PORTLAND, Oregon, June 4, 2019 (ENS) – A federal judge in Oregon today granted conservation groups’ motion to block livestock from using public lands allotments near the town of Burns in central Oregon during the month of June.
The temporary restraining order was issued in response to a lawsuit challenging former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s order to reinstate the grazing permits, overriding the 2014 recommendations of the Bureau of Land Management to cancel the permits.
The allotments at issue contain important habitat for Greater Sage Grouse and Redband Trout, and grazing on one of the allotments, Mud Creek, was scheduled to occur later this week.
“We’re happy to have stopped the harmful impacts of grazing to nesting and newly hatched sage-grouse in the month of June when chicks need the forbs for nutrition and tall grasses for hiding cover from predators,” said Greta Anderson, deputy director of Western Watersheds Project. “Livestock grazing removes these key components of chick survival.”
In a lawsuit filed last month, conservation groups said Zinke misinterpreted the effects of a 2018 presidential pardon of Dwight and Steven Hammond, convicted arsonists who were denied grazing permit renewals in 2014 because of their “unsatisfactory record of performance.”
The Hammonds were found guilty of arson on federal land. In 2012, a jury found the Hammonds guilty of arson related to a 2001 fire on federal lands.
Jurors were told that Steven Hammond handed out matches to members of a hunting party he was with and told them to light and drop the matches on the ground, “because they were going to ‘light up the whole country on fire,'” according to a 2015 statement from the U.S. Department of Justice. The fire burned 139 acres.
Combined, the Hammonds served some 18 months in jail for arson. The Justice Department appealed, seeking the mandatory minimum sentence of five years for each of the men for destroying public property.
In July 2018, President Donald Trump pardoned the Hammonds whose arrests led to the 2016 armed occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in central Oregon, which lasted 41 days.
While occupation ringleaders Ryan and Ammon Bundy, along with several others, dodged legal consequences for their roles in the Malheur takeover, other occupiers were convicted and sent to prison.
Former Secretary Zinke’s order resulted in the challenged grazing authorization that was issued without environmental review or public process. It also failed to incorporate the new requirements of Oregon’s sage-grouse management plan amendments.
“This decision is welcome news that gives the iconic sage grouse a temporary reprieve,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“We’re looking forward to justice being served. The Trump administration shouldn’t be allowed to engage in this blatant political interference,” said Spivak. “It violates our democracy and due process and ignores the need to protect public lands.”
“This land hasn’t been grazed for five years, providing sage grouse and their habitat a much-needed reprieve from the harmful impacts of cows,” said Judi Brawer, Wild Places program director at WildEarth Guardians. “Starting grazing now will have serious ecological consequences that must be considered.”
“Every other grazing permit is supposed to go through the environmental review process,” said Brawer. “Trump and his henchmen should not be allowed to constantly claim exceptions to that rule.”