PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A federal judge will allow eastern Oregon ranchers who were convicted of intentionally setting fires on public land to graze cattle on parts of a federal allotment this season on a limited basis.
U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon issued a 58-page written ruling Tuesday, granting a partial preliminary injunction as environmental advocacy groups continue to challenge Hammond Ranches Inc.'s 10-year federal grazing permit, the Oregonian/OregonLive reported .
The judge approved a U.S. Bureau of Land Management alternative grazing plan proposed last month which the Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity and Wildearth Guardians had rejected. They had urged a halt to any cattle grazing on federal land by the ranchers.
Last year President Donald Trump pardoned rancher Dwight Hammond Jr. and son Steven Hammond, whose case had prompted the armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016, led by two sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.
On Tuesday, Simon ordered no grazing on the federal Mud Creek allotment but allowed for cattle to "trail through" that parcel to get to the federal Hardie Summer allotment, where cattle can graze at a 30% utilization standard, lower than the standard allowed in the ranchers' permit, on four of five pastures.
The Hardie Summer allotment is about 9,800 acres (3,966 hectares), of which approximately 39% is owned by the Hammonds, and 61% is publicly owned. The allotment is subdivided into five pastures on which the cattle rotate during grazing.
The restrictions will reduce harm to sage grouse by eliminating almost all grazing on the Mud Creek allotment and significantly reducing grazing on the Hardie Summer allotment, and will lessen the harms to redband trout by eliminating grazing on a portion of what's called Little Fir Creek, Simon wrote in his ruling.
The judge issued the restrictions amid a finding that the environmental groups had shown a likelihood of succeeding in proving that former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's order for the government to reissue a 10-year grazing permit to the Hammonds this year "was arbitrary and capricious" and unlawful.
The renewal of the Hammonds' 2014 grazing permit followed Trump's pardon last summer. Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, convicted of arson, were serving out five-year mandatory minimum sentences for setting fire to public land where they had grazing rights.
Simon described the preliminary injunction as limited in scope and duration, "based on likely irreparable harm that has been shown particularly because BLM did not perform the required environmental assessment," before renewing the Hammonds' permit.
The environmental groups who brought the suit applauded the judge's ruling.
"Grazing permits are a privilege, not a right, and the judge recognized this," said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com