Lawsuit by Grazing Interests Threatens Comprehensive Planning Concept
Grazing interests in Stevens County, Washington have filed a lawsuit against the Refuge Manager at Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge and both the Regional Director and the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The principal issue is the decision to eliminate grazing made in the Refuge’s 2000 Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) and reaffirmed in a 2005 Habitat Management Plan (HMP).
Little Pend Oreille NWR is located in northeastern Washington, about 70 miles north of Spokane. It is comprised of more than 41,000 acres, mostly in mixed conifer forests—a unique habitat type for the Refuge System. The refuge originally was derived from a Depression era program to purchase submarginal agriculture lands after which the purchased lands were transferred to the Bureau of Biological Survey (predecessor of the Fish and Wildlife Service) in 1939. It purposes as specified in the establishing order included migratory birds, but the white-tailed deer and its wildlife community were very much a part of the decision by J. Clark Salyer, II, the Chief of Refuges at the time, to seek refuge status. Grazing interests opposed the refuge’s establishment.
The refuge contains many riparian, aquatic, old fields, and forest habitat types. During the CCP process, begun in 1995, grazing was identified as one of the major issues to be addressed. Evidence gathered during the planning process demonstrated that past grazing practices had caused substantial habitat degradation, particularly in vital riparian areas of the refuge. Ultimately, the Refuge Manager found, in a formal decision, that traditional grazing practices were incompatible with achieving refuge purposes. The final CCP and Record of Decision by the Regional Director proposed removal of grazing over a period of time to allow the permitees an adjustment period. Subsequently, FWS undertook and completed an HMP which further documented and affirmed that traditional grazing practices should be ended at this refuge. The decision does permit some grazing when done specifically to accomplish explicit wildlife management objectives.
Joe White, as Acting President of the Blue Goose Alliance, recently sent a letter to the Regional Director affirming the Alliance’s full support of the previous decisions and CCP process, and urging the FWS to defend the decisions and program as set out in the planning documents. The lawsuit challenges the decisions on grazing and the authority of the FWS to make land use and natural resource decisions on the refuge area. “This is an important and potentially precedent setting case. The Alliance is concerned that the CCP process and potential for assisting future management of the NWRS could be jeopardized if the diligent work at Little Pend Oreille is rendered void by after-the-fact actions of a few economic interests and politicians,” said Joe White recently. “We hope all organizations and individuals interested in proper management of our National Wildlife Refuge System will join with the Alliance in opposing this lawsuit and any ill-considered changes to the completed plans,” Mr. White concluded.