Federal judge limits cattle grazing for Harney County’s Hammond Ranches
A federal judge will allow Hammond Ranches Inc. to graze its cattle on parts of a federal allotment called Hardie Summer this season but must limit its use as three environmental advocacy groups challenge the Harney County ranchers’ federal grazing permit in court.
U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon issued a 58-page written ruling Tuesday, granting a partial preliminary injunction after two days of oral arguments.
The judge approved an alternative grazing plan that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management had proposed at last month’s hearing. The three environmental groups suing the federal land agency rejected the alternative at the start of the hearing and urged a halt to any cattle grazing by the Harney County ranchers on federal land.
The Hardie Summer allotment is about 9,800 acres, of which approximately 39 percent is owned by the Hammonds, and 61 percent, or 6,000 acres, is publicly owned. The allotment is subdivided into five pastures on which the cattle rotate during grazing.
The restrictions will reduce harm to sage grouse and will lessen the harms to redband trout, Simon wrote in his ruling.
The judge issued the restrictions amid a finding that the environmental groups had shown a likelihood of succeeding in proving that former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s order for the government to reissue a 10-year grazing permit to the Hammonds this year “was arbitrary and capricious” and unlawful.
The environmental advocacy groups Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity and Wildearth Guardians sued the Interior secretary and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management after the government in January renewed a 10-year grazing permit for Hammond Ranches.
The groups argued that Zinke violated federal regulations because the government failed to consider the Hammonds’ unsatisfactory record or do proper environmental reviews.
The renewal of the Hammonds’ 2014 grazing permit followed President Donald Trump’s pardon of the Hammonds last summer. Dwight Hammond Jr. and his youngest son, Steven Hammond, convicted of arson, were serving out five-year mandatory minimum sentences for setting fire to public land where they had grazing rights.
Harney County officials would like the environmental groups to leave pardoned ranchers alone.