For Immediate Release, April 18, 2007
||Bill Marlett, Oregon Natural Desert Association, (541) 610-3822, cell
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 243-6643
Judge Finds Malheur National Forest Grazing Unlawfully
Impacts Endangered Trout
PORTLAND, Ore.— Fish advocates hailed a decision from a federal court yesterday that rejected the Bush administration’s plan for rolling back protections to threatened steelhead and bull trout from livestock grazing on eastern Oregon’s Malheur National Forest, violating the Endangered Species Act.
The decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) and Center for Biological Diversity. The lawsuit addressed a lack of accountability in restoring habitat for listed steelhead and bull trout in the John Day River Basin, a world-class river hosting the largest refuge of all wild steelhead remaining in the Columbia Basin.
Bill Marlett, executive director of ONDA, applauded the court's ruling. “This decision removes the good-old-boy politics of livestock grazing from needed recovery of steelhead habitat.”
The court found that the government had “failed to evaluate whether short-term habitat degradation caused each grazing season will reduce the steelhead’s ability to survive and recover,” in light of “overwhelming evidence of habitat degradation” from livestock grazing on critical habitat.
The government itself acknowledged that the forest’s grazing program would degrade critical habitat, thus impeding steelhead recovery. The court also faulted the grazing plan for failing to protect the bull trout properly.
“Our goal goes beyond simply getting threatened steelhead off the endangered species list,” said Marlett, “to recover steelhead to levels in the John Day so they can once again be a central social, cultural and economic asset to people in the basin and to all Oregonians.”
The decision will likely result in sharp reductions in grazing of livestock on streams that provide critical habitat for the two fish species. Removing livestock from streams will allow streamside vegetation to provide needed shade to the fish and will help keep the banks from eroding.
“Recognizing that endangered animals like steelhead trout can’t survive if the places where they live are destroyed, the Endangered Species Act included strong provisions to protect habitat,” said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The court’s decision upholding the protections of the Act is good both for steelhead and for the streams they live in.”
The Malheur National Forest is located in eastern Oregon’s Blue Mountains. It includes portions of the Upper John Day, Middle Fork John Day, North Fork John Day, and Malheur Rivers.
Concluded Marlett, “The federal agencies are finally being held accountable, and this decision gives them the chance to do the right thing.”