Judge rules in favor of livestock grazing

Jun 24, 2011
by WLJ

The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) announced last week that the U.S. Forest Service, the Chaffee County Board of Commissioners, CCA, and most importantly—13 livestock-producing families— prevailed against a lawsuit filed by Western Watershed’s Project (WWP). In 2009, CCA and Chaffee County joined ranchers in protecting their right to multiple-use grazing of public lands by intervening in a lawsuit filed by the anti-livestock grazing WWP, which sought to deny renewal of grazing in the Pike and San Isabel national forests.

“This is a huge win for our family and cattlemen in this part of the state,” stated Ken McMurry, grazing permittee. “Through the support of Chaffee County, other local cattlemen’s associations, and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, we’ve come to realize how significant this ruling is statewide to all cattlemen, whether grazing on private or public lands.”

The appeal by WWP objected to the renewal of the grazing permits, which had been approved after a thorough environmental review.

The Forest Service grazing decision also incorporated adaptive management principles to improve environmental conditions in the forests. The ranchers and the Forest Service worked together to develop management steps that would address resource issues and still be cost-effective. Upon reviewing the briefs and the administrative record, the court affirmed the decision of the Forest Service and allows continued livestock grazing under the adaptive management that everyone committed to do.

As CCA counsel Connie Brooks explained, “This decision is especially significant because Western Watersheds had objected to the fact that the Forest Service had worked closely with the grazing permittees to develop management plans that made sense and would achieve the Forest Service’s objectives. While federal law calls for these grazing plans to be written in coordination with ranchers, this litigation would have undone the cooperation and consultation that has characterized the grazing program on the Salida Leadville Ranger Dis trict of the Pike San Isabel National Forest.”

WWP argued that the decision made by the Forest Service was inconsistent with the Forest Plan; more specifically, it violated the Forest Plan in various ways including wildlife protection, protecting soil productivity, protecting water quality, and protecting archaeological resources. The court found that the Forest Service properly addressed each of these issues. Some of the measures included in the Proposed Plan were changing the stocking rate, limiting grazing to certain seasons, rest rotation, and active herding—all of which permittees will conduct to protect the public’s natural re sources.

After further review, the court strongly disagreed with WWP, stating the court may not assume that the Forest Service will fail to implement these actions in their Proposed Plan.

“The good guys won!” exclaimed Chaffee County Commissioner Frank Holman. “The Western Watersheds Project is ignorant of the positive impact ranchers have on the land, and that these same ranchers leave the forest in an improved state. This verdict by the government keeps WWP from running over the little guy. This finally proves that cattlemen do not have to put up with invasions to our Western way of life.” — WLJ