Fish ignite grazing argument

How to gauge harm to threatened steelhead was debated in a recent courtroom battle between ranchers, environmentalists and the federal government.

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The debate related to a legal challenge against cattle grazing in Oregon’s Malheur National Forest.

An environmental group, the Oregon Natural Desert Association, claims the federal government violated the Endangered Species Act by permitting grazing that degraded steelhead habitat in the national forest. A key measure of cattle grazing’s impact on steelhead is bank alteration, which is basically the percentage of the streambank that’s altered by hoofprints. Ranchers on 13 allotments in the forest are expected to keep bank alteration below 10 to 20 percent, depending on the area, as part of the federal requirements that allow grazing. The environmental group claims that exceeding those thresholds is equivalent to killing steelhead, an “unlawful take” that constitutes a violation of the Endangered Species Act. Ranchers who rely on the forest to graze their cattle allege those thresholds were arbitrarily set by the federal government and aren’t based on the best available science, as required by the ESA.

Read more in the Capital Press.

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