In Eastern Oregon, Tension with Salmon Protection

Chelsea Matthews
Todd Nash in the Wallowas

Trump’s pledge to roll back regulations was the main reason that rancher Todd Nash, Commissioner of Wallowa County in Eastern Oregon, voted for Trump.

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Nash, who has been a rancher for 23 years, raises 800 head of cattle at Marr Flat Cattle Co. He sells most of his beef to Oregon-based Painted Hills Natural Beef.

“The difficulty of doing business with the U.S. Forest Service in particular, and all the layers that go behind it, such as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, all of those things combined influenced me to vote for him — in the hopes that he’d bring sanity to some outrageous thinking,”  Nash said.

Like many Wallowa County ranchers, Nash grazes his cattle on federal forestland. One 10-mile stretch of forest has a creek on it and he and other ranchers try to keep cattle out of the creeks in order to protect steelhead, salmon, and bulltrout habitat.

Nash insists that few cattle get near the creek anyway — because fallen trees make it mostly inaccessible — and that there’s never been a documented case of a cow treading on a redd (a salmon spawning area).

Nonetheless, the U.S. Forest Service (in consultation with NOAA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife) forbids cattle from grazing in that stretch of pasture after the start of prime spawning season on August 10th.

Because a few cattle have been caught roaming into the area, the Forest Service has asked ranchers to put in a 7-mile fence that will cost $180,000, according to Nash. He calls that a high price to pay to keep a few cattle out, and worries that the fence will alsoincrease sediment run-off.

“Everything about it — the cost, the maintenance, and what it does to the landscape — makes no sense,” Nash says.

“These people who are enforcing these regulations, don’t live here. They are nameless, faceless people for the most part and they write these documents somewhere in Portland or Salem. I have no idea. And they enforce them here. And, you know, this idea that we consult, collaborate and come up with solutions together — throw it out the window.”   

So when Nash sees Trump appoint someone like Ryan Zinke to be Secretary of the Interior (who has oversight of BLM land), “and he’s going through some of those documents and saying, ‘Rewrite them’ — I’m like, ‘Wonderful!’”

When asked about Trump’s 2018 budget proposal, which proposes drastic cuts to agriculture programs, he said he has no comment.

“I’ve been so enmeshed in county and state issues, I can’t make an educated comment on any of that right now,” Nash said.

This article is one in a series of profiles about Oregon ranchers and the Trump Administration.