U.S. Water News Online
PORTLAND, Ore. -- In what many here are calling "a victory for state rights," Portland Judge Ancer Haggerty has ruled that the U.S. Forest Service must have state approval before allowing cattle grazing along polluted Oregon streams.
The decision gives state environmental officials significant new powers to restrict or curtail grazing along thousands of miles of streams that have suffered environmental damage. The decision will not automatically remove cattle from federal grazing areas, but requires state review as permits are released.
Oregon recently listed nearly 900 waterways statewide that fail to meet federal water standards. These streams include many areas of the John Day, Grande Ronde, and other river drainages where grazing is common and wild salmon and steelhead spawn.
Observers say the ruling breaks new legal ground by issuing an injunction that prohibits the Forest Service from granting new grazing permits along polluted Oregon streams without a special state review required by the Clean Water Act.
"This is a victory for state rights," said Mike Axeline, an attorney representing the Oregon Natural Desert Association. "It gives the state a lot more leverage in places where grazing is going to cause problems."
Environmental attorneys said the ruling also bolsters the case for similar reviews of mining, logging, and other Forest Service activities that could cause harm to 12,000 miles of waterways on the state list.
The Desert Association has been at the forefront of a broad environmental battle to restrict public lands grazing. That battle has included numerous challenges to grazing permits and a November ballot initiative that could force many streams to be fenced off from cattle.
Cattlemen have been working with federal and state officials in a variety of programs to improve streams, and have disputed many of the environmentalists' pollution claims.
Haggerty's decision resulted from a 1994 lawsuit that the Desert Association, along with five other environmental and fish conservation groups, filed against the Forest Service. It targeted a heavily grazed steelhead trout creek that flows through the Malheur National Forest. The groups submitted evidence -- photographs, affidavits, etc. -- which pointed to grazing as a major source of environmental degradation along streams.
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