SCCA defends grazing on Colville National Forest

Cattlemen granted intervenor status in environmentalist suit

The Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association (SCCA) was recently granted intervenor status in a lawsuit from environmental groups that want to remove seasonal grazing from the Colville National Forest.

A lawsuit filed by Western Watersheds Project, the Kettle Range Conservation Group and the Lands Council in September claimed that the Colville National Forest is allowing “excessive grazing” on the forest’s 1.5 million acres. The suit would impact ranch families in four Eastern Washington counties that seasonally graze the national forest through grazing permits on allotments they own. As an intervenor, SCCA is allowed to defend against the allegations made by the environmental groups.

The grazing allotment system dates back to the late 1800s and the Taylor Grazing Act of the 1930s when private landowners adjoining the forest purchased grazing rights on the forest. The system was later modified to include “permits” from the national forest that the rancher must pay for each year.

SCCA filed as an intervener in the lawsuit in order to address the negative claims about grazing that ignore the benefits that include improved wildlife habitat and suppression of materials that feed forest fires. The grazing allotments also provide a needed resource to area ranches that contribute significantly to the economy in Eastern Washington.

“We know the negative claims about grazing in this lawsuit are designed to meet the political purpose of removing cows from the national forest. They are not interested in the science that shows the benefits of grazing or the important contribution family ranches make to the economy,” SCCA President Scott Nielsen said. “It’s important that common sense be brought into this discussion before the court so the real situation is represented.”

Nielsen said SCCA has chosen to allocate funds to defend the grazing allotment holders due to their support of our organization over the years.

“We have hired legal counsel and professional consultants to defend the sound, effective grazing practices that are being implemented on the CNF,” Nielsen said. “People in our community have stepped up and solidly supported us over the years because they knew when something like this came up, we’d be there.”

Nielsen noted some of the parties suing the forest service were the same groups that were involved in the collaborative planning process that was supposed to stop lawsuits from happening.

“At SCCA, we find ourselves in the unique position of defending a forest plan we did not fully support. We have always felt cautious about the ‘celebrated’ collaborative approach because we didn’t feel it would bring about fair or positive results,” Nielsen said. “Despite hundreds of hours of dedicated, involvement, negotiation and compromise by all parties, we still see certain groups resorting to lawsuits when they did not get the extreme policy changes they wanted.

“It makes one question the effectiveness of collaborating with a group that is going to negotiate for what they can through collaboration, and then sue for the rest after they are done collaborating,” Nielsen added. The case, The Lands Council v. U.S. Forest Service, is being heard in U.S. Eastern District Court in Spokane.

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