FEBRUARY 1999

 

FEBRUARY-MARCH 1999 FULL ISSUE

HEAD ‘EM UP, MOVE ‘EM OUT: CITIZEN LAWSUITS BEGIN TO RUN DESTRUCTIVE CATTLE OFF THE WESTERN RANGE

BY STEVEN T. TAYLOR

The jagged spine of the Cascade  Range divides Oregon into two different worlds. To the west lie the lush rain-drenched forests for which the state is known. But travel east, into the rainshadow of Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson and the other Cascade peaks, and the moist climate dries. The terrain levels off into bucolic grasslands, meandering streams and, further east, high desert.

It's here where ranchers since the mid-19th Century have grazed their 2 herds - first sheep by the millions, then cattle. ~ It's also here, perhaps more than anywhere in the West, where cattle grazing has taken a devastating toll on the land. Tens of thousands of acres of federal land in Eastern Oregon are overgrazed. Biologists, botanists and soil scientists consider land to be over­grazed when the effects of grazing endanger wildlife, choke fish runs, trample meadows, threaten native plant species, pollute rivers, and degrade riparian areas.

"Grazing is the number one destructive force on the western landscape. Bar none," says Bill Marlett, executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA). And it's here - as it is in other areas of the fragile and damaged western range - where ranchers and environmentalists are embroiled in bitter range-land battles. Ranchers say they depend on, and deserve to retain, their historical grazing privileges on federal land. They view any attempt by "outsiders" to rest the range as a direct attack on their livelihood, and circle their wagons to repel legal salvos lobbed by environmentalists.

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Paul Koberstein