A decade-long battle to protect endangered Columbia basin steelhead habitat in the John Day Basin got legal recently when a federal court judge ruled that the U.S. Forest Service is not properly administering its grazing allotments on the Malheur Forest. Judge Ancer Haggerty's opinion upheld most of the claims brought against the Forest Service by a coalition of environmental groups, including the Bend-based Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA). The ruling is the most significant win for conservationists in their ongoing campaigning to protect one of the last healthy wild steelhead runs in the lower 48 states by improving habitat along the John Day and its extensive network of tributaries. Ranchers and government officials have defended their practices even as evidence has mounted that public lands grazing combined with lax government oversight continues to denigrate hundreds of miles of high-value habitat. But Haggerty's recent ruling indicated that the court had little doubt about the failure of the Forest Service's grazing program."The inordinate exceedances of the bank alteration standards documented in 2007 on the Murderers Creek and Hamilton/King Allotments and in 2008 on the Fox Creek Allotment are particularly deplorable in light of the Forest Service's appraisal of those allotments as containing moderate- to high-potential spawning habitat," wrote Haggerty referring to evidence that high-value public lands habitat had been trammeled on the Forest Service's watch.
In a spin attempt worthy of an Ari Fleischer-led press conference, one John Day rancher called the stern decision against the Forest Service and its interveners, including the Oregon Cattleman's Association, a "win for us in lots of ways... "
Rancher Ken Holliday told The Bulletin that ranchers were feeling good because they were still "turning cows out [on the forest]."
What Holliday didn't mention is that Haggerty's earlier rulings had already restricted the amount of acreage available to ranchers because of documented abuses and that 2010 allotments were allocated only after the Forest Service struck an agreement with conservation groups.
Regardless, Haggerty has ordered the Forest Service and other defendants to meet with ONDA and the other complainants to come up with a plan to "remedy" the federal violations that have occurred. What that plan will look like is not yet clear. However, ONDA Executive Director Brent Fenty said it could have some of the elements of the interim management plan adopted by parties for 2010 or it could mean the removal of cattle entirely from the Malheur forest.
Tilting At Windmills
It wasn't all pats on the back at ONDA this past week, however. The organization along with the Portland Audubon Society lost an important bid to limit wind power development around the Steens Wilderness Area. Oregon's Energy Facility Siting Council (EFSC) denied ONDA's petition to have the federally designated Steens Cooperative Management Area placed on the state's list of areas protected from energy development, including the massive wind farms that are sprouting up across rural Oregon.
ONDA's climate change coordinator Liz Nysson was among a delegation of ONDA representatives who traveled to Harney County last week to argue their case to the members of the EFSC for more protection around Steens. Nysson said commission members got an earful from Harney County residents who portrayed the wind farms as a critical economic development tool and decried any new regulations as an infringement on private property rights. The council apparently agreed, deciding to deny ONDA's petition. Nysson said she was surprised at the council's lack of deliberation after the lengthy public testimony at the Harney County fairgrounds. In denying the petition, the council also bypassed the opportunity to address the issues through an administrative rules process that would have allowed the ESFC to craft a management scheme that took into account some of the private property concerns within the cooperative management area.
Nysson said ONDA hasn't decided what its next step will be in the effort to protect Steens from the incursion of wind farms, but said the organization will be evaluating several options.
Downtown Parking Changes
Turning to more provincial concerns, the city council was poised this week to lower long-term downtown parking rates for employees. In addition to adding a new slate of public parking in the Pacific Power parking lot behind Boondocks on Newport Avenue, the city staff and the Downtown Bend Business Association proposed reducing monthly public parking rates across downtown while creating a new reduced rate at the Centennial parking garage on Lava for employees willing to take the uncovered spots on the garage's roof. A companion proposal that would have converted the small lot at Wall Street and Greenwood Avenue to employee parking was shelved over concerns that it would reduce the customer parking inventory.
And if you believe this is the end of the downtown parking saga, we have a garage to sell you. (Only slightly used).