Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Protecting Native Trout on John Day River

From ONDA. -hoc

Fish advocates applauded a federal judge's decision yesterday to protect native steelhead trout in the John Day River Basin. The court order temporarily halts cattle grazing within important native trout streams in eastern Oregon's Malheur National Forest. This latest round of the decade-long litigation targets, as the court put it, "repeated failures" by the Forest Service to address grazing impacts to fish habitat. The steelhead, an iconic Pacific Northwest native trout, is listed under the Endangered Species Act as a "threatened" species in danger of extinction.

In this order, the court suspended grazing until the Forest Service complies with a series of promised mitigation and monitoring measures intended to ensure against further damage to fish habitat this summer. The protective measures cover 330,000 acres and 235 miles of streams on the forest. The court also indicated it would stop grazing mid-season if the Forest Service failed to comply with the order. In the ruling, Judge Haggerty states, "The time has come for the Forest Service to adaptively manage these allotments in response to conditions on the ground rather than in reaction to this court's rulings."

Stream degredation, caused by livestock, in the Malheur National Forest

"Sadly, Forest Service negligence and mismanagement is driving the steelhead toward extinction rather than recovery," Fenty said. "These streams will take time to recover but this decision ensures that the Forest Service must abide by its own rules and regulations and that steelhead will be conserved for current and future generations."

After several years of monitoring chronic overgrazing on the Malheur National Forest, ONDA filed the first of several cases against the Forest Service in 2003. In 2006, a federal judge in Portland ruled that the agencies' grazing plan violated the Endangered Species Act. In 2007, the agencies issued a new grazing plan to guide grazing throughout the forest. Because the plan actually increased grazing levels and weakened the Forest Service's ability to enforce its own ecological health standards, ONDA challenged the plan in December 2007.

The Malheur National Forest is located in eastern Oregon's Blue Mountains. It includes portions of the Upper John Day, Middle Fork John Day, North Fork John Day, and Malheur Rivers. The John Day River is one of the longest undammed rivers in the continental United States. The river and its hundreds of miles of tributary streams on the Malheur National Forest provide spawning, rearing and migratory habitat for the largest native stock of wild steelhead remaining in the Columbia River Basin.

For more information on this case CLICK HERE.

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