spotted frogs are dependent upon riparian and aquatic systems, we expect that habitat function for Oregon spotted frogs would not change,” according to the agency.

However, the recent lawsuit alleges that grazing will be expanded into “exponentially more sensitive riparian areas” that were previously closed to livestock, which wasn’t properly analyzed in the Forest Service’s environmental analysis of the plans.

For example, the agency will permit grazing in Oregon spotted frog habitat to increase from 27 acres to 525 acres without adequately explaining how it will “discourage” grazing during vulnerable seasons, the complaint said.

These and other alleged problems violate the National Forest Management Act, National Environmental Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs want a federal judge to overturn the Forest Service’s grazing plans and prohibit livestock from the allotment until the agency complies with those federal laws.

Earlier this year, a federal judge dissolved an injunction against grazing in the Chemult Pasture — a major portion of the Antelope allotment — after finding the Forest Service sufficiently supported its conclusion that Oregon spotted frogs won’t be harmed.

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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