BURNS, Ore.— The U.S. Bureau of Land Management launched a process today that could allow new grazing on four allotments near Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon on public land previously grazed by Hammond Ranches. Conservation groups want cattle kept out of this sensitive wildlife habitat, which was subjected to decades of harmful grazing.
Today’s notice that the agency will complete a new environmental analysis on grazing on the Bridge Creek allotments, on traditional lands of the Northern Paiute tribe, initiates a public review process. It will examine alternatives for future management of the allotments, ranging from resuming grazing to prohibiting it.
“With the preparation of an environmental impact statement, BLM now has the opportunity to fully examine whether continued grazing would in fact contribute to the continued ecological recovery of this incredible landscape,” said Adam Bronstein, Oregon/Nevada director with Western Watersheds Project. “We have observed this recovery firsthand and it would be a shame to undermine progress by reauthorizing grazing here. Steens Mountain is a national treasure and should be properly managed for its incredible wildlife and ecological potential.”
The BLM declined to renew the Hammonds Ranches’ grazing permit in 2014 after Dwight and Steven Hammond were convicted of arson on federal lands. Former President Trump pardoned them in 2018. Then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, on his last day as secretary, ordered the Bureau to renew Hammond Ranches’ grazing permit, a decision that was later struck down in federal court. On the last full day of the Trump administration, the Bureau granted Hammond Ranches a new grazing permit following an illegally shortened public review process. In February conservation groups sued to challenge that decision and the Bureau rescinded it the next day.
“This should be a no brainer for the BLM,” said Marc Fink, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Steens Mountain and its wildlife need to keep healing from decades of destructive cattle grazing, and the Hammonds should stay off public lands. If it’s a choice between rewarding the Hammonds for bad behavior or protecting the imperiled greater sage grouse and fragile habitat, sage grouse should prevail.”
A federal judge previously ruled that grazing cattle on these fragile, fire-scarred lands was likely to cause irreparable harm. Weighing the possibility that grazing might reduce future fire risk, the judge concluded, “Grazing to reduce fire intensity requires a reduction in exotic and invasive grasses, but that would require that first the native bunchgrasses and forbs be overgrazed, which is harmful,” and “sagebrush steppe in the absence of grazing is more fire resistant.” The judge also found that the permitted grazing on these allotments would likely harm sage grouse and their habitats.
“BLM made the right, common-sense decision in 2014. After setting fire to public lands, the Hammonds forever lost any privilege to profit off public lands,” said Chris Krupp, public lands attorney for WildEarth Guardians. “No one would ever hand back the cash a thief got caught stealing.”
The Bridge Creek allotments contain a trove of cultural and biological resources, as well as important habitat for the imperiled greater sage grouse, redband trout and other animals. The lands include designated wilderness and other wilderness-quality lands along the flanks of Steens Mountain and lie within traditional lands of the Northern Paiute tribe.