Wild and Scenic Rivers Act could eliminate grazing

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Mar 21, 2005
by WLJ
Recent court decisions regarding the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) have heightened awareness of possible ramifications of a misapplication of this law on the beef industry. With another Wild and Scenic Rivers case decision pending, producers may need to advocate to maintain grazing in these areas.
In the 1960s, Congress created the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System to protect and preserve rivers in response to concerns that rivers were being dammed, dredged, diked, diverted and degraded at an alarming rate. In October 1968, the newly enacted Wild and Scenic Rivers Act pronounced that, “certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
The legislation continues on to say, “Each component of the national wild and scenic rivers system shall be administered in such a manner as to protect and enhance the values which caused it to be included in said system without, insofar as is consistent therewith, limiting other uses that do not substantially interfere with public use and enjoyment of these values.”
Designating an area as a wild and scenic river is not like designating a national park because the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act does not generally lock up a river like a wilderness designation. The goal, as outlined by Congress, was to halt development and preserve the character of a river. Uses compatible with the management goals of a particular river are supposed to be allowed under the act.
However, grazing seems to be a use that is not being recognized under WSRA. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the Public Lands Council (PLC) have become increasingly aware that grazing in wild and scenic areas is beginning to be eliminated altogether. Jeff Eisenberg, director of public lands for NCBA and executive director of PLC, said, “Numerous operations and families in Oregon and potentially many times more people throughout the western United States have been adversely impacted by the court decisions applying the WRSA to grazing.”
PLC cited ONDA v. Green in which Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) challenged federal agency management of grazing in Donner und Blitzen wild and scenic corridors from late 1990s to the present. With this case, the court ruled that grazing could only continue so long as it met the statutory requirement to “protect and enhance” the value for which the river designation was established. Then the court used this statute to authorize federal agencies to exclude cattle from the river areas.
ONDA raised the same issue of cattle grazing in two other cases brought against the Bureau of Land Management involving the Owyhee River area. In the first decision, the court asserted that agencies have the “duty—not only to restrict it, but to eliminate (grazing) entirely” along designated corridors if it violates the “enhance and protect” standard.
“More than 50 operations ran cattle along the subject area of the Donner und Blixen, Owyhee, and Malheur Rivers,” said Eisenberg. “These decisions affected hundreds of people if you consider that each operation often consists of several different families.”
Currently, ONDA is involved in another case challenging grazing along the Malheur Wild and Scenic River. This case is called Oregon Natural Desert Association v. U.S. Forest Service. Eisenberg said about five ranching operations are at risk if the court makes the same decision as in the other three cases.
“We respect the fact that Congress has passed that statute, but we want there to be a balance between respecting the existing uses and protecting the resources,” said Eisenberg. “The fact that cows are always getting kicked off because of the protected and enhanced statute is a problem.”
NCBA is currently talking to different people to see what can be done to see that the balance between people and resources is restored.