Cattle ranching in Oregon is already an iffy proposition because of rising costs of fuel and feed and unnecessarily draconian water standards enforced by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Add to these all the special requirements of the Endangered Species Act and ranchers face the toughest performance standards of any agricultural enterprise.
Does Oregon need its ranchers? You bet! Today, cattle production is one of Oregon's top income producers and a mainstay of Eastern Oregon rural communities. With the near-collapse of the Eastside timber industry, ranching is the only thing keeping the services and supply sector (mostly small family-owned operations) alive.
Because federal permits are required to authorize grazing in upland areas where snow and rainfall create the headwaters of salmon-bearing streams, a U.S. government document called a Biological Opinion must be prepared to demonstrate that grazing on the allotment will not degrade salmon habitat.
Grazing practices are structured so that cattle are continuously moved to prevent overgrazing and damage to stream banks. Both ranchers and forest service range managers are responsible for monitoring grazing operations. The Biological Opinion describes the protocols, actions and practices that protect endangered species habitat.
Judge Haggerty concludes that the Biological Opinion written by federal bureaucrats is inadequate. He has determined that it will not withstand scientific review and fails to meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.
Accordingly, Judge Haggerty has ordered the forest service to prepare a new Biological Opinion. But in our opinion, he has wrongly enjoined the use of grazing allotments until a legally sufficient Biological Opinion is prepared.
In effect, Judge Haggerty is holding the ranching community hostage for the failures of federal bureaucrats, transferring all of the financial and social harm to families that had no control over the agency that so miserably failed to perform its duties under the law to craft an opinion that preserves both cattle grazing and salmon habitat.
While federal bureaucrats suffer no consequences for their poor performance, ranching families face financial ruin. This must not become the model for justice under the Endangered Species Act.
Perhaps it would have been wiser for Judge Haggerty to have ordered the forest service to rewrite the Biological Opinion before June 1, 2011 and to issue temporary "take" permits to the ranchers pending approval of the Biological Opinion. By doing so, Haggerty would have held the agency accountable for protecting salmon runs without destroying what's left of rural economies.