Lawsuit Seeks to Undo “Last Minute” Trump Administration Cattle Grazing Allowance

Two environmental groups filed suit against the Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last Thursday, contesting a decision made the final day of the Trump presidency. Then-DOI secretary David Bernhardt reportedly issued a new grazing permit and preference to an applicant, who the plaintiffs claim has failed to comply with the terms and conditions of its past permit. In turn, plaintiffs Western Watersheds Project and the Oregon Natural Association ask the court to set aside the agency decision to “avoid harm to fragile and irreplaceable fish, wildlife, and other natural resource values on Steens Mountain.”

The District of Oregon complaint explains that Bernhardt granted Hammond Ranches, Inc. (HRI) the controversial Oregon public lands grazing permit on Jan. 19. The filing alleges that several times since 2014, Bernhardt and his predecessor’s decisions to give HRI grazing permits were halted by court orders. This time, the plaintiffs allege that the eleventh-hour Trump Administration issuance was the product of “a rushed and truncated public process” of which Bernhardt improperly seized control.

In particular, the environmental organizations take issue with the decision to award HRI the permit over better-qualified applicants, the apportionment of forage within sensitive allotments, the reconfiguration of allotment boundaries, and the authorization to construct and remove a series of range projects within the area. These actions, the plaintiffs contend, threaten the sagebrush ecosystem, sage-grouse, wilderness, and redband trout and their riparian habitat, all of which injure the groups’ interests.  

They argue that the defendants’ decision is unlawful in five major respects under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act of 2000, and the Administrative Procedure Act. The plaintiffs ask that the court enjoin the BLM from allowing livestock grazing on the allotments unless and until the defendants have fully complied with applicable regulations.

The plaintiffs are represented by counsel from the Oregon Natural Desert Association and Western Watersheds Project.