Friday, October 28, 2011

HCPC Files Opening Argument in Livestock Grazing "Categorical Exclusion" Case

As previously reported, HCPC filed suit last winter to protect close to a half-million acres spanning three of eastern Oregon's National Forests--the Wallowa-Whitman, Umatilla, and Malheur--from the negative effects of livestock grazing. This past week, we filed our opening argument in the federal District Court of Oregon challenging the Forest Service's abuse of its authority under a 2005 Appropriations Rider by exempting the renewal of 10-year grazing permits for large, contiguous blocks of land from full environmental review and the public participation process.

These public lands contain a variety of special resource conditions that demand a thorough effects analysis. Some are located within areas Congress set aside for heightened protection such as the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, and the corridors of the Imnaha and North Fork John Day Wild & Scenic Rivers, and all contain a multitude of federally threatened or sensitive fish, wildlife, and native plant species, unique habitats and already water-quality impaired streams.

In fact the agency's abuse was so widespread in regards to the Umatilla National Forest that it categorically excluded from environmental review livestock grazing on close to one-quarter of this 1.4 million-acre National Forest (comprising nearly all of the Heppner Ranger District on the Forest's west end, See Heppner District map below). The lands and sensitive waterbodies at issue in this case have been grazed by livestock for over a century, but in most cases the Forest Service has never conducted a thorough review of the negative, and potentially significant, environmental effects to the many special resources that inhabit these areas.

The Forest Service's response to our arguments is due mid-December. Several of the livestock producers that hold grazing permits for these public lands have also hired attorneys to intervene in the case and argue against the government's need to conduct a full and public environmental analysis.

We hope to resolve this case by early next year to ensure these special areas and resources get the overdue protection they deserve. Stay tuned for future updates!

Staff Attorney, Jennifer Schwartz

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