The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ruled in favor of the Forest Service regarding livestock grazing on the Salmon-Challis National Forest, forest Supervisor Chuck Mark said in a Monday letter.
“The outcome of this case has major implications for livestock grazing,” Mark wrote.
The ruling allows about 12,000 head of cattle to continue grazing on four allotments in the forest. That has substantial economic benefits to Custer County, local communities and ranches, Mark said. The ruling also affirms that efforts by the Forest Service to protect and restore fish habitat at those sites are consistent with laws.
In 2015, Western Watersheds Project filed a lawsuit alleging that Forest Service violated the law by allowing livestock to graze on the Antelope, Boone Creek, Copper Basin and Wildhorse allotments. The allotments in the Big Lost River basin are used by 21 ranches and the 12,000 head represent a large percentage of the cattle raised in Custer County, Mark wrote.
The case focused on forest plan direction that regulates the impact of livestock grazing on fish habitat. As part of the lawsuit, Western Watersheds Project requested that the court issue an injunction prohibiting livestock grazing on the four allotments.
The Forest Service disputed the allegations and the case was argued on May 24, 2016. On Oct. 31, 2017, the judge issued a decision in favor of the Forest Service indicating that the agency was compliant with the forest plan as regards management of livestock grazing and fish habitat on the allotments. Western Watersheds Project appealed the decision and the case was argued before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Feb. 8. On Feb. 20 the court affirmed the earlier decision. Western Watersheds has not asked for a rehearing.
“The outcome of this case demonstrates the Salmon-Challis National Forest’s efforts to both protect fish habitat and allow for livestock grazing are not only effective but that they are also compliant with the forest plan,” Mark wrote. “Given the outcome of this case, the U.S. Forest Service will continue to authorize livestock grazing on these allotments while working to ensure that fish habitat is adequately protected.”