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For Immediate Release, December 30, 2010

Contact:  Brent Fenty, ONDA, (541) 330-2638
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Jon Marvel, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 788-2290

Grazing Halted to Protect Steelhead Trout on a
Quarter-million Acres of Malheur National Forest

PORTLAND, Ore.— A federal judge today barred livestock grazing harmful to endangered steelhead trout on more than a quarter-million acres of public land on the Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon. District Judge Ancer Haggerty ordered the U.S. Forest Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to reconsider the effects of the federal agencies’ grazing plan on native steelhead streams before grazing can resume.

According to Judge Haggerty, grazing has harmed steelhead by damaging the streams they depend on. The court’s order prohibits the Forest Service from allowing grazing on a vast area, including nearly 200 miles of critical steelhead habitat, until the agency complies with the Endangered Species Act. Along another 100 miles of steelhead streams, the court ordered the Forest Service to continue to carry out protective measures it approved during the last two years. The judge also ordered the Forest Service to comply with its steelhead habitat monitoring obligations under the National Forest Management Act and the Malheur Forest Plan before resuming grazing.

Today’s court order is the result of long-running challenges to Forest Service grazing by the Oregon Natural Desert Association, Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project that began in 2003. It follows Judge Haggerty’s June 2010 ruling that the Forest Service’s grazing plan violated the Endangered Species Act and National Forest Management Act along more than 300 miles of steelhead streams in the John Day River Basin.

“Today’s decision puts the responsibility for protecting steelhead squarely on the agencies,” said Brent Fenty, ONDA’s executive director. “The court makes clear that the agencies have to make steelhead protection their highest priority, and that they cannot let riparian grazing continue until the agencies create a plan that complies with the law.”

In his ruling earlier this year, Judge Haggerty noted evidence that streamside grazing failed to meet ecological standards designed to conserve steelhead. The standards, established by the Forest Service and Fisheries Service, are meant to protect the key elements of healthy fish streams: stable stream banks and overhanging vegetation that keep streams clear and cold. The Forest Service’s grazing program has damaged stream banks much more severely than is allowed under federal standards.

“This decision insures that the Forest Service must give up its business-as-usual grazing management,” said Jon Marvel, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “There will be no grazing on hundreds of miles of important fish streams until the Forest Service and NMFS can guarantee that grazing will not harm steelhead.”

Judge Haggerty’s order is the latest in a series of decisions that have resulted in significant protections for threatened steelhead. The judge issued a preliminary ruling in 2008 barring grazing on two allotments, which protected more than 90 miles of steelhead streams. In 2009, the court imposed strong conditions to restrict grazing and limit damage to streams. In the places where the court’s orders have prevented grazing during the past two years, even a single year of rest has allowed for significant initial recovery of riparian plant communities, stream channels and fish habitat.

“Suspending grazing on more than 200 miles of stream on the Malheur National Forest will not just benefit endangered steelhead, but numerous other wildlife species dependent on healthy rivers for their survival,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It will also benefit the public by improving water quality and recreational opportunities, such as fishing, bird-watching and boating. Numerous studies have conclusively demonstrated that there is no compatible use of riparian areas by livestock.”

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. The 281-mile long John Day River is the second longest undammed river in the continental United States. The river and its hundreds of miles of tributary streams on the Malheur National Forest provide spawning, rearing and migratory habitat for the largest naturally spawning, native stock of wild steelhead remaining in the Columbia River basin.

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