Under pressure from conservationists, Bureau of Land Management backs down on livestock in Alvord Wilderness – Oregon Capital Chronicle

This spring, the federal Bureau of Land Management was set to approve a long-term permit for cattle grazing on 200,000 acres of public land in southeastern Oregon’s Alvord Wilderness for the first time in 57 years.

Then the conservationists found out.

Western Watersheds, WildLands Defense and Wild Horse Education, three nonprofit conservation groups, challenged the 10-year plan. A lawyer for the Bureau of Land Management reviewed the groups’ concerns and ruled that an earlier decision allowing the permit should be “returned and rescinded”, in essence deciding that further review was needed. On Wednesday, a Home Office judge agreed, officially halting the permit for now.

“This is a huge win for the Alvord,” said Adam Bronstein, Western Watersheds operations manager for Oregon and Nevada. “It’s an area that hasn’t seen so many cows in a long time.”

In 1965, the office suspended grazing on the subdivision to improve vegetation for mule deer that depend on the land in winter. He has only temporarily allowed cattle to graze there 18 times in the past 49 years. This was to manage vegetation and reduce wildfire risk, according to Tara Thissell, public affairs specialist for the Burn District Office.

Since the late 1960s, several large reservoirs and a few wells and pipelines have been developed to augment the housing estate’s water supply, but the office has not reviewed the addition of animals until now, Thissell said. by email.

“The suspension was implemented on the understanding that (cattle grazing) would then be analyzed for reinstatement,” she wrote.

Conservation groups fighting the permit have expressed concerns that allowing permanent grazing would emphasize limited vegetation, compromise the recreational value of the area, harm sacred sites of the Burns-Paiute Tribe and would allow livestock access to streams containing endangered Lahontan cutthroat trout, which are currently protected under the Endangered Species Act.

“This wide swath of desert that hasn’t been degraded for years would suddenly have cows moving over it, destroying the sparse vegetation there,” Bronstein said.

The groups were also concerned about the office’s plans to drill seven wells to support livestock in an area experiencing extreme drought conditions.

“This place is so dry, and now you’re going to allow animals that need water every two to three miles through it?” he said.

Western Watersheds appealed BLM’s clearance decision to the Office of Hearings and Appeals, a Home Office administrative law tribunal.

A lawyer for the office, Carmen Thomas Morse, acknowledged the groups’ concerns, particularly about the health of endangered trout. A Home Office judge agreed the permit should be returned to the office for further review.

“We have determined that the caller provided substantive feedback,” Jeanne Panfely, social media manager for BLM operations in Oregon and Washington state, said in an email. “While we were disappointed that this feedback was not provided earlier in the process, we believe that public input is both important and beneficial.” Bronstein said Western Watersheds submitted its concerns during the public comment period and then later to protest the permit.

Penfely said the office will adjust its environmental assessment and open an additional public comment period before issuing a new decision on permitting grazing.

Bronstein said the BLM and the Department of the Interior rarely cancel a permit and send it back for review.

“It holds the line. It doesn’t make it worse, and it’s a win now,” he said.