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Courthouse News Service, June 11, 2010

Great Old Broads Sue Feds Over Cows
By Ryan Abbott

WASHINGTON - Five environmental groups - including Great Old Broads for Wilderness - claim the Department of the Interior's low grazing fees on federal lands let livestock chew up the environment and cost the government money that should be spent on conservation.

The Center for Biological Diversity and others say the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service ignored their 2005 petition seeking to overhaul the grazing fee system created in 1988.

"The adverse environmental impacts caused by livestock grazing are well-documented, and include adverse affects to soils, streamside vegetation, watersheds, streams, native plants, aquatic species, and an increase in invasive plant species," the groups say.

Part of the money from grazing fees must be spent on mitigation and restoration, and the chronic undercharging for the cattle industry robs the government, and taxpayers, of money that should be used to repair the harm done by cattle, according to the complaint.

"The low and below market value grazing fee imposed by defendants for the public lands managed by the BLM and Forest Service contributes to the adverse impacts caused by livestock grazing on these public lands for two primary reasons," the complaint states: "(1) the below fair market value fee encourages even marginal lands to be grazed on an annual basis, and increases the number of livestock on other areas; and (2) a percentage of the funds collected is required to be used on mitigation and restoration from livestock grazing, and thus a lower fee equates to less funding for environmental mitigation and restoration of affected lands."

Plaintiffs include the Wildearth Guardians, the Western Watersheds Project, and the Oregon Natural Desert Association.

They say they submitted their original petition to change the grazing system in 2005 "due to significant new information and circumstances," but the feds have ignored them.

They claim the federal agencies are violating the Administrative Procedure Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. They seek full environmental impact studies, higher grazing fees, and costs

They are represented by Matt Kenna of Durango, Colo. 

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton