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Enviros Fight Grazing on National Wetland

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - The U.S. Forest Service allows cattle grazing on a marshy meadow in the Fremont-Winema National Forest without conducting an environmental assessment, even though scientists found nine sensitive species in the area, environmental groups say.

The Oregon Natural Desert Association claims the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act by allowing cattle to graze on central Oregon's Antelope Cattle and Horse Allotment in the Chemult Ranger District of Fremont-Winema National Forest.

The forest is largely the dry, lodgepole pine ecosystem typical of central Oregon. But the Fremont-Winema forest is also home to a "unique, large complex of fens and wetlands" that serves as "an oasis for many sensitive plants and animals such as rare mosses and sedges, mollusks and the Oregon spotted frog," according to the federal complaint.

The Forest Service acquired Round Meadow, one of its Fremont-Winema wetlands, in 1998, when it exchanged land with Crown Pacific Timber Co., the lawsuit states.

It never conducted any of the site-specific environmental analysis mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act before allowing grazing on Round Meadow, the environmentalists say.

In 2003, the Forest Service tired to restore natural hydrology in Round Meadow and "re-establish its natural marshy condition" by erecting a fence to keep cows from grazing on the meadow.

Since 2005, biologists have documented "at least nine different sensitive species at more than 79 sites on the allotment, with only a portion of the potential habitat surveyed," the Desert Association claims.

But this year, the Forest Service allowed grazing on Round Meadow, still without conducting a survey to determine the meadow's suitability for grazing, according to the complaint.

The Desert Association says the decision "completely ignored the effects of grazing the remainder of this unique area and the impacts to the wet soils and habitat for sensitive plants and animals found there, not to mention the setback that will occur to the restoration efforts in the meadow."

The Oregon Natural Desert Association and Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center seek a declaration that the Forest Service and District Forest Ranger David Sabo violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act.

Their lead counsel is Lauren Rule, with Advocates for the West.

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