Oregon community raises money to support ranchers

Mar 6, 2009
by WLJ

What recession? Some 500 supporters of Oregon cattle ranchers showed up recently at a benefit auction and raised more than $70,000 to help local ranchers pay legal costs to defend cattle grazing on public lands.

The dinner-auction at the Grant County Fairgrounds overwhelmed organizers who had planned to serve 300 prime rib dinners.

“Wow, the turnout in little ol’ John Day and the support for our cause to protect grazing rights on public lands was unbelievable,” said Ken Brooks, an Oregon Cattlemen’s Association (OCA) member who helped stage the fundraiser. The proceeds from the event go to the Oregon Cattlemen’s Stewardship Fund to help two dozen cattle ranchers known as the Five Rivers Grazing Permittees fight their legal battle.

The group holds permits to graze their cattle on Malheur National Forest allotments. The ranchers have sued the U.S. Forest Service over what they perceive to be improper grazing standards. Brooks said the intent of the lawsuit was also to counter ongoing litigation from the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), which blames grazing for damage to endangered fish species and riparian habitat.

“We certainly don’t oppose standards to protect fish and wildlife; in fact, Oregon’s cattle ranchers are some of the most passionate protectors of fish and wildlife habitat,” said Bill Moore, OCA president.

“Our concern is the standards aren’t properly written.” Brooks, who for four months out of the year grazes his 350 head of cattle on about 100,000 acres of permitted public land, says that the Five Rivers group’s message is that “things aren’t nearly as bad” as groups like ONDA portray them to be. “We just think the Forest Service can do a better job of multiple use management in the Malheur National Forest.”

The Five Rivers group is so passionate about protecting their grazing rights that they have assessed themselves a fee on each head of cattle they own, and to date have raised and spent more than $200,000 of their own money in legal costs.

OCA was formed in 1913 in Baker County by 12 individuals who sought to advance the economic, political and social interests of the Oregon cattle industry. OCA’s mission is to promote environmentally and socially sound industry practices, improve and strengthen the economics of the industry, and protect its industry communities and private property rights.

For more information, visit OCA’s Web site at www.orcattle.com. — WLJ