Environmental groups file another suit over forest grazing

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Environmentalists are continuing their legal battle against grazing in a national forest in south central Oregon with a lawsuit over federal management of a 170,000-acre livestock allotment.

The complaint filed by Concerned Friends of the Winema and four other groups marks the fourth case in about a decade alleging violations of federal statutes in the Antelope allotment on the Fremont-Winema National Forest, the Capital Press reported .

This lawsuit accuses the U.S. Forest Service of unlawfully approving a 10-year grazing permit for the allotment despite "irreparable harm" to the threatened Oregon spotted frog and wetland plants and mollusks.

"Rather than protect these special resources, the Forest Service has continued to authorize livestock grazing on the allotment that its own monitoring and experts acknowledge is causing chronic damage and unacceptable impacts to these riparian areas and species," the complaint said. "Mitigation measures — such as fences and water troughs — have not been effective at preventing cattle from harming the sensitive species and their habitat."

A Forest Service spokesperson said the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation and Capital Press was unable to reach a lawyer who has represented affected ranchers in the past.

Last year, an analysis conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that grazing plans for the allotment are unlikely to jeopardize the frog or adversely affect its critical habitat, as long as certain conditions are followed. Because the plans only allow for "moderate" levels of grazing and require fencing and gates to shield Oregon spotted frogs from livestock during sensitive periods of low water, the effects on the species are expected to be insignificant, the report said.

However, the lawsuit says that grazing will be expanded into "exponentially more sensitive riparian areas" that were previously closed to livestock, which wasn't properly analyzed in the Forest Service's environmental analysis of the plans.

The plaintiffs want a federal judge to overturn the Forest Service's grazing plans and prohibit livestock from the allotment until the agency complies with federal laws.

Earlier this year, a federal judge dissolved an injunction against grazing in the Chemult Pasture — a major portion of the Antelope allotment — after finding the Forest Service sufficiently supported its conclusion that Oregon spotted frogs won't be harmed.

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Information from: Capital Press, http://www.capitalpress.com/washington