Felice Pace pointing out bovine waste adjacent to Summit Lake, Marble Mountain Wilderness
On March 30, 2012, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled on a lawsuit that EPIC had filed with an alliance of other environmental groups challenging the U.S. Forest Service’s use of Categorical Exclusions (CEs) for issuing cattle grazing permits on national forests. The court’s order will halt cattle grazing on five allotment permits, including one in the Marble Mountain Wilderness on the Klamath National Forest and four allotments on the Mendocino National forest, until the U.S. Forest Service adequately addresses the environmental impacts of harmful grazing on sensitive lands and waters.
The court order stops grazing on the “Big Ridge” grazing allotment, which is located entirely within the Marble Mountain Wilderness. It encompasses roughly 12,000 acres, and the majority of its surface area is forested, containing little forage for cattle. Sixteen miles of hiking trail run through the allotment, including a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail, as well as the Kelsey Creek, Bear Creek, and Tyler Meadows trails. Two popular lakes, Bear Lake and Turk Lake, are within the allotment. Mountain meadows are found at the headwaters of streams or along riparian areas within the allotment, and these meadows contain habitat or foraging areas for species that include goshawks, great gray owls, willow flycatcher, Cascade frog, and western pond turtle. In addition, native elk use habitats in the allotment’s meadow and riparian areas, directly competing for forage with private cattle in the wilderness. The Forest Service issued a decision categorically excluding the Big Ridge allotment from NEPA review in September 2006.
Four grazing allotments subject to the court order on the Mendocino National Forest cover nearly 85,000 acres: Pine Mountain, York Cabin, Middle Creek and Elk Mountain allotments. In July 2007, the U.S. Forest Service issued a decision authorizing grazing on four allotments, without any environmental review. The Forest Service issued this CE decision despite its lack of monitoring demonstrating that conditions on the allotments are in satisfactory condition or trending upward in light of current grazing management. For instance, the Forest has not monitored the range condition and trend on the Middle Creek allotment at all, nor on the Pine Mountain allotment since 1961. Likewise, on the York Cabin allotment, the Forest has not measured range condition and trend since 1958. Also, on the York Cabin allotment, the Forest Service has collected very little utilization data in recent years, and the data it has collected shows that its standards were not met. Monitoring also shows that streambanks were being trampled on this allotment, causing water quality concerns. Finally, on the Elk Mountain allotment, the Forest’s range condition and trend monitoring revealed the range to be in “fair” and “low” condition.
This court ruling requires the Forest Service to go back and reexamine private cattle grazing on nearly 100,000 acres of our national forest lands, including a popular wilderness destination. Ultimately, the agency will have to address significant and readily observable negative impacts that threaten numerous salmon bearing streams, lakes, wet meadows and sensitive wildlife habitat. The agency will also have to ensure that enough forage is also available for the continued growth and recovery of northern California’s recovering elk herds. Because cattle compete directly with elk for the same forage, the agency must mitigate for this conflict in favor of the public’s interest in viable populations of native wildlife.
EPIC was joined by Western Watersheds Project, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, California Trout, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Sierra Forest Legacy as plaintiffs in the case. The plaintiffs were represented by Laurie Rule from the public interest law firm Advocates for the West, and Jeffrey Channin and Warren Braunig of Keeker & Van Nest, LLP of San Francisco.